Active Listening for Interview Success: How Your Ears Can Help You Land the Job
Although the prospect of a new job can be exciting, the process of actually landing a new position can be fraught with a great deal of anxiety. In a 2005 survey, respondents described job interviews as producing more stress than going on a blind date, being pulled over by police, or taking a final exam without studying.
If you think about it, the stakes are higher in job interviews than they are in almost any other type of social interaction. Let’s face it: few other conversations can have such a sizable impact on your livelihood, your professional development, and ultimately, your personal fulfillment.
When you look at it this way, it’s easy to understand why so many people dread interviews.
When all that’s standing between you and your dream job is an interview, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by the pressure. Sometimes, it’s easy to get so caught up in what you should be saying and doing in a job interview that you tune out what’s actually going on.
Does this sound like you? If so, don’t despair: job search experts recommend practicing a technique called “active listening” to overcome this tendency and ace your next job interview. Let’s take a look at the basic concept of active listening and some strategies for applying it effectively during your job hunt.
What is Active Listening?
There’s hearing, there’s listening, and then there’s active listening. This practice was developed by communication experts to facilitate effective communication between individuals and groups. Originally, the concept was devised as a way to broach a compromise in conflict situations. However, over time, active listening began to gain ground in HR circles as a technique for helping both interviewers and interviewees alike achieve better communication in the often-stressful environment of the hiring interview.
According to job search expert Judith Verity, author of Succeeding at Interviews, the goal of active listening is to forge and maintain an effective channel of communication between two or more people. To achieve this, it’s vital to ignore all distractions and focus deeply on what the other speaker is saying -- both through words and through body language. Another important element of active listening is analyzing and then paraphrasing what the other speaker has said in order to ensure mutual understanding.
Because job interviews are more progressive and fast-paced than leisurely social interactions, it’s often necessary to apply a more streamlined version of active listening principles. These basic tips will allow you to reap the benefits of active listening without dragging down the pace of your interview.
- Focus, Focus, Focus. So many of our daily conversations are interrupted and ultimately degraded by a whirlwind of external distractions. In a job interview, you can’t afford to let anything take your eyes off the prize. Get in the habit of mentally reminding yourself to focus every time your attention begins to drift. If you’re flighty by nature or not blessed with the heartiest of attention spans, this may take some practice.
- Hear With Your Ears -- And Your Eyes, And Your Brain. Communication experts say that less than 10% of the meaning of any conversation is in the actual words that are being said. It’s up to you to glean other clues from the context of what’s being said. Listen to your interviewer’s tone of voice and keep a close eye on his or her facial expressions and body language to get the full picture.
- Put Yourself In Your Interviewer’s Position. Another important aspect of active listening is having a sense of empathy for the other speaker. In the context of job interviews, this involves a bit of mental role-playing. If you were the one asking questions, what would you want to hear? If the tables were turned, how you rate yourself as an applicant?
- Paraphrase and Query to Fine-Tune the Q&A. When you’re engaging in active listening during a job interview, the lines between “interviewee” and “interviewer” may be blurred a bit. If you don’t understand a question, or if you just need a quick clarification, it may help to summarize what you think your interviewer wants to know and ask for confirmation before proceeding. To avoid slowing the pace of the interview, however, avoid excessive repetition -- it often works just as well to mentally summarize the questions before you answer.
Complement these strategies with what communication experts refer to as the “active listening posture” -- shoulders held straight, head and body inclined slightly toward the other speaker, and hands either engaged in taking notes or folded on the lap or the table. Before you know it, you may be “listening” to a job offer!