Five Senses of Interviewing, Part 3: Listening and Learning


Think back for a minute. How many times have you heard the phrase “listen up” throughout your life? At school: “Listen up!” At summer camp: “Listen up!” At practice/intramural/extracurricular activities: “Listen up!”

At your interview: LISTEN UP!

An interview is not just a test of your capability to get the job done. It’s a test of your capability as a tolerable and agreeable colleague. This might sound harsh, but it’s true and there’s really no way around it. If you give the impression that you are someone who isn’t going to be able to listen carefully and follow directions (even at the management level, you will be answering to someone), you will be passed on in favor of someone who will.

Your interview is a fantastic opportunity for you to show how you rise above the rest in this area. Listen. I mean really listen; don’t just nod your head and wait for your turn to talk, and then spout off a rehearsed answer. A manager can usually objectively discern your skill level from your resume; they wouldn’t have requested an interview with you if they didn’t think you looked good on paper. It’s so important to demonstrate exceptional communication skills. Think about what a decision is going to be based on if a manager reviews ten resumes, each with roughly equal skill sets.

I can’t tell you how many times candidates I’ve worked with have been passed on because they are unable to effectively articulate the details of their experience to a hiring manager. Even on candidates with 10+ years of experience in a particular technology, I have received feedback after an interview that they are very junior-level or even that they misrepresented their skills on their resume. Honestly! These are very serious allegations and, more often than not, are probably completely untrue, but I can certainly see how someone who does not communicate effectively could come across that way. The job market is a very competitive scene, and candidates who are otherwise qualified are turned down every day because of below average (or even poor) communication skills.

Fortunately, this presents a great opportunity for job-seekers: by demonstrating exceptional communication skills, you will instantly put yourself ahead of a large portion of your competition. It sounds simple, but  it’s absolutely true. Go that extra mile. Actively engage with your interviewer; make it a true two-sided exchange of ideas and information. Listen fully and carefully to a question or comment, and provide a thoughtful, well-articulated response rather than unleashing a dry, over-rehearsed monologue through soulless eyes the second the interviewer is finished speaking. Even worse is a simple “yes” or “no.” Just like in school, you will be penalized for not answering in complete sentences and providing in-depth detail where it is most definitely expected. You certainly cannot provide the necessary information if you aren’t paying close attention.

So listen up!

It is also very important to show the hiring manager that you’re interested in not only the job, but in the company itself. Research the company online before an interview. Check out recent news having to do with the company. Too often are candidates blind-sided when a hiring manager asks, “What do you know about our organization?” or “Why do you want to work with us?” Think of it like buying a car or choosing a vacation destination, only more important (this is your career!). What do you know about it? Why do you want it? What would you like to learn about it?

Asking questions is just as important as answering them. Just be sure that you let the interviewer control the flow of the conversation. Give them a chance to answer your questions before you ask them. Don’t ask questions that have already been answered (the key is to listen!). If you would like more information about something that has already been discussed, be sure to present your inquiry in a way that shows you are interested in additional information and not just a repeat of information.

For example: the hiring manager for a Support Technician role has indicated that their desktop environment is primarily Windows XP, but did not elaborate on any future plans. The interview has moved on to a different topic, but you still have a question about plans for the desktop environment (perhaps in your last job, you were a key person in the company-wide upgrade from XP to 7 and feel you could bring a lot to the table). Ideally you would want to ask this question at the relevant time but that is not always possible.

  • Right: “Going back to your Windows environment: is there any initiative to upgrade to Windows 7 in the works or are you planning on sticking with XP for the the foreseeable future?
  • Wrong: “So, which version of Windows did you say you were using?”
  • Very wrong: “So, are your systems Windows or Mac?”

So do your research, know your stuff, and listen up. The hiring manager at Ford Kitchen Appliances will not be impressed if you conclude your interview with an obviously memorized statement about how you can’t wait to work in the automobile industry.

About Adam Barron

Adam supports EDI and IT professionals throughout the Midwest region of the US. As a recruiter with EDI Staffing since 2006, Adam has over 10 years of experience working with candidates to fill contract, contract-to-hire and direct hire positions, aiming to match each person’s unique goals with those of our clients. He is a frequent contributor to our blog, where he shares insight on industry topics such as marketability enhancement, resume improvement, interviewing and offer negotiation. Adam believes that strong relationships are key to the business and strives to connect with people, often keeping in touch long after a person has landed a job or interviewed with our clients.

Adam graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology. Prior to joining EDI Staffing, he worked as a Business Development Representative for its sister company, B2B Contact. Outside of the office, Adam loves to spend time with family and also enjoys writing, Boston sports, skiing, movies and board/video gaming.

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