Wait. What? What Did You Say? The Power of Active Listening for Interviewers!

By: Ron Bower

Wait. What? What did my candidate just say? Have you ever asked a candidate a question during an interview and then your mind wandered, and you didn’t really hear anything they said? C’mon, be honest. You’ve done it! I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Today, let’s dig into what interferes with active listening and what to do about it.

Conducting interviews requires more than just asking questions; it demands active listening and effective note-taking skills. Hiring managers who excel in these areas can gather valuable insights, assess candidates more accurately, make informed hiring decisions, and improve their quality of hire.

Not practicing effective active listening skills can adversely impact your quality of hire, the candidate experience, and your employment brand.

According to a study by LinkedIn, 69% of candidates believe that interviewers' listening skills impact their decision to accept a job offer.

What Is Active Listening, Anyway?

Active listening:

  • Involves fully engaging with the candidate, focusing on their responses, and demonstrating genuine interest. It allows hiring managers to gather comprehensive information and build rapport with candidates.

  • Is the key to understanding competencies, candidate motivations, and alignment with your values. It shows respect and creates a positive candidate experience.

  • Fosters effective communication during interviews. Hiring managers who actively listen can uncover valuable details, identify candidate strengths, and assess fit for the role and company culture.

  • Requires paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues. Observing candidates' body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice provides additional insights into their communication style and emotions.

To enhance active listening skills, hiring managers can employ strategies such as maintaining eye contact, avoiding distractions, and refraining from interrupting candidates. Paraphrasing and asking clarifying questions also demonstrate active engagement. If you want to assess the listening skills of your candidates, ask them thought-provoking behavioral-based interview questions.

"Non-verbal cues often reveal more than words. Pay attention to candidates' body language and observe whether their verbal and non-verbal messages align." - Dr. Amanda Lewis, Organizational Psychologist

To optimize note-taking, hiring managers should develop a consistent structure, use shorthand or keywords to capture main points and focus on significant details related to the job requirements and candidate qualifications. Using an online process to capture and retain notes is a powerful solution.

Brush Up on Your Skills

Here are some additional tips and suggestions to further enhance your active listening skills during interviews:

  • Eliminate Distractions: Minimize distractions in your environment to maintain focus on the candidate. Find a quiet location, silence notifications on your phone or computer, and close any unnecessary tabs or applications to create a conducive interviewing environment.

  • Demonstrate Non-Verbal Engagement: Non-verbal cues play a crucial role in active listening. Show your engagement through appropriate body language, such as maintaining eye contact, nodding to indicate understanding, and using facial expressions that convey interest and attentiveness.

  • Practice Empathetic Listening: Empathetic listening involves understanding and connecting with the candidate's emotions and experiences. Put yourself in their shoes, be empathetic, and show genuine interest in their responses. This fosters a supportive and comfortable environment for open dialogue.

  • Use Open-Ended Questions: Encourage candidates to provide detailed responses by using open-ended questions. These questions prompt candidates to elaborate, share insights, and provide examples from their past experiences, allowing you to gain a deeper understanding of their skills and qualifications.

  • Paraphrase and Summarize: Demonstrate your understanding of the candidate's responses by paraphrasing and summarizing their key points. This not only confirms your comprehension but also shows the candidate that you value their input and are actively engaged in the conversation.

  • Avoid Interrupting: Allow the candidate to express their thoughts fully before interjecting. Interrupting may disrupt their flow of ideas and prevent you from gathering comprehensive information. Practice patience and wait for appropriate pauses to contribute to the conversation.

  • Maintain Neutral Stance and Avoid Bias: As an active listener, it's essential to maintain a neutral stance and avoid jumping to conclusions or letting personal biases influence your perceptions. Remain objective, giving each candidate an equal opportunity to present their qualifications.

  • Listen for Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues: Pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues to gain a holistic understanding of the candidate. Note their tone of voice, pauses, changes in facial expressions, and body language, as these can provide valuable insights into their confidence, enthusiasm, or discomfort levels.

  • Clarify and Ask Follow-Up Questions: If you encounter ambiguous or unclear statements, seek clarification by asking follow-up questions. These inquiries help you gather more detailed information and ensure a comprehensive understanding of the candidate's responses.

  • Reflect on Your Listening Skills: Regularly reflect on your active listening skills and seek opportunities for improvement. Evaluate your interviews and assess how well you engaged with candidates. Consider seeking feedback from colleagues or mentors to gain additional insights and refine your approach.

What to Avoid

Active listening can be hindered by various factors, interfering with our ability to fully engage and comprehend the speaker's message. Here are some other things to consider that may be impacting your active listening skills:

  • Distractions: External distractions such as noise, interruptions, or environmental factors can divert our attention away from the speaker, making it challenging to focus on their message.

  • Preoccupation with Personal Thoughts: When we are preoccupied with our own thoughts, concerns, or agendas, it becomes challenging to give the candidate our full attention. Our internal distractions hinder active listening.

  • Multitasking: Trying to do multiple tasks simultaneously, such as checking emails or browsing the internet while listening, can significantly hinder active listening. Dividing attention among various activities reduces our ability to comprehend and respond effectively. This is especially an easy distraction during virtual interviews.

  • Interruptions and Over-Talking: Interrupting the candidate or engaging in excessive talking prevents us from truly listening. It demonstrates a lack of respect for the candidate’s perspective and inhibits active engagement.

  • Poor Body Language: Non-verbal cues that we project, such as maintaining poor eye contact, crossing arms, or displaying disinterested body language can signal a lack of attentiveness and hinder active listening. It may discourage the candidate from sharing openly.

  • Already Focusing on the Next Question: Stay focused! Ask a question and actually listen to the answer before you begin to think about the next question. Having a structured interview guide can help keep you in the moment.

Recognizing the factors that impede active listening is crucial. By addressing and mitigating these obstacles, we can enhance our ability to actively listen, understand, and connect with candidates effectively.

Need help creating customized, structured interview guides? Need a solution that simplifies taking, saving, and retrieving your interview notes? Need help training your managers on effective interviewing skills? Check out InterviewPath to learn more about how you can improve your quality of hire with the right interviewing tools.