We’ve all run into these kind of people. You attempt to have a “conversation” with them but you know that all the time you’re talking they are not really listening. They’re merely thinking about what they are going to say next. And, if you happen to take a breath, or otherwise pause while speaking, they jump right in and “step on” what you were saying and try to head the conversation in a totally different direction!

Now, assume for the moment that you are a hiring manager, “headhunter” or Human Resources professional operating under constant time constraints and that you are interviewing a candidate with these “communication” traits for an open position. It would probably get really frustrating and tedious really fast, wouldn’t you agree? Well, I’m here to tell you that, yes, it can—and does!—get very frustrating and tedious very quickly! (It can also torpedo a candidate very quickly.)

Many, if not most, open positions today specify that candidates must have “excellent communication skills.” Far too many candidates interpret this requirement to mean that they must be “good talkers.” The fact of the matter is, that’s really only one-half of the effective communication equation. Truly effective (and productive) communication is very much a “two-way” street, i.e., one person talks, the other person actively listens and then makes appropriate responses to what was just said before attempting to head the conversation in another direction.

Think, Act Like TOP Salespeople

I often relate the job prospecting/interviewing process to the general sales process. The reason for that is really quite simple. Whenever you prospect or interview for a job—any job—you definitely are in the sales business, and the “product” you are attempting to sell is YOU and your unique professional brand. That means, in order to be effective, you must employ the same tactics and strategies that are typically employed in any sales situation.

In “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!, I devote an entire chapter to the idea of job prospecting/interviewing as sales process (“Selling Is NOT Telling—It’s Asking”). Contrary to popular opinion, the most successful salespeople are very rarely the “fast-talkers.” Rather, they usually are those who are the best listeners, and who, because they are good listeners, then ask prospects the best questions to determine how best to sell them! Just coincidentally, the most successful job candidates also tend to be those who understand these same principles and then employ precisely this same approach.

Become a Better, More Active Listener During Job Interview

While friends and acquaintances may tolerate any poor listening habits you might have, don’t expect this same level of tolerance from hiring professionals. Because time is at such a premium today for these professionals, the moment that they even suspect that you may be wasting their time (or trying their patience!), they quite likely will terminate any interview with you and quickly move on to the next candidate, thereby eliminating you from further consideration.

Want to become (and be perceived as) a better, more active listener, and thereby significantly improve your chances of success during a job interview? Consider taking these steps:

  • Give the interviewer plenty of positive visual/verbal feedback when he or she is talking. In a face-to-face interview such feedback may consist of something as simple as slowly nodding your head to show agreement and to indicate that you are in fact paying attention, i.e., actively listening. Also, make sure your eyes are focused on the interviewer and not “glazed over,” thereby strongly suggesting total detachment from what is being said. If the interview is over the telephone, you might say such things as, “Yes, that’s true,” “Good point,” etc.
  • Make sure your responses are appropriate/relevant to what has been said or asked. A dead giveaway that the other person is simply not listening to what we are saying or asking is when he or she gives inappropriate, irrelevant or largely meaningless responses to what we have just said/asked.

Example: The hiring manager tell you, “What we’re looking for in the person we select for this position is someone who can multi-task, stay within budget and meet tight deadlines. How do you stack up with regard to these characteristics?” Your response: “Well, I have consistently been able to meet each and every requirement of every job I’ve held during my career. I have absolutely no doubt that I can continue to do that in this position.”

Talk about being non-responsive! Did you even listen to what the hiring manager said/asked?

  • Seek clarification when needed. Referring to the previous bullet point, rather than to give the nonsensical/non-responsive answer that was given, which strongly suggests that you weren’t listening very well at all, you might respond with a question such as this: “Could you please expand on what you mean, specifically, by ‘tight deadlines’?” It’s a fair question and certainly indicates that you were actively listening to what the hiring manager was saying.
  • Ask intelligent, appropriate, applicable questions. It’s quite all right for you to ask questions during a job interview—as long as those questions are intelligent ones that are also appropriate and applicable to what has been discussed during the interview. The more of these types of questions you ask (within reason, of course), the more clearly you will demonstrate that you actually paid attention, i.e., actively listened, and that you were totally engaged during the entire interview.
  • When asked, at the end of the interview, if you have any questions, give a brief summary of what you heard and understood during the interview, then ask the most important question to be asked during the entire interview.

Example: “I certainly appreciate your taking the time to discuss this position with me and I remain quite excited about this career opportunity. I understand that you are seeking a candidate who has a background in X,Y, and Z, and someone who can bring A,B, and C to the table. I believe that I am such a candidate and I hope I have been able to convince you of that. I have just one remaining question: What are the next steps in the process?

Will taking this approach guarantee that you will shoot to the top of the candidate list? Unfortunately, no, it won’t. I can guarantee you one thing, though: The moment you are perceived as someone who is a poor listener, as someone who is not totally engaged in the interview, you will be quickly eliminated from further consideration.


Skip Freeman is the author of the international bestselling job hunting book “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! (http://portal.sliderocket.com/BFDSG/Find-Your-Dream-Job) and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.