Listening Skills for Awesome Interviews

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If you want to find the outstanding stories, hone your listening skills. Excellent listening skills are a must when conducting interviews because when you listen carefully, you’ll find a wealth of information you’d never find any other way.


Every job requires interviewing skills. Authors and journalists conduct interviews to uncover background information, quotes, and anecdotes. Technical writers and researchers collect data and find patterns while interviewing subject matter experts. Business consultants and programmers discover client needs, concerns, and desired outcomes during the interview process. Even newly hired employees need to be effective interviewers to learn how to do their job correctly.

These job titles may collect information in different ways during an interview, but the soft skills needed to be an efficient interviewer are the same for every situation.

Here are the soft skills you’ll need to be a good listener while conducting interviews.

How to Be a Good Listener While Guiding Interviews

When I walked into my first technical writing gig, I freaked out as the manager introduced me to the long line of programmers I would be interviewing. I couldn’t believe all the people involved in developing Boeing’s accounting system. Maybe that’s because I didn’t understand the size and scope of the project.

Okay, it was my first day, and I was clueless. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know what questions to ask, and, to be honest, I didn’t know how to dig for the information I needed.

I did my best to direct the interview conversations. Still, I felt I had lost control when a programmer started rambling on about how this piece of code processed a dataset, and that piece of code did a sort function. I didn’t realize that the more I tried to direct the interview, the less I learned about the job I had been assigned to do.

As I stumbled and stammered through those first few interviews, I felt my confidence deflate. And then I met Andrea. Andrea had a reputation around the office for being the most personable and productive programmer on staff. As I watched Andrea, I saw that it wasn’t her fluent conversation that helped her gather material. She was the quiet type. It was her attentive listening skills that everyone admired.

During interviews, Andrea focused entirely on the person she interviewed and listened with both ears open. She showed interest in the conversation, made her interview subject feel important, and kept her attention on the conversation. Not once during an interview did she look out the window, doodle in her notebook, or check her messages.

I want to share with you the soft skills that Andrea used to be a good listener and an effective interviewer.

Skill 1: Remember Names, Faces, and Places

Andrea’s most admired talent was her ability to remember people’s names and recall small tidbits of information about places or events.

What was Andrea’s secret? Andrea prepared in advance. Before she met with her interview subject, she wrote their name at the top of her notepad and added them to her contact list. And, along with keeping an address book filled with the names of people she met, she wrote down a few things about them.

I asked Andrea what she did when she couldn’t remember a name or recall some other piece of information. “I don’t hide it,” she said. Instead of covering up her lack of knowledge, she was frank during the interview and admitted her inability to remember.

Andrea’s co-workers appreciated this frankness, and this frankness made her appear genuine. She didn’t worry about the occasional name-forgetting experience. “It happens to the best of us, even when we make a conscious effort to remember the names of people we’ve met and other important details,” she admitted.

Skill 2: Focus Your Attention

One day, I watched Andrea conduct an interview. I watched how she kept her interview subject animated and talkative. She leaned slightly forward as she listened, and her eyes were focused on the person she interviewed. When she looked away from the person, it was only for a second to jot down a quick note.

A Tip from Andrea  The recorder is your best friend in an interview. Camouflage the recorder so that it’s visible but doesn’t detract from the conversation. If you must use a microphone, don’t hold it in your interview subject’s face.

After the interview, I asked the person why he responded to Andrea the way he did. “She listens as if I am the only person in the world, and she’s always interested in what I have to say.” He also said he was happy to grant Andrea an interview any time she asked.

It is possible to be a good interviewer even if you’re tongue-tied or stuttering-shy around people you don’t know well. Just listen with a kindly presence and attention to the people talking to you. You’ll be amazed at how well they respond and how freely they answer the questions you ask.

Skill 3: Show Interest

It’s not always easy to be a good listener. Especially when the subject is foreign to you or when a person has a monotone manner of speech. The challenge is to stay awake during these times.

I asked Andrea how she managed to stay interested and involved during those difficult interviews. “When I act interested and listen for the interesting details, it doesn’t take long before I really am interested in the subject,” she replied.

How does she stay awake when the conversation gets monotonous? “I remind myself that I have a job to do, and it’s my job to be interested in the topic so that I can explain it to others in a fun and informative way.”

Skill 4: Don’t Interrupt

Andrea never interrupts the other person during an interview. “It’s bad manners to interrupt people when they are talking, and it doesn’t get the job done,” she told me.

The good listener doesn’t interrupt the conversation. If you don’t understand what’s being said, wait until your interview subject pauses before you ask a question. “Always let them finish their sentence,” Andrea recommended.

When an interview subject searches for a word, please resist the temptation to supply the word for them. It’s impolite and can leave your interview subject feeling inferior.

If you find yourself interviewing someone with a stutter or other speech impediment, curb your desire to help them out. The person is aware of their speech difficulty and works hard to overcome their challenge. Interrupting them may only cause more frustration.

Skill 5: Hide Your Boredom

Yawning, eye-rolling, and answering the phone during an interview are not only rude, but these gestures also distract the person being interviewed.

Andrea believes that the interviewer must stay engaged in the conversation by “finding ways to keep the conversation interesting and productive.”

A good listener prompts an interview subject to continue talking. When confronted with boredom, Andrea gets more involved in the interview. She may ask more questions than usual, or she asks her interview subject to draw diagrams.

“Anything that breaks the interview routine can break the boredom,” she offered.

Skill 6: Express Your Gratefulness

At the end of each interview, Andrea thanks the person for their time, for sharing their knowledge, and for playing an essential role in her research.

“I want them to know that it was worth my time for me to have met them, that what they told me was significant to the project, and that they made my job easier,” she said.

Andrea feels a simple thank you ensures that future encounters run smoothly and without friction.

Interview From Your Best Side

Andrea’s talent for listening was cultivated over time and with experience. Becoming a good listener may be hard work, but it’s worth the effort. Andrea credits her success to her eagerness to learn, her ability to focus her attention, and her honest interest in the people she interviews.

Copyright 2020 Coletta Teske
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