Listening In

As a candidate being interviewed, it’s in your best interest to be listening as closely as you can. But in an interview, in the context of being assessed and evaluated, there’s a lot going on. It’s very difficult to remain truly ‘in the moment’. It will be helpful for you to train yourself for active listening.headphones for active listening

Levels of listening

Have you ever been speaking with someone, and realized – too late, perhaps – that you weren’t really listening to what they were saying to you because you were too busy planning what you were going to say back to them? If you’re a human being (which I assume you are if you’re reading this), we do it more often than we realize. There’s some fascinating reading out there on the various levels of listening. I’m not going to repeat it here, but I highly recommend looking into it. Suffice it to say that when we’re listening to someone, we might be a) listening mostly to respond, b) listening to understand, or c) listening to the room (which means being tuned into tone, body language, and ‘vibe’ as well as content).

You can tell when someone is only listening to respond.

More often than you might believe, candidates I was interviewing have answered a different question than the one I asked. Sure, they may have touched on the same topic I was asking about, but they didn’t give me the information I was looking for in my question. I’m pretty forgiving (as long as it doesn’t happen too often during an interview), because it can happen all too easily. As a candidate in the ‘hot seat’, you’re paying attention to a lot of different things, and you’re under stress because of the context, so it’s easy to hear the first part of my question and think you know what the rest of it is going to be. At that point, though, you’re not listening anymore. You’re in your own head, planning your reply, perhaps recollecting a specific part of your work experience that you’re going to talk about.

“The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.” –Alfred Brendel

A moment of silence

Many of the best candidates I’ve interviewed have one thing in common. After I’m finished asking a question, there’s a brief moment of silence, maybe two or three seconds, before they begin to speak. Why do you think this might be?

They weren’t listening to respond. They were actively listening to my question. Staying in the moment with me while I finished asking. And only beginning to formulate their answer afterwards.

Silence is an intimidating thing in any meeting. As a candidate interviewing for a job, two or three seconds can feel like a lifetime. It’s not. You owe it to yourself to practice staying in the moment, to practice active listening, and to give yourself permission – and time! – to give the answer that you really want to give.

Practice makes perfect

The good news is that this is a skill that can be easily developed, because it can be practiced almost anytime, with anyone. When you’re in conversation, with a partner, with friends and family, and especially in a working context with coworkers, practice active listening. When they’re speaking, catch yourself if you’re only listening to reply (you may be surprised how often this happens!), and stop. Tune back into what they’re saying. Listen to fully understand. And even practice tuning into the ‘vibe’ in the room, the context of the conversation.

Sharpening this skill in this way will allow you to use it more easily in interviews. You won’t have to consciously think about it, because you’ve been training your mind to do it naturally. Oh, and as a bonus? As you practice, you’ll have better conversations, and stronger connections, with the people around you. Neat, huh?



Photo by C D-X on Unsplash