Interview Success Secret: Active Listening!

Interview Success Secret: Active Listening

We all tend to claim the skill of being a “good communicator.”

One of the most popular requirements listed for an open job posting is being a good communicator.

But, what is a good communicator?

Most of us immediately think “Yes, I am good at communicating my message clearly to individuals and large groups.”

But speaking and writing are only half of being a “good communicator.”

Hiring managers want to know you’re also a good listener, too. And listening well is critical to your success in a job interview.


Because being a good listener means you will correctly understand what is being said and use that information to direct your thoughts for appropriate further action.

This could be simply following directions. It could be part of a brainstorming session. It could be for communicating the same message to your own team.

Obviously, the scenarios are endless, but all are important to the employer.

10 Elements of Successful Listening During a Job Interview

During your job interviews, demonstrate that you are an active listener. You will benefit by knowing more about the job and the people you would be working with.

Importantly, the hiring manager will pick up on cues that indicate to him or her that you are a good listener.

If they sense you’re not listening well, a bias will creep into the interview that you would not be an asset to the team.

For highly selective managers, this can be a very deadly red flag — one that you cannot recover from later in the interview.

Ways to Demonstrate Active Listening:

1. Answer the question being asked.  

Seems obvious, but sometimes, people answer what they THINK is the question being asked.

If you missed something or are not sure, you can ask for clarification or ask them to repeat the question. Just be careful, if you have to do this more than once or twice, the red flag will be raised.

2. Your body language should show you are engaged.  

Lean slightly forward. Eyes focused on your interviewer’s eyes (or on their eye brows if you’re a little nervous about eye contact).

Even nodding your head can indicate you are agreeing or understand. Don’t fidget.

3. Take notes during the interview.  

Note-taking can be helpful in a few ways.

It helps you concentrate on what is being said. It also sends a message to the interviewer that you’re listening, and you consider what they are saying is important to you. Just be careful to limit this to keywords that will trigger your memory on the details later.

CAUTION: Take notes quickly. Too much note-taking takes away from your eye contact.

4. Tie your answers back to things that were said earlier.  

If you reference something that was discussed earlier, it shows you not only were listening, but stored that information.

A good time to do this is while you ask questions at the end of the interview. For example, you could say, “You mentioned earlier that your company specializes in xyz. I’m curious to know how my skills in abc might help the company be successful in delivering that service.”

More information about asking the right questions: Interview Success: Asking the Right Questions.

Ways to Show You Are Engaged:

5. Body language is the most obvious sign. 

Glassed over eyes. Lack of focus on the interviewer. Acting distracted or looking at your watch. All these can send the signal you’d rather be somewhere else, and you’re not listening. This is the rudest possible message to send during an interview.

6. Not Interrupting the interviewer.  

This typically signals that you’re thinking of things to say and can’t wait to say them (instead of listening to the whole question or statement before responding).

7. Take a moment to think after a question is asked. 

Sometimes, it is better to take a moment to digest the question. It shows you have listened carefully and are carefully considering your answer.

8. Make sure you have turned off your cell phone.  

Even vibration alerts can be a distraction (whether obvious or not), and lead to missing something important.

Critical Times to Listen VERY Carefully

Listening carefully throughout the whole interview is important, but there are two times when you need to pay extra-close attention to what is being said:

9. When you are introduced to someone.  

Concentrate on listening for their name (and title) when you are introduced to someone. Some candidates are so nervous at this stage of the interview that they miss this. Being able to address the interviewer by name later in the interview shows you have an attention for details.

10. Towards the end of the interview.  

Some candidates let their guard down knowing the “hard part” is over. But at these moments, important information can be exchanged such as next steps in the process or general impressions they have of you. Keep your focus to the very end.

The Bottom Line on Listening During Your Job Interview

Listening is half (or maybe more) of being a good communicator. Presenting yourself well is important. The words you choose, your tone, your delivery, all weigh into how you are perceived. But keep in mind, sometimes what you do while you’re NOT talking may be what actually separates you from the crowd.

More About Successful Job Interviews:

Jeff LipschultzAbout the author…

Job-Hunt’s Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. Learn more about him through his company site Follow Jeff on LinkedIn and on Twitter (@JLipschultz).
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