A job interview is not a competition to ‘win’ the conversation.

A job interview is a ‘conversation’ between a job applicant and hiring manager/employer which is conducted to evaluate whether the applicant should be hired. It’s a conversation with a ‘purpose’ and not something that can be fully covered in “The 10 Most Common Interview Questions’ that you’ve most likely found online. Performing well in a job interview requires the ability to listen and respond appropriately. It’s not about all the skills you have or all the accomplishments you’ve had throughout your entire career. It’s about that specific job and the unique skills/attributes you have that match the role. Questions will be asked that are unique to that role and many great candidates blow their chances because they never listened to what was really being asked. Instead, they’ve spent 30 minutes in a one-sided conversation and literally talked themselves out of a job.

It’s an even playing field in an interview when it comes down to listening. Someone far less experienced who listens really well and answers the questions concisely will outshine any other candidate who over talks and doesn’t answer the questions properly. And even the most manicured responses can have a major flaw – they’re just too long and the audience has drifted off.

Listening is a more powerful tool than talking

Listening isn’t the same as hearing. Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear. Listening requires focus and means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body. It’s being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages. Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these messages.

In a job interview, take you time to listen to what is being said. If the interviewer asks you to talk them through an example of when you’ve overcome a major challenge on a project, think about an appropriate example and answer the question concisely. Don’t take this as your cue to rattle off your well-rehearsed checklist of skills in the hope you’ll impress them before your time is up. It’s all totally irrelevant if you haven’t answered the question in the first place.

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” – Rachel Naomi Remen

Are you unaware or simply just nervous?

Sometimes candidates are so nervous or absorbed in their own conversation that they fail to notice the interviewer has drifted off. Here are some visual clues that you’ve lost your audience:

  • The interviewer isn’t looking at you, they’re not interjecting or contributing to the conversation. They’re preoccupied doing something else other than listening to you.
  • They don’t notice when you’ve stopped talking and you catch them by surprise when you stop talking.
  • There are long periods where the interviewer doesn’t say anything. This usually means they’ve tuned out and are most likely plotting ways to politely interrupt you. You can bet they’re also crossing their fingers under the table that the answer to “Do you have any more questions?” will be “No”.

Getting the balance right

Let’s concentrate on the basics. Firstly (and most importantly), understand the role you’re interviewing for. Secondly, learn about the company and the people who are interviewing you and thirdly, think of your strongest examples that demonstrate your suitability. The interviewer’s aim is to gauge your fit so really LISTEN to the questions they ask. Great interviewers have subtle ways of extracting details from you by asking very specific questions, usually based around some key performance criteria. If you go off track with your answers (or never actually get ON the track in the first place), it’s impossible for them to obtain the information they need to make an informed decision. You only have 30-45 minutes to showcase your suitability so take the lead from the person asking the questions. You have two ears and one mouth so the obvious balance is to “listen twice as much as you speak”.