by Floyd Rumohr
Questions are here, there, and everywhere on both sides of the interview relationship. How and what kind of questions should we ask during the hiring process?
Teachers are among the most skilled interviewers, even though we might not immediately think of them that way, because they regular ask questions that elicit essential information from students.
But great teachers do more than just draw out information. They get students to think, which is just what a good interview should do. Having been in my fair share of classrooms and interviews, I’ve seen the same effects on students and job candidates from two kinds of questions commonly asked by teachers.
Broadly speaking, the two kinds of questions have different purposes. High inquiry questions are those that stimulate a wide range of responses that enable:
- Abstract thought
- Comparing and contrasting
Low inquiry questions:
- Converge toward one correct response
- Elicit the meaning of a term
- Reiterate a statement that has already been made
- Supply an example of something
Low inquiry questions reinforce “correct” answers whereas “high inquiry questions stimulate a broader range of responses and tend to stimulate high levels of thinking” (Hassard). Low inquiry questions can be helpful in the beginning of an interview to help candidates feel comfortable especially when nerves are at their highest such as:
- How did you hear about this position?
- What do you know about this organization?
By contract, high inquiry questions get candidates thinking deeply and penetrate the dimensions of experience, skills, organizational compatibility, and can provide indicators of future performance as in:
“What do you think are the critical job challenges for this position and what in your background will help you succeed in meeting these challenges?”
The above is a high inquiry question because it asks the candidate to:
- Infer what the actual challenges might be.
- Predict the degree to which he or she will succeed in meeting the challenges.
Such a high inquiry question requires wait-time – a few seconds for the responder to think about the question – and has been shown to increase logical, abstract, and speculative thinking in students (Rowe) (Stahl) (Llewellyn). Again, I’ve seen these same effects on adult candidates during interviews for nonprofit positions. Instead of repeating memorized responses to anticipated questions, for example, candidates thoughtfully responded if appropriate wait-time was provided after each question.
Asking high inquiry questions and providing appropriate wait-time requires patience on the part of interviewers. And even a little courage. Sometimes interviewers can jump in because their own nerves get the best of them or because silence is uncomfortable. Asking a clarifying follow-up question if you see that the candidate is stuck can be helpful. But don’t start talking because you get nervous for them. Silence can be golden and filled with nonverbal information as important as any of the spoken words.
Next up: focusing questions.
References and recommended reading:
- The Art of Teaching Science: Inquiry and Innovation in Middle and High School by Jack Hassard. Oxford University Press, 2005.
- “Wait Time: Slowing Down May Be a Way of Speeding Up” by Mary Budd Rowe. American Educator 11. 1987.
- “Using ‘Think-Time’ and ‘Wait Time’ Skillfully in the Classroom” by Robert Stahl. ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education. 2008.
- Inquire Within: Implementing Inquiry-Based Science Standards in Grades 3-8. Douglas Llewellyn. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press, 2007.