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Interview Tip: Listen Well

   Article by Carole Martin

If you thought interviewing was only about answering questions, you’ve been missing the point. You’ve also been missing an opportunity to gather valuable information. Listening is one of the most underused skills in a job interview. Most candidates go into an interview thinking about how they will answer the questions, and they forget they are also there to learn about the job and company. They fail to listen, observe and read between the lines.

A List of Questions Isn’t Enough

Reena sat in an interview answering questions. When she was asked, "Do you have any questions?" she was ready and took out her list of questions.

Sounds like she did everything perfectly, right? Not quite. She forgot to listen to what had been said during the interview and then follow up with related questions. If she had been listening, she would have heard the emphasis placed on retention. There were two questions asked about her plans for the future: How long she planned to stay with the company and why she had only stayed with her last employer for two years. If she had been listening, she might have been struck by the focus of these questions and followed up with something like, "I’ve heard some concerns about retention. What is the turnover rate for this department?"

She might have discovered the turnover rate was quite high. In fact, retention was a big problem for the company. Once that fact was discovered, her next question should have been, "Is there a specific reason employees leave?" She may have, or may not have, received a forthright answer, but she would have been able to make her own judgment and observe the interviewer for signs of discomfort with the question.

Put Up Your Antenna

Jerry listened throughout the interview and picked up the series of questions pertaining to stress and long hours. When the time came, he asked, "On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being high, how would you rate the stress and pressure levels in this department?" And then he could have asked, "Is this the norm or a seasonal workload?"

He had already worked in an office where he was expected to work 60-plus hours a week. He didn’t want to walk into that situation again. He noticed the two interviewers look at each other when he asked this question, and they rated the stress levels at six. After noting the interviewers’ responses to his first question, Jerry continued to ask more questions about the subject. He listened carefully, reading between the lines. He gathered information he wouldn’t have gotten had he not been tuned in and listening. He now had enough information to make a decision as to whether he wanted to work for this company or in this particular department.

The Rewards

When all you can think of are your answers to the interviewer’s questions, you miss a premium opportunity to garner information about the situation you will enter if you take the job. Just as importantly, you miss an opportunity to impress interviewers in a way few people do. Listening tells the interviewer you have heard what was said -- and sometimes what was not said. The best questions you can ask come from listening.

There are few better ways to make an impact with a perspective employer than by catching the details of what the interviewer is saying, and then spinning those points into observations or well-crafted questions. Smart employers see curiosity as a valuable trait, and you accentuate your curiosity by listening intently.

So turn up your listening and intuitive skills, and read between the lines. You’ll be surprised by what you hear.

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