There’s no escaping the fact that attending a job interview at any level can be daunting. The likelihood is that you’ll be entering an environment with which you’re completely unfamiliar and that you’ll be interviewed by at least one person you’ve never met. Given this, it’s important to ensure that you have everything going in your favour. Arriving punctually, dressing smartly, conveying positive body language and smiling are all a given, but one interview skill that’s often overlooked is listening.

There’s a temptation to do your research and prepare answers for the questions you anticipate you’ll be asked, and that’s fine. Where you can fall down, however, is in not taking a deep breath during the interview and focusing on listening to the question the interviewer is actually asking, rather than answering the question you thought you heard. Clearly your answers need to be effective, concise and relevant, but they will only make an impression if they show that you’ve understood the question and not jumped in in your enthusiasm.

In essence, listening can be just as important as answering, especially given that the interviewer won’t just be judging you on the quality of your answers, but on your composure and ability to react and respond. Listening well will also enable you to build a rapport with the interviewer and genuinely to engage in a two-way dialogue. There’s nothing worse than trotting out clichés, because any interviewer will see straight through them and probably conclude that your offering to their organisation may be routine and uninspiring. To stand out, it’s important to try to ensure you understand the question and then offer an answer that’s different to everyone else’s.

Obviously, an interview is an opportunity for the interviewer and the candidate to sound each other out. Fundamentally, however, the interviewer will most likely be wanting to assess three things:

1 Can you do the job you’re applying for?
The answer to this will depend on a number of things: your skills, your experience, your knowledge, what you’ve achieved, your ability to learn and – if relevant – your ability to withstand any physical demands of the role.

2 Will you do the job you’re applying for?
The interviewer will be assessing your level of enthusiasm for the role, your attitude, your work ethic and your level of energy and commitment.

3 Will you fit in?
In this area the interviewer will be looking for signals as to how you communicate, how you approach work, the values you hold dear, your outside interests and your overall appearance.

The likelihood is that any question the interviewer asks will relate to one of those three areas, so bear that in mind while you’re listening to the question. Take a moment to process the question and to prepare an answer that will inform and entertain. Your interviewer may already have asked the same question to several other candidates so make sure that yours is the answer they’ll remember.

Given that less than 10% of any conversation is conveyed in the words that are used, it’s vital to pick up on other triggers using all your senses. Pay attention to the interviewer’s tone of voice, their facial expressions and overall body language as they can give you an insight into what they’re hoping to hear from you. One handy technique is actually to place yourself in the interviewer’s position and give the answer you’d be hoping to receive.

For Rosa dos Santos, owner of Exact Sourcing, active listening can be priceless in any interview situation. ‘Active listening will enable you to stand out and even engage the interviewer,’ says Rosa. ‘After all, anyone conducting an interview will remember the candidate that was able to differentiate themselves, and who even had the courage to engage them in a genuinely two-way conversation rather than just going through the motions and stating the obvious. They will also be able to spot answers that were pre-prepared and don’t really relate to the questions that were actually asked. Listening is a real skill, especially during an interview situation when you might feel under pressure, but a cool head and an ability to listen and answer succinctly can be a real advantage.’

Exact Sourcing is a recruitment agency in Cambridge and Newmarket. If you’d like to discuss how top prepare for your next interview, please contact us for an initial discussion.