Active Listening; the Key to Successful Interviewing


It is only natural for a job applicant to want to tell the interviewer all about himself, his accomplishments, and his experiences that make him the perfect candidate. The best part of an interview, however, may be what the candidate does not say – and when he doesn’t say it!

If the supervisor or hiring manager follows our advice, she will make the interview a conversation, not an interrogation. A conversation is dialog, a two-way street. That means both parties take turns speaking, and that means interviewees have to be willing to listen as well as talk. The effective listener, and the one who gains an advantage in the job hunt, is not a passive sounding board. He adopts active listening skills that enable him to pick up clues as to the company’s culture and what the interviewer wants to know about the candidate. A candidate who is receptive to those clues will tell the interviewer she has found the right person for the job.

Active listening means giving the speaker your full attention and transmitting subtle indications that you are doing so. Make her feel she is the most important person in the world and that what she is saying is the most fascinating information you have heard all week. If you really want the job, it will not take much acting. Concentrate on the interviewer. Offer non-verbal feedback such as a smile, a nod, or a slight lean forward, to show your interest. You will convey that you are earnest, enthusiastic, empathetic, and engaged – all characteristics most organizations cherish in their employees.

More importantly, though, active listening prepares your senses and subconscious mind to receive and process the tone, context, and subtext of what the interviewer says. Here’s how a well-placed silence on your part can pay off in an interview:

  • By allowing you to hear important job requirements. By active listening, you may pick up on the interviewer’s suggestion that the successful candidate will have, for instance, superior presentation skills. Later, when the interviewer asks about your public speaking experience, you can pull that ace from your sleeve. Discuss how your speaking ability formed a major part of your knock-‘em-dead presentations to company shareholders at your previous job.
  • By letting you better understand the reason for a question. Most interview questions are straightforward and asked of all applicants. There are a few reasons your interviewer may break from the script. Something you have said may have raised a red flag, and you need to go into damage-control mode to alleviate her concerns. On the other hand, your last answer may have intrigued her, and you need to capitalize on her interest. Only by active listening to the impromptu question will you know which tactic to use.
  • To help you make the best use of your time. A short pause after answering a direct question, allows you to actively listen to see if the interviewer wants you to expand your answer. Does she look up from her notes expectantly when you stop? Speak on! Does she put down her pen and look at her watch? Next question, please!


Interviewers are fountains of knowledge about their companies’ way of conducting business, how they value their employees, their organizational structures, their management styles, and their culture. Active listening skills will help you latch onto the crumbs of information dropped by interviewers. By putting them all together you can shift the focus from what you have done and what you know to how those skills and experiences can benefit the employer.

Ann Zaslow-Rethaber is President of International Search Consultants. Ann has been coaching candidates on interview skills since ISC’s inception in 1999.  You can reach Ann directly at .


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