December 7, 2020

The Key to Better Hiring Is Better Listening: 4 Ways to Get the Most From an Interview


As we near the end of 2020 and inch closer to a COVID-19 vaccine, business leaders are starting to looking ahead. As companies begin to rebuild, they’ll face a daunting decision: choosing whom they’ll rebuild with.

Hundreds of thousands of candidates whose careers were upended by the pandemic are now active in a highly competitive job market, a much different landscape compared to the economic situation at the beginning of 2020.

In a tighter job market, candidates are not often searching for jobs while unemployed, but rather making calculated decisions about their next moves, ultimately choosing to pursue positions based on shared interests and aligned values. This process, as you can imagine, makes culture-fit hiring a bit easier. Today, on the other hand, the overflowing pool of unemployed, top-tier candidates is making it a little more difficult to find those perfect fits. There are just so many high-quality choices!

As an executive coach, I often hear from leaders about how much the hiring process impacts an organization’s ability to build a strong and unified culture. Despite the pressure to fill roles rapidly as companies scramble to rebuild, it’s incredibly important that organizations slow down and be intentional about how they approach the interview process right now.

To get the most out of any interview — and hopefully make that perfect hire — it’s critical to leverage the art of deep, active listening. Here are four ways to do just that:

1. Gear Up to Be Fully Present

Distraction and lack of focus are two culprits that most commonly keep us from deep listening. Phone calls, texts, emails, pressing priorities, you name it: These distractions have a way of preventing us from being truly present. How many of us have participated in interviewers where it was clear that the interviewer’s mind was elsewhere?

The key to deep listening is preparation. Plan buffer room between a prior meeting and the interview, if possible, even if it’s just five minutes. This time allows you to reset and avoid carrying any potentially negative or distracting energy into the interview. A great way to reset is to take several deep breaths as you refocus and clear out the mental remnants of the last meeting. Next, switch all devices within arm’s length to “do not disturb” mode, and let colleagues or family members know you will be in a meeting. This way, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in the conversation without fear of being unreachable during an emergency. Finally, reflect on what you want to learn from the candidate during the interview. Note the emphasis on learning!

2. Practice Multi-Dimensional Listening

While deep, active listening contains a core auditory component (paying attention to the words spoken), the best listeners also use sight (observing body language) and intuition (noticing the “energy” and “feel” of a conversation).

For beginners, I recommend first building up auditory listening, and then adding sight and intuition as you become a stronger listener. By using these different senses to listen, interviewers can gain a deeper understanding of a candidate and their potential fit for the organization. Master tip: Look for consistency between a candidate’s words and body language; this indicates genuine and trustworthy responses.

3. Remain Open and Curious

All too often, interviewers stick to canned lists of questions, looking only for opportunities to check a box. While this may seem like a streamlined approach to interviewing, it actually encourages poor listening, as the interviewer is now approaching the conversation with an end goal. This focus on an end goal — and wanting to reach it as quickly as possible — keeps an interviewer from listening deeply and actively.

A far more effective approach is to adopt a “beginner’s mind,” an attitude that encourages you to ask questions with the intent to learn as opposed to evaluate. Instead of sticking to a strict script, ask open-ended questions based on the flow of the conversation. After listening to the candidate’s response, follow up with phrases like, “Interesting. Tell me more,” to invite further exploration.

4. Listen to the Candidate’s Questions

One of the best questions to ask the candidate is, “What questions do you have for me?” Their answer will indicate how well they’ve been listening throughout the interview.

An average candidate may ask rote questions unrelated to the flow of the conversation, but an exceptional candidate will tee up something insightful that came up organically. It will most likely sound something like, “Earlier, I noticed you mentioned the company is struggling with X. Can you share more?” A candidate’s ability to actively listen can be a powerful indicator that they are a team player and empathetic leader who can help build a strong culture.

As the adage, often attributed to Jimi Hendrix, goes: “Knowledge speaks; wisdom listens.” Many people recognize speaking as a skill, but they demote listening to the status of a passive activity. In fact, listening is an incredibly powerful tool that can be leveraged to build the strongest of organizations.

Stephen Kohler, MBA, PCC, BSP, is the founder and CEO of Audira Labs.

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Stephen Kohler, MBA, PCC, BSP, is the founder & CEO of Audira Labs, a boutique leadership development firm that enables leaders, teams, and organizations to amplify their leadership through transformational one-on-one executive coaching and music-infused, experiential team development.