If there’s one thing you absolutely must not do when answering interview questions, it’s respond with a simple yes or no answer – even when it’s a yes/no question. Always elaborate, otherwise you’re just doing yourself a disservice. Answering questions with just a yes or a no is the equivalent to answering ‘Tell me about a time when you managed a project" with "On January 10." Doesn’t really tell the interviewer much, does it?
One of the reasons hiring managers use yes or no questions is to see how you’ll answer. It’s really just one more way for them to get to know you. Simple yes or no answers indicate that you’re not fully interested or engaged. Elaborating on your answers indicates that you can take initiative into your own hands and you’re willing to do more than just the bare minimum.
When you don’t elaborate on your answers, you’re harming your chances of getting the job in more ways than one. You’re robbing yourself of chances to showcase your expertise. You aren’t doing anything to stand out from the crowd. Most poignantly, your lack of in-depth answers makes you seem lazy in the eyes of the interviewer.
So how do you answer these questions? When the answer is yes, always elaborate by adding details. Turn a one-word answer into a robust story that highlights your expertise and experience. Enhance that story with details about the process and include statistics, results, and outcomes. When the answer is no, you have a few options. Always start by acknowledging the fact that your answer is no, then elaborate from there. You don’t want to lie and say yes, then not be able to back up that yes with facts or details.
Here are three of the most common yes/no questions that come up in interviews, and how to answer them:
“Have you ever ...?”
If you’ve done something that’s directly related to the question, talk about that. If you’re learning a skill that’s relevant, explain what that skill is and why it’s important for you to learn. If neither of those options are viable, simply follow up by saying that you haven’t done it before but are willing to learn.
“Do you know how to ...?”
The best answer for this is "not yet." This question usually comes up in terms of technical skills, such as knowing a programming language or how to use a specific application. If you’ve used a similar program in the past, talk about that. If it’s something completely new or unfamiliar to you, "Not yet, but I’m willing to learn.” is the most appropriate answer. You’re being truthful while acknowledging the fact that you’re open to trying something new.
“Are you good at …?”
This question often comes up in terms of being good at soft skills such as leadership, team work, and communication. These questions open up an opportunity for you to really showcase your skills. Talk confidently about your abilities and how your talents make you the most qualified candidate. Don’t be self-deprecating and try to come off as overly humble. In all honesty, the answer to this question shouldn’t be no. If it is, explain in detail why not, and be prepared for the interviewer to be disappointed.
Not all of your answers need to be work-related. If you have relevant experience outside of work, it’s perfectly acceptable to speak about it in an interview. That can actually help you, as it showcases your broader talents and interests. A word of caution – the experience must be relevant. Being a good host at parties isn’t a relevant way to showcase your people skills, but being a good organizer of community events is.
These tactics don’t just apply to job interviews – they’re just as relevant to any time you’re asked a simple yes or no question. Next time you’re in a meeting, try to elaborate beyond the simple answer, and see how much more impact you’re able to make.
Ashira Prossack is a Multi-Generational Workplace & Leadership expert and speaker working to bridge the gap between generations and prepare businesses for the future of work.