Job Hunting

Hear What I Say

Recruitment experts say now, more than ever, job candidates need to learn to listen.
Lisa YoonFebruary 10, 2003

During the Nineties, when the CFO role grew to encompass such chores as investor relations and IPO road-show presentations, more companies began looking for finance chiefs who were good communicators. Hence, finance chiefs out in the job market needed to project a more outgoing, with-it persona.

But in the post-Enron, post-WorldCom era, a new kind of interview advice is making the rounds: Shut up, already!

“Charismatic leaders worked out well when the economy was booming,” says Kevin Herring, president of Ascent Management Consulting in Oro Valley, Arizona. But when the economy is strong, “if you’re in the right product line, it’s a no-brainer. Demand is so great, you can be the biggest idiot in the world, and as long as you can get the product out, you’ll succeed.”

But now that the party’s over, says Herring, it’s time to show some real leadership.

And part of that leadership is a keen awareness of knowing how — and when — to listen. This is not lost on interviewers, who say listening is an activity. That is, they say, listening is a lot more than simply not talking. When you listen, it means you’re interested in the person you’re talking to, and want to understand that person’s point of view.

Therefore, beyond giving your mouth a rest, using other kinds of body language can get across how well you’re listening. For instance, according to Michele DeRosa of career-management consultancy DBM’s Center for Retention Services, candidates who are good listeners tend to maintain eye contact 80 percent of the time. That’s because people who listen actively are interested in what other people have to say.

According to DBM, here are some other ways interviewers can tell whether you’re listening:

Repeating or paraphrasing what the interviewer has said is proof that you’ve been paying attention. Also, remember that listening speed is faster than talking speed. So convey your reaction to show that you’ve thought about the words, and aren’t simply saying them back to the interviewer.

Also, don’t be afraid of silence. “Most people are uncomfortable with silence and have an impulse to break it,” says DeRosa. “Active listeners use silence effectively.” A pause in the conversation can show a thoughtful answer is coming, one that is formed as a response to what has just been said, not a pre-packaged speech.

A job candidate can further show engagement in the conversation with nods, smiles, and other signs of affirmation to indicate an interest in hearing more.