Most of the time we feel like job interviews are about talking. “Tell me about yourself,” the hiring manager asks, and out comes that perfect pitch we prepared and practiced. “Tell me about a challenge you overcame at your last job” gives us an opening for that amazing story of learning and success.

Now, don’t think we are going against our own interview advice to prepare and have stories to tell. But talking is really only half of an interview. The other half is sorely neglected by both hiring managers and candidates: listening.

In an article on Inc. last week, they wrote about the value of “listening slowly” for interviewers. One person interviewed had received advice to wait 5 seconds after a candidate finishes answering before saying anything.  5 seconds.  Imagine it, I’ll wait.

Didn’t that seem like an endless silence?

The idea is that a candidate will jump to fill that silence and give a hiring manager more insight into their personality and temperament than they would otherwise get. They are probably right. They do warn, however, that waiting after an open-ended answer can work; waiting after a factual answer is just odd and we agree!

What about candidates?

Most commonly, a candidate will listen to a question with some of his attention and then start planning his answer, but this may not be the best technique. The interviewer is giving you information in and with her question, with her choice of words, her body language, and even with her tone. If you jump to a conclusion right away about what the real point of the question is, you might miss a nuance that you could use to your advantage or hints about corporate culture and fit that you could use to adapt your answer.

Practice Active Listening:

  • Give the speaker your complete attention. Watch for body language, don’t get distracted and don’t prepare your answer.  You did that at home.
  • Use your body language to show that you are listening attentively by nodding, reacting with a facial expression or saying “mm-hm” or other confirmation sounds.
  • Wait. As hard as it is, when the question is finished is the right time to gather your thoughts if you were listening properly. And when you’re finished with your answer, let there be a silence. You don’t need to jump in with more if your answer was complete and well-prepared.

If the people on both sides of the hiring process really listen to each other, an interview is more like a conversation than an interrogation and that serves everyone well.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative.