Like any other conversation, a job interview is a two-way street: It’s as much about how well you listen as it is about what you say. And there’s more to listening than simply hearing another person’s words. How interviewers sit, how they ask their questions, and what they do while listening to your answers can tell you an awful lot about the direction the conversation’s taking.
Of course, during an interview, the manager is in the driver’s seat, so it’s critical that you’re able to read their cues. The Web is full of hints for figuring out whether someone’s paying attention to you or not: Are they making eye contact? Leaning forward as you speak? Nodding their head? All good things. But often, the message someone conveys is contained in ways that are more subtle.
Here are three things to bear in mind during job interviews:
1. Listen For The Hidden Question
No interview question is simple. In every case, the employer’s looking not only for insights into your skills and experience, but also for hints about how your thought process works, how committed you’ll be to your job, and how well you’ll fit into the company’s culture.
Keep that in mind as you listen to each question. If a manager asks you to describe a time you met an aggressive deadline, for instance, they’re also trying to get a feel for how well you work under pressure and how you work with others under less-than-ideal circumstances. It’s not simply a question about nuts and bolts.
So, don’t limit your answer to the obvious. Remember that during job interviews, explaining how you got to a particular point can be as important as showing that you got there in the first place.
2. Listen To Get Their Attention
Obviously, you want to keep the manager’s attention during the interview. Even if they’re one of those people who constantly checks their cell phone while they talk, you can pick up hints about whether they’re engaged in the conversation. The most obvious clue is whether they’re doing more than simply asking questions.
A true dialogue is more than a Q&A. It involves stories, comments – and answers – from both sides. If the manager seems to be following a script, break up his routine by asking questions yourself. For example, after answering that query about meeting deadlines, ask if the manager’s ever been in a similar situation, or whether you can expect to face tight deadlines as a part of the job at his company. If he asks for your opinion on a recent industry news event, inquire about his views after you’ve given him your own.
Always, you want the interview to be a true conversation. A manager is more apt to remember the candidate he engaged with than those who simply allowed themselves to be led through his checklist of questions.
3. Keep Them Focused
Pay attention for signs that you’re losing your audience whenever you need more than a few sentences to answer a question. Some clues are obvious. The manager’s eyes may wander, for example. Others are more subtle: Someone who’s been sitting forward may shift and begin rubbing the arm of their chair with their fingers.
Picking up on someone’s wandering attention will depend a lot on how well you read them. People differ, after all. A manager who’s comfortable multitasking may be carrying on an engaged conversation even if they’re checking their email while they talk. The trick is to look for signs that the rhythm has been broken. For example, if the multitasker allows pauses to creep into the conversation while he absorbs an email message, chances are you need to re-focus his attention.
Though the manager asks the questions during an interview, the job seeker has plenty of opportunities to direct the conversation. Always be on the lookout for hints about the interviewer’s interests and engagement. You’ll find them in what he does, as well as what he says.