Growing Great Companies


Listening Between the Lines

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Here are some tips to help you become an active listener:

  • Get control over internal distractions – The speed at which our brain can work is both a blessing and a curse. When our mind is not fully engaged in an activity, it tends to wander—and active listening stops. The challenge is to find ways to put distracting thoughts on hold. If you find yourself distracted by other work or personal issues, you may want to simply make a list of these topics before the interview, so you can get back to them once the meeting is done.
  • Plan ahead – Before beginning a discussion, ask yourself one important question: “What do I need to learn from this conversation?” In interview situations, you should also develop a list of questions that will help you elicit the information you need to learn. By consciously thinking about content beforehand, you open your mind to listen for critical information.
  • Write down important information – Taking notes is essential to active listening. You cannot turn off your brain, so when those distracting thoughts or questions arise, use a note pad to capture what’s going through your mind. Taking notes actually helps you stay more focused, and it frees your brain to listen.

Active Listening for Hiring Managers

During a typical interview, most hiring managers will spend almost 80% of the time talking. Yet an active listener spends 80% of the time listening. If you want to get better information about the candidates you are evaluating, put these active listening tips into your interview routine:

1. Listen to verify interest in the position.
The most successful executives are passionate about their work. As an active listener, you’re looking for evidence that the candidate is excited about your company, your industry, and the type of work he will be doing. Throughout the interview, you should hear excitement in the candidate’s voice. You should hear information about trends in your industry and/or the candidate’s field of expertise. And you should probably hear a suggestion or two for improving your firm or dealing with challenges you face.

2. Listen for examples and experience.
Pay careful attention to how candidates respond to your questions. As an active listener, you want to listen for specific examples of when the candidate demonstrated the kind of behaviors you want to hire. For example, if you’re looking for a visionary leader, you want to hear clear examples of times when the person exhibited visionary leadership. If you ask a question, and only get management theory in response (not supported by specific examples), you may have a candidate who is not truly qualified.

3. Listen for qualities that may bring negativity to the job or the team.
Such instances include gossiping, overconfidence, a lack of assertiveness, a tendency to procrastinate, scoffing the past employer, bragging, etc. Odds are that a person who exhibits this kind of negativity is not a team player and could become a destructive force to your company culture.

4. Listen for attributes that would benefit the company.
In most executive searches, two or three finalists will emerge. The challenge becomes differentiating among these talented people. As you interview, listen for (and make a list of) behavioral traits or other relevant experiences that would help the individual succeed in your organization.

5. And most importantly, listen for what is important to the candidate.

What are the candidate’s career goals? What motivates him or her? Is this an employee who is willing to contribute every waking hour to the job, or an individual who is very involved with a family and outside responsibilities?  Find the answers to questions like these to make sure the candidate’s priorities match the realities of the job. If you neglect to ensure a good fit between the individual’s interests and what the position offers, you are very unlikely to have a successful hire.

Counsel for the Candidate

Of course, active listening isn’t just for employers. If you’re in the job market, active listening is critical to your career success.

As a job seeker, you want to learn about the company’s expectations, the freedom and opportunities you will have, and the team you’ll be joining. You want to make sure that working for this employer will be the right step in your career. Here are a few active listening tips for job seekers:

1. Focus on learning rather than just selling yourself.
This advice may sound flawed; however, when you’re worried about “looking good,” you tend to be more nervous, ask fewer questions, and miss important information about the job. Go into the interview well prepared and know as you can about the company and its industry. Ask questions about the organization, the work environment, their perspective on industry trends, and the measures of success they have for the candidates they seek. As an active listener, you are looking to validate that this is really the best opportunity for you.

2. Show that you are actively listening.
Maintain eye contact and exhibit good posture. Provide visual cues that you are listening and interested by nodding in agreement and taking notes while the interviewer is speaking. Consciously doing these things will keep you mentally engaged and enhance your active listening skills.

3. Listen for important names and other key details.
During the interview process, you may learn new information about people in the firm, industry challenges, or competitive issues. If you are offered the job, you may want to refer to this information to help you evaluate your acceptance decision.

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