You’ve studied up on the role you’re interviewing for, planned the perfect outfit and practiced your answers to commonly asked interview questions. Normally, you’d have google-mapped exactly where you’re going and confirmed that you’re registered as a guest in your destination’s visitor system to ensure no snafus occur upon arrival. Today however, you have saved all Zoom links and passwords, arranged your backdrop so there are no disractions, and have even put pants on! You can recite your carefully crafted talking points in your sleep. And therein lies the problem. Reciting information only gets you so far on an interview. What really demonstrates your intelligence, critical thinking and communication skills is your ability to genuinely converse.
To converse, inherently, is to engage in discourse ー to have a conversation!
Now, don’t take this the wrong way. By no means do we assume you don’t understand what a conversation is! However, a common interview blunder we see around here is when strong candidates come in to interview and are extremely well prepared to recite information about themselves, and not much more. Interviewers are actually assessing not only how one can explain their background and achievements, but their ability to retain information coming at you effectively (read: listen actively), and incorporate it back into the conversation when questions are asked of them. No being able to do this impacts their ability to make a human connection. We know how hard it can be to strike a chord in an interview, let alone make it feel natural while it’s virtual. When you throw in nerves ー part of human nature! ー it only becomes harder. We do believe however, that there are a few listening tricks to help you open up your ears, and get out of your head a bit. When you can master this, you’ll be able to leverage your own story-telling skills into natural conversations that highlight all your best strengths while peppering in exactly why your skills fit what the job entails.
How can you be a become a better listener, you ask? Consider our three keys to successful active listening:
Listen with your EARS
Why are you talking? Really think about it. Before you open your mouth, it’s perfectly okay to pause for a couple of seconds to genuinely consider a question instead of diving into your rehearsed skills summary. Are you answering a question directly, and incorporating tailored bits that correlate with the role you’re interviewing for? If so, you’re on the right track! Or are your answers meandering and filling the air because you’re too nervous to stop talking? Listen. Pause. Answer. Then, dive into relevant specific sub-points or examples. If you need to ask for clarification, that’s perfectly alright as well. Trust us, a few extra seconds of thoughtful consideration will save you minutes of wasted time during your most important opportunity to make an impression.
Pro-Tip: Try to shift gears away from your personal cruise control. If an interviewer feels like you’re simply listing bullets they’ve already read on your resume, you’re boxing them out of an opportunity to converse, engage, and dive deeper. Furthermore, if you’re not actually answering their question, you definitely jeopardize your candidacy. That’s the biggest dead giveaway that you weren’t actively listening. During your next interview, consider your memory a storage box where you can keep key points about the role or company in for safe keeping while your formulate your thoughts, and then pull them back out when possible to show you took into account the details you learned while listening.
Listen with your EYES
Check yourself and read the room (this can be done virtually, too!). It’s important to consider the body language of your interviewer. You’ll be able to notice if they’re “checking out” mentally because you’re waffling around the question at hand, or taking too long to get to the point. They’ve – hopefully – already read your resume which is why you’re there in the first place! The biggest challenge of interview preparation is that is one sided. You’re anticipating what could be asked of you and culling through the highlight reel of your experience to craft the perfect answers to them. What people don’t plan for however, can be the most critical opportunity to put your best foot forward; Your ability to ad-lib, improv, and think-on-the-fly is how you form real connections with others, afterall, so practice that, too!
Pro-Tip: If you notice your interviewers eyes are glazing over, they have a preoccupied look on their face, or they’re using closed body language, so think fast! If it’s a virtual interview, you may even be able to hear them typing an email instead of paying attention to the conversation. Wrap up your answer or drive long-winded responses back to the question if you’ve veered off… And stat! Eye contact is also something you want to maintain as often as possible during an interview so you can stay on high alert for these visual cues. There’s nothing more impactful than solid eye contact to genuinely engage someone, and to make them feel like you’re fully focused on them. Try to remain fully focused on your interviewer, not the people walking by your glass interview conference room on their way out to lunch. Note: While virtual, eye-contact is challenged. However, looking into your web camera on your computer will simulate you’re looking at them. This can be used as often as you can.
Listen with your BODY
As mentioned above, listening transcends sound waves that enter your brain. There are non-verbal cues you must observe, and not only in other people. Per the above, given you can usually tell by the body language of your interviewer whether they’re engaged, or simply waiting for you to finally stop talking, the same applies to yourself. While active listening will help you achieve the best interview outcomes, you need to show that you are actively listening in order to develop rapport and trust with your interviewer. If they feel like you are disinterested, your head is in the clouds, or that your nerves are acting up, they’ll be able to see it. While eye contact factors in, there are a few key physical listening indicators that can really help disarm your interviewer, and foster an environment ripe for engaged conversation.
Here are some of our top tips:
Be comfortable in your skin: We can’t stress enough how important it is to have a professional, polished appearance during an interview. Find out what the typical dress code is, and level up a tier higher, so you’re putting your best foot forward. You’ll always be respected for being slightly overdressed, but being under-dressed can indicate a lack of seriousness which will set the wrong tone.
Use positive body language: It’s really quite literal! Appearing open will show you’re interested and appreciative of the opportunity to interview. Crossing your arms for example, or slouching into your seat will show a lack of confidence and make you seem disinterested. Here’s a helpful guide to harness your own positive body language and eliminate bad habits. Need more incentive? This should help.
Smile!: For starters, there’s hardly a better first impression to build rapport than one including a genuine smile. While you want to avoid nervous laughter at all costs, as you build trust with your interviewer throughout your conversation ーby demonstrating your impressive active listening, of course! ー it’s okay to let your best self shine! Passionate about the opportunity and new initiatives being discussed? Show how you feel with an engaged smile as you take it all in.
Follow these tips and you’re sure to strike the right chords during your next interview conversation, and that will be music to your interviewers’ ears. Over time, these practices will become second nature, and your listening comprehension will soar, too. Not only at the interview table, but on the job!