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Listening in Job Interviews

19 August 2020

As the applicant it is tempting to think that the listening bit is not your job in the interview.  That is what the selection panel need to do – right?  And of course, this is what they need to do, but paradoxically, the more you listen to them, the better they will be at listening to you.

A key thing you want to do is make the interviewer feel good.  People love to feel they are being heard, and interviewers are no different.  Really listening to someone has been shown to encourage them to speak more.  In an interview this will see the interviewer tell you more – more about the job, more about the team, more about the challenges, more to help you know that you want the job too.  Also, when people feel heard their likability of the person they are speaking with increases, and likability increases your chances of being selected.  They feel in sync with you.

When you focus on listening well you also dampen interview nerves.  This is a deliberate shifting of your mental energy from listening to the voice in your own head, to listening to what the questioner is saying.  It is impossible to listen to both at the same time. Really listening to the interviewer, you quieten your own, often hindering, head talk.

Additionally, really listening to interview questions you have the opportunity to hear what might be behind the question.  Wondering why a question has been asked will take you beyond the surface of the question and give you a deeper understanding of the real needs the employer has.  You can then build your understanding of their needs into your response.  This gives them the sense that you “get” them and will “fit” in.  “Ok, I can hear in that question that xxx is important in this role…”

A final bonus of really listening in a job interview is being able to pick up and get clarification on questions that just don’t make sense.  Interviewers are fallible and they do ask dumb questions.  The better you listen the more clarification you can seek on these questions.  And clarity is important, because interviewers don’t reflect on the quality of their question when they don’t get the response they are looking for.  Instead they assess your off-track answer as a poor reflection on you.

Here are a couple of tips to listen better in an interview:

Allow silence.  An indicator you have listened to a question is a period of silence at the end.  Silence as you contemplate your answer.  If you jump straight in to answer it is likely you have been formulating your response while the interviewer was still outlining the question.  It is also likely you will miss important bits of the question.

Make eye contact.  Look at the person who is talking.  Smile at them and give them small encouragers – “yes”, “ah” – that let them know you are listening intently.  Chances are they will elaborate further on the question they ask you.

Clarify.  If you hear something that does not make sense stop and clarify.  Continuing on because you don’t want to appear stupid will add to you appearing stupid.  You actually get more points in the interview by engaging with the panel via a back and forth conversation.  “Let me just get this straight before I answer.  What do you mean by xxx in the question?”

Practice.  Listening is a skill.  It is unlikely you will be able to pull it out and use it in the high stakes of an interview if it is not something you are practiced doing in everyday life.  Develop your listening skill by choosing one person a day to really listen to – allow silence, watch them, clarify points, and refrain from turning the conversation back to you.

Use your right ear.  Finally, here is an intriguing tip from a fabulous new book You’re Not Listening, by Kate Murphy.  For right handed people language comprehension will be faster and clearer when you listen with your right ear (with emotional comprehension faster via the left ear).  So, as you listen there may be benefit in turning your right ear to the questioner (as you still look at them).

As always, wishing you a flourishing career.


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