Oct 10 2014
Everyone knows that good communication skills are important, and if you’re a successful executive, you’ve probably already mastered activities such as meeting leadership and public speaking. If you have looked for a new position in recent years, you’re likely to also be aware of the importance of clear and compelling communication in an interview.
However, presenting yourself well verbally is only one part of the equation for a successful interview. If you focus your attention exclusively or even primarily on that aspect, you could experience frustration and an occasional unpleasant surprise when an interview doesn’t turn out the way you hope or expect it to.
To quote a couple of wise men:
- “No man ever listened himself out of a job.” (Calvin Coolidge)
- “Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.” (Frank Tyger)
The Art of Listening … Well
Perhaps you are familiar with a book called The Art of Listening by Les Back, published in 2007, which deals with the importance of listening more carefully and how we can do that. Of course, Back is not the only one writing about this topic, as a quick Google search would tell you. However, the point is that listening has received a fair amount of attention in recent years, but you might not have given it enough thought with regard to the interviews you expect to engage in for your next job search.
Merely listening—at least, as many people do it—isn’t enough. You need to practice what’s called active listening, where you pay careful attention to what the other person is saying, as well as what he or she is not saying. Research shows that we can think much faster than most people talk, so our minds tend to wander to the next point(s) we plan to present as soon as we get a chance to talk. In an interview, that can prove disastrous.
Balance Speaking and Listening
Obviously, it’s important to balance your emphasis on speaking and listening in an interview situation. You certainly won’t impress the interviewer if you sit quietly, soaking up every word he or she utters, and don’t have anything to say for yourself. On the other hand, if you talk too much and listen too little, you might come across as overly dominant, arrogant, or otherwise dismissive of the value the other person can contribute to the “discussion.”
A good tip for achieving the right balance relates to the preparation you do before the actual interview. As part of your due diligence, you should have uncovered a fair amount of information about the company, the key people in its management team, the challenges and opportunities it faces, and so on. That means you have the ammunition to come up with some pertinent questions you want to get answers to—questions that are critical to your ability to land the job and to do the job successfully once you have it.
After you have those questions in mind, the next step is to determine the critical pieces of information you need to gather regarding them during the interview. Then you can focus on listening carefully to the interviewer’s responses to your questions, as well as related information that might come up elsewhere in the interview. Doing that careful listening helps you fine-tune your responses to the interviewer’s questions and effectively present the leadership value you can bring to the company.
Question Your Assumptions
One dictionary definition of “assume” is to “think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true.” If you go into an interview with preconceived ideas about what to expect and don’t listen well during the interview, the outcome could be disappointing at best.
One classic example of this is a situation where you head into the interview highly recommended and feeling that you’re basically a shoo-in for the position. If you forge ahead with presenting yourself compellingly and don’t exercise active listening skills, you’re likely to miss some key signals that could alert you to pitfalls you need to be aware of. Take a few minutes before the interview to question whatever assumptions you might have and pay attention to anything you hear in the interview that doesn’t sync with those assumptions.
One Final Tip:
Earlier I shared statements from two well-known historical figures about the importance of listening. Here’s one more from an anonymous source that relates extremely well to the need for exercising listening skills in interviews: “Opportunities are often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be listening.” Make sure you don’t fall into that trap during your interviews!