Active Listening

Active listening is one of the most critical interviewing skills you need to develop. Active listening can be defined as high-level listening in which your entire attention is focused on the person speaking—your body, face, and eyes all confirm you are listening. Through active listening you’ll pick up the cues and clues that the interviewer is consciously and unconsciously giving you. If you are well prepared for the interview, you will be able to process the clues to determine the interviewer’s needs and biases. This will enable you to respond appropriately to those needs or biases at an opportune time. Attentive listeners are highly regarded by employers.

Do not allow your mind to wander. Not only will you miss key information, but more than one interviewee has been embarrassed by not hearing a question and then having to ask that it be repeated.

To be an active listener you must truly want to hear everything the person says. When the interviewer pauses from time to time, don’t jump in with a comment. Let the interviewer collect his thoughts, and then continue. Your willingness to allow the person to continue sends a positive message to the person, and will cause him to provide you with more information. After you ask a question it is particularly important to let the person know you are attentively listening to the response.

Do not be concerned if the interviewer does a lot of talking at the beginning of the interview. That’s exactly what you want. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to speak. In the meantime, listening carefully will give you an opportunity to learn valuable things about the person, the job, and the organization.

“Listen” with your body. Be relaxed, but don’t slouch. You should always be looking at the speaker, but with a gentle look, never a stare. When people speak, they often look away from the listener for 5–20 seconds, but when the speaker’s eyes return to you, your eyes should be gently looking at him or her. You should not be looking at your watch, looking out the window, or looking at objects in the office. Nod at appropriate times to signal you are really hearing what the person is saying.

As you listen, you should be taking in and interpreting everything. While listening, part of your brain is deciphering the information and deciding what to do with it. For example, employers are often cautious about mentioning serious problems that exist, yet will often allude to them in obscure ways. If you aren’t listening actively, the words might go right past you, and an opportunity would be missed. The interviewer might indirectly indicate that the company is experiencing high turnover and, thus, is looking for evidence of strong company loyalty. By sensing the need, you could provide evidence that demonstrates you have the kind of loyalty the company desires.

You will approach each interview with your own agenda, looking for opportunities to sell those skills which you feel are important for the job. You must also be flexible. You may pick up clues from the interviewer that the skills you had planned to emphasize are not as important as some other skills you possess. Only an active listener can recognize the need for a change in strategy, and then be able to make the appropriate shift.

By concentrating on what the interviewer says, you’ll be better able to use the information later in the interview. For example, the interviewer may have presented evidence that the position requires an ability to quickly gain the confidence of customers. A half hour may pass before you have the opportunity to cover that talent. Because you listened, you’ll remember.

Do not assume that just because you have years of experience, you are a good listener. Most of us have learned how to appear attentive with the appropriate nods, uh-huhs, and an occasional “I know what you mean.” You undoubtedly can recognize fake listening, and you don’t like it. A good listener makes the speaker feel that everything said is of great interest and that there is a desire to hear the whole story. Real listening occurs when you hear and understand the words, you properly interpret the feelings behind the words, and the person feels he or she has been listened to.


In interviewing there is no substitute for preparation and practice. Fortunately for you, most people spend little time preparing for interviews. They will get a good night’s sleep, polish their shoes, take a shower, and hope for the best. Their attitude is, “Since I don’t know what the interviewer will ask, I’ll just give it my best shot.”

But you can anticipate and prepare for the questions that will be asked in an interview. There are approximately 75 basic questions, all others being variations of these. Then there are the technical questions that can be asked of people in your field. These too can be predicted. Questions will also arise from information you’ve provided in your resume, particularly your accomplishments.

A complete discussion of the most commonly asked questions is covered in chapters 21 through 28. In each case, the principle behind answering the question is discussed, with an example often included.

To prepare your responses, simply jot down the points you want to make. Do not try to develop word-for-word responses. That would require memorization, which is not recommended—if you forget a point during an interview, you could become flustered and completely blow the response. Giving memorized answers can also make you seem mechanical. Instead of memorizing, you should practice your responses several times. This will help you feel confident and relaxed. Say your answers slightly differently each time to give them a ring of spontaneity.

Thorough preparation takes time. Preparing and practicing your responses to the 75 basic questions, the 5-8 technical questions you suspect could be asked, and the 8-10 questions likely to come off your resume, might require 15-25 hours. The effort spent, however, will pay big dividends.

Building Rapport

Building rapport quickly with your interviewer is a vital skill in the process of obtaining job offers. The main aspect of rapport is a mutual trust and respect. Begin by utilizing your best social skills. Use the person’s name several times throughout the interview, but don’t overdo it. Use the name of the company and department on several occasions. Speaking the interviewer’s language, including jargon and technical terms, goes a long way in causing the person to feel that you are “one of us.” In addition to a courteous and friendly manner, attentive listening is critical to building rapport.

Establishing rapport creates an openness and a freer exchange of ideas—always a positive result in an interview. When rapport is established, each party feels better about the other.

Be Yourself/Be Your Best

The material in this chapter will provide you with many techniques to help you perform successfully during an interview. When you’re using techniques, however, there is a danger of becoming too mechanical in your responses. As you use these techniques, remember to Be Yourself. By acting natural, relaxed, and confident, you will do well. My advice is to also Be Your Best. It is important, for example, to show enthusiasm during an interview. However, you may not be a naturally enthusiastic person. During an interview, then, you must consciously turn up your enthusiasm a notch or two. You are still being you, but you are being the best you are capable of. You should not try to raise your level of enthusiasm four or five notches above what is natural for you. That would be asking too much and would be self-defeating.

Getting More Information About The Job

Interviewers generally spend several minutes at the beginning of an interview describing the job and its requirements. Too frequently, however, the information you have about the job is still sketchy when the interviewer suddenly asks a really tough question. Without knowledge of where the organization is headed or what challenges it’s facing, providing an effective answer will be difficult.

Suppose the interviewer begins by asking about your strengths without providing you with much background information about the job or the organization. Since you have many strengths and want to emphasize the right ones, it is important to have more information. You could respond by stating, “I’ve got a lot to offer, but in order to cover just the right points, it would help a lot to know more about the position and what your needs are.” This will cause the interviewer to realize that further information is needed. Even after the interviewer gives you more information, you can still ask two or three questions to further clarify the job requirements. Practice how you will respond when such difficult questions arise early in the interview. This will give you the confidence to request more information. The success of your interview may depend on it.

Let Others Speak For You

When you’re answering questions in an interview, let what others have said illustrate positive things about you. For example, in response to a question you might say, “My boss felt some of my most valuable attributes were...” Granted, that person is not there to confirm what you’ve just said, but if you have successfully established your credibility, your statement will be accepted. You can also quote customers, vendors, and coworkers.

Learn To Talk About Yourself

During an interview you will spend 40–60% of the time talking—mostly about yourself. Much of that time will be spent describing experiences, but you will also be describing the type of person you are. The interviewer will ask questions such as, “Tell me about yourself,” “How would you describe yourself?” or “What would your friends say about you?” The problem with this is that most people spend very little time throughout their lives talking about themselves. People spend a lot of time talking about what they do—the restaurants, plays, concerts, sports events, and vacation spots they’ve been to—but they rarely discuss the kind of person they are. No wonder interviewing is difficult for most people.

Think about it. When was the last time you discussed whether you are a pragmatist or an idealist, or whether you are compassionate, easy-going, flexible, or resourceful? Since you’re not used to it, you may not be very good at it. It takes practice. For that reason I strongly suggest that you complete the personality skills exercise on page 69. After you write about yourself, find someone you can share your thoughts with. If you can’t find someone, simply record your thoughts on your personality skills using a tape recorder. Just hearing yourself talk about yourself will help you feel more comfortable and will improve your effectiveness in interviews.

Ending The Interview

Develop a close for your interviews by practicing a summary of the benefits you offer. Although the points you will want to make in the summary will vary somewhat from job to job, many of your points will be used repeatedly in interviews. You should be able to predict your primary assets so you can create a list of those points for the close.

Since you will not always be given a specific opportunity to summarize, you should sense when the interview is drawing to a close. That will often occur as the interviewer asks if you have any questions. Go ahead and ask those questions, but as soon as the interviewer finishes answering your last question you could interject, “Perhaps this would be a good time to summarize my strengths for this position,” or “Maybe I should just take a couple of minutes to pull it all together and tell you why I think I’m the person for this job.”

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