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Listening In Interviews

Listening In Interviews

From Career Tips, 2020 Volume 1, January 2020


Woman Listening Attentively
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

A friend forwarded me this link to an interesting article titled "The one thing about Martin Luther King Jr.'s greatness everyone keeps missing". No one would dare argue with the point that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was a great and influential orator. What this emphasizes is that a large part of the strength of his oration and influence came from his ability to listen.


This is a good lesson to take into interviews, and anywhere else where one is trying to have influence.


We come into an interview prepared to speak. We come in armed with a pitch for why they should hire us instead of anyone else, talking points we want to be sure to get across, answers to questions likely to be asked, responses to difficult or uncomfortable queries about perceived flaws in our background, job history, or expertise, etc.


We then watch for the opportunities to bring those out.


This can easily lead to not listening as deeply to what the interviewer is saying, not observing closely enough how he or she is acting and reacting, not hearing the nuances and underlying messages that could really help to build influence.


We also then tend to jump into our own points too soon or too forcefully. Holding back a bit and listening carefully might reveal that there's a better time for that point, or a more effective way to present it, or an entirely different point that might be even more relevant. Or even that a few questions of our own might open up the conversation in an entirely different and more productive direction.


Here's an example:


I believe myself to be a manager who builds strong teams, and I've come well-prepared with stories to demonstrate this. The interviewer notes that they have an issue with the performance of the unit for with I would be responsible. I launch into a story of how I converted a demotivated group into a high performance team.


Had I instead asked a few questions about what led to the performance issues, and listened carefully to the interviewer's answers, perhaps probing even further, I might have diagnosed one of these:

  • The performance issue has little to do with how the team is managed, it's that there was huge turnover last year, and the real problem is a lack of training.
  • The unit is woefully understaffed, and my biggest challenge will be recruiting and hiring the right people.
  • There is really just one problem person in the operation. He is the most experienced player, but brings the whole team down, and if I deal effectively with him, the rest of the issues will likely melt away.

Any of those would have led to a completely different story, or at least a different flavor, that could have hit the bullseye with this interviewer, instead of just getting somewhere on the dartboard.


So, when you find yourself in an interview or any other situation where you truly want to have more influence, try exercising your listening skills as much as possible!


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