Listening Strategies for the Interview Process

January 21, 2019

As experts in candidate search and placement, we have seen a wide range of communication styles and approaches to interviewing – both on the candidate and company sides. One key element that can make make a difference between interview success and failure is knowing the difference between listening to understand and listening to hear.

“Listening to understand” is the same as “active listening,” focusing on the interactive elements of conversation and staying engaged for the benefit of both sides of the conversation.


Here are a few key points to remember about listening to understand vs. listening to hear during the interview process:



  • When people are thinking about what they are going to say next, they can’t possibly understand what others have to say. This is an example of listening to hear. An interviewer may miss the candidate’s message if they are thinking about what to say about the company next and vice versa. A candidate may miss some key information about a company if they are busy thinking about how to highlight themselves next. Remember this is a two-way process!
  • When people aren’t listening to understand, they often hear only what they want. This can happen in interviews if both the candidate and the interviewer aren’t actively listening. Sometimes, both parties can be so sure of what they are looking for, it is hard to notice potential red flags.
  • Listening to understand involves clarification, such as “so what I am hearing is…?” or paraphrasing, even by confirming with the other person, briefly, what you heard. This can help both the candidate and interviewer really understand what is being said and give opportunities for clarification. This also opens the door for any miscommunications to be cleared up.
  • Active listening builds trust and allows speakers to open up and be more honest, as well as feel more comfortable. If an interviewer truly wants to get to know a candidate, they need to display signs of active listening, such as eye contact, as well as providing feedback and not interrupting. This shows both parties the other person is listening and wants to understand what is said.
  • Listening to understand forces candidates and interviewers to surrender what they already know. It shows a willingness to learn. This is a great quality to look for in interviews. Are candidates open-minded and willing to learn? Or do they already know everything? How willing is this company to try new things and learn new ways?

The end result of an interview very well may be a brand new professional partnership, with fresh territory to be explored by both parties. Active listening to understand is one of the best indicators that this new adventure will be executed with a spirit of collaboration, because listening to understand is like putting on someone else’s glasses and seeing something through a new lens and perspective.

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