Improve Your Listening Skills to Win the Job

Improving your listening skills will help you stand out in a crowd—exactly what you need to differentiate yourself in a competitive market.

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When there are so many qualified candidates, it is even more important to do everything you can to make the best impression possible during an interview. If you’ve been preparing, it’s likely you’ve been rehearsing how to answer questions. Of course, it’s important to be ready for typical inquiries and be able to respond to questions with well thought-out stories detailing your skills and highlighting accomplishments as they relate to the job.

But it’s just as crucial to practice how to be a good listener, to help you hear and understand nuances of each interview question. Being a good listener isn’t only key for the interview; it makes you a better employee. When an employer sees that a candidate is unable to respond to each part of a detailed question or notices that candidate failing to answer key points, it’s a red flag. It suggests that potential employee may not follow instructions, attend to clients’ inquiries, or be able to get the job done.

[See 9 Tips to Make Your Resume Stand Out.]

Good listening skills are worth honing at any point in your career, but when in job-search mode, they can be even more crucial to improve.

Active listening is a skill most people do not practice, and studies suggest we only remember between a quarter and a half of what we hear. (And possibly even less when in a stressful situation, such as a job interview.)

MindTools.com outlines the following five key elements of active listening, which requires you not only to hear the other person, but also understand what he or she is asking you to do:

1. Pay attention. Try not to be distracted during the interview. Even if the interviewer has on an ugly tie or seems preoccupied or unfocused, be sure to hone in on both what he is saying and his body language. Make eye contact, avoid preparing your response during the conversation, and focus all of your energy on the current discussion.

[See 7 Things Your Interviewer Wants You to Know.]

2. Show you’re listening. Again, your body language speaks volumes; attention to non-verbal communication can help you become a better listener. Mindtools.com suggests you make a point to nod occasionally, smile and positively respond with your face, maintain an open and inviting stance and posture (don’t interview with your arms folded), and provide verbal acknowledgements, such as “Yes” and “uh huh.”

3. Provide feedback. Even during an interview, it’s okay to clarify what the questioner is saying, to ask him or her to rephrase something, and to summarize what the questioner says. (Though you wouldn’t want to do this for every question.) If you know you missed the question because you were distracted, you’re better off asking for clarification rather than responding with unrelated or non-specific details.

4. Defer judgment. Don’t interrupt or start responding to the question before the employer finishes.

5. Respond Appropriately. Demonstrate you have been listening and paying attention by providing an honest, candid, respectful reply.

[See Don't Make These Mistakes in a Job Interview.]

Practice your listening skills as often as possible—any time you have a conversation, listen to the radio, or watch television, you can practice focused listening. Test yourself by recording television programs or signing up for podcasts you can re-review. Listen to what’s said, and then see how much you can re-tell or explain. If you miss a lot of details, start over and try to focus more. Slow your listening down and make more of an effort to be in the moment with your attention. Practice shifting positions, or making more eye contact (for a television show) to see if that helps your retention. If you’re having a difficult time concentrating, try repeating the words in your head as they say them to try to reinforce what you’re hearing.

Improving your listening skills will make a difference and help you stand out in a crowd—exactly what you need to differentiate yourself in a competitive market.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.

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