How to Use Active Listening in an Interview

Making it to the interview stage of a job application process is no small feat. You’ve outsmarted an application tracking system and crafted a resume that caught the hiring manager’s eye. So how can you continue distinguishing yourself and level up from interview to job offer? Try using active listening in your interview. The active listening skill set will not only set you apart from other job candidates but also serve you well throughout your career.


What is active listening?

Active listening means being a full participant in your interactions with another person and using verbal and non-verbal cues to both take in and convey information. When you are engaging in active listening, you are fully present in the moment—not paying attention to notifications on your smart devices, thinking about whether you put enough money in the meter, or regretting your choice of shoes.


Why is active listening important in an interview?

Full participation in your interview as an active listener serves two purposes. First, it conveys your interest in the position to the interviewer. You aren’t taking a scattershot approach to your job search. You intentionally applied for this position and are fully present in the experience. Second, active listening allows you to pick up on clues about company culture that will let you know whether the position is a good fit for you.


What does active listening look like?

Signs of active listening include:


  • Using an appropriate amount of eye contact as well as smiles and nods to engage and connect with the other speakers. The key word is “appropriate.” You want to show you’re developing rapport, not make the other person feel uncomfortable. (Remember to blink.)


  • Good posture and even leaning in slightly to show intentness. Your body language should convey alertness. The possibility of this position has you sitting on the edge of your seat!


  • Paraphrasing questions and reusing language from the question in your answers. This technique shows you understand what is being asked of you and are applying it to your response. If the hiring manager becomes simply your “manager,” they’ll want to know you have this capability. It also shows you’re responding to their specific questions, not spewing out scripted answers or trying to dominate the interaction with a preset agenda.


  • Asking open-ended follow-up questions when you have the opportunity. A good sign you’ve successfully employed active listening is when your interview starts to feel like a conversation. A clear sign of disengagement is present if either interviewer or interviewee seems to be marching through a list of questions or providing responses that don’t invite further exploration.


How can you develop active listening skills?

Practicing mindfulness—the ability to be fully present in the moment—will help you become an active listener. You don’t need to embark on a full meditation practice, but you can become a more active listener by cutting down on multitasking in all types of social situations. Start by putting your phone away and turning off the TV while you’re eating a meal with family or friends.


Can you use active listening in a phone or virtual interview?

While it might seem challenging, putting active listening to work in a phone or virtual interview may be even more important than during an in-person meeting. Most of us have gotten into bad multitasking habits. Even if you can’t see the interviewer or are only seeing them through a computer screen, you can still convey your full attention by placing yourself in a quiet, distraction-free zone. Close down Slack, and put your phone on do not disturb.


Never forget that interviewing is a two-way street. If you leave the interview feeling like it turned into an enjoyable conversation with people you’d like to spend more time with, that’s a sign you may be able to thrive in that particular professional environment.


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