Critical Listening Skills For Behavioral Job Interviews

Dr. Purushothaman
October 1, 2013

For managers and business owners, so much of being a good job interviewer involves listening with precision. Listening is a vastly underrated skill. Many people just don't seem to think of it as a focused conscious activity.

Listening with precision means actively focusing on the responses you hear in the interview. It's separating truth from statement and innuendo. Without precision in listening, it's very easy to be told something that sounds like an answer to a question - but isn't!

Anyone skillful in answering questions knows the art of misdirection - giving an answer related to your question, but leading in a direction away from the issue you want to explore. If you haven't heard a clear answer to an interview question, think of another way of asking it and see if it's still evaded.

Watch The Non-Verbals

Listening with precision means actively focusing not only on what candidates say, but how they say it. Most of what's communicated in an employment interview isn't the words, but the way they're spoken and the non-verbals.

You're assessing the non-verbals as soon as they walk into the room - how they carry themselves, shake hands and sit. People who lean towards you while speaking tend to have more powerful personalities.

Always look for an air of confidence in body language and verbal responses. Do the answers to your questions sound genuine and sincere, or rehearsed responses that seem to lack depth?

Clarifying Ambiguous Statements

Listen very closely for any statements in the job interview qualified with the words, "about," "around," or "approximately." When you hear these types of ambiguous statements seek immediate clarification. It may be an exaggeration - or a smokescreen.

You want to probe sweeping statements such as "I created," or "I was in charge of," to find out exactly what they created or were in charge of. They may be exaggerating their actual role. If you're left with a different impression after getting the details, that's a red flag you want to take note of.

Pay close attention to how the applicant rationalizes when discussing problems and failures. Rationalization reveals a lack of confidence and maturity.

Non-Verbals Tell When You're Not Getting The Full Truth

Non-verbal cues tell the most about when you're touching on a sensitive area in the interview or when you may not be getting the full truth. Regardless of what someone's saying verbally, facial expressions give the best information on the true meaning of a message.

Eyes are the window to the soul and reveal much about a person's mental state. Pupils tend to constrict involuntarily when a person's feeling stress. Listen very closely when non-verbal signals flash tension, such as averting eye contact when asked a tough question.

When I was in Asia I was asked, "Why do American people scratch their nose when they say something that's not true." She'd seen American films and television shows, and noticed the characters often scratched their nose when they're less than sincere.

From her cultural view, this seemed like a peculiar, distinctly American trait. Funny thing is, most Americans don't know this. I always pay careful attention when someone speaks facts - then scratches their nose.

Do their words flow naturally, or are there pauses and blocks in their statements that seem to reveal inner conflict?

Do they evade or overreact to questions in the interview? Fidget, or suddenly start talking faster in response to a question? Do they make abrupt movements or choppy gestures, clear their throat excessively, or start perspiring?

Pay atention to their breathing. Does their breathing pattern become shorter when asked a question about a sensitive matter? Pay very careful attention whenever words are saying one thing, but the non-verbals are saying something else.

Note a delayed speech pattern when you ask a question the job candidate finds uncomfortable. They may repeat the question, lean back in their chairs, looking at the ceiling buying time to think of a plausible answer. Folding the arms, or clasping the hands together in the fig leaf position may indicate defensiveness, trying to deflect an interview question.

Remember you want to spend at least eighty percent of the interview listening. Listening and learning are your goals as the interviewer. Talking too much - more than twenty percent of the job interview - is one of three biggest mistakes inexperienced interviewers make.

The number one problem that makes for bad listening by the interviewer is thinking about what you're going to say next. You can only be a good listener if you know your behavioral job interview questions in advance so you're not formulating your thoughts when you should be listening.


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