Are Your Listening Skills Your Job Search Problem?

Every once in a while, I run across what seems to be a good candidate on paper and he or she is just struggling to land a job. They might have master’s degrees and everything that would suggest they are highly competitive. Related: 5 Quick Tips For Better Listening Skills Then, it happens. You’re in a conversation with the person for 10 minutes and you've nailed his job search problem – THEY DON’T LISTEN. Communication skills are vital in business. The business world would come to a complete stand still if we couldn't actively communicate with our customers and with our work team. Seems simple enough but some people truly can’t communicate well. They might talk a mile-a-minute, but that doesn't mean they can communicate. Communication, however, is a two-way process. One person speaks, the other person listens. If the person listening can’t, or doesn't fully understand what the other person is attempting to communicate, they repeat back what they hear, acknowledge what they heard or ask questions. That process is called “active listening.” It is taking an equal role in communication. Imagine what it's like to have the person blow past what you’re saying with almost no acknowledgement that you even said something. Now, try to imagine asking a question 10 minutes ago and, if you got an answer in all of that, you're probably having a tough time figuring it out. Hiring managers or managers in general start developing a fairly short attention span because they have so much on their plate and need to focus on the most high pay-back things. They will simply write you off if they think you aren’t listening – especially to them. The assumption they make is that if you can’t listen or focus on what they need to hear, then you most likely can’t do a very effective job. It’s tough to train someone to listen when they don’t already possess that capability. Communication, especially listening, is a big part of the “likability” factors of: Know – Like – Trust. They might get to know you because you’ve talked so much but they may not like you too much because you aren't focusing on their needs. They also can’t trust you because they don’t think you’ll take the right action when it is the most critical because you aren't really paying attention. Let me suggest a few things you can do if you are concerned, or even if you want to improve your communication. Any time you are speaking (unless you are instructing), limit each verbal input to two minutes or less. I suggest you work with someone who will ask you questions and then keep track of how long your responses are. You need to get a feel for how long two minutes is by being kept in that window. You need to practice this until you nail it every time. Practice “active” listening. Active listening is when you participate with what the other person is saying before devising any response. Active listening can take a few forms. It may mean you repeat back what they say in your own words to ensure you understand. Look for their acknowledgement that you understand. Ask a question of understanding like “So in other words, you are saying/asking...” People want to have the other person pay attention to them. This is how you do that:

  • Pause for a few seconds before responding. During this pause, you can do the next step plus it will clear out any preconceived responses. It will give the impression that you are really giving the question real thought.
  • Repeat back questions you are being asked, even if it's in your head. You need to make sure you grasp the question first before responding.
  • When you are complete, ask if you answered the question to their satisfaction.
  • Self examine. If you’re talking excessively, you might be nervous. If you are, look for relaxation techniques to help you calm down and be present with the other person.
You can be the most brilliant person on the planet. If you can’t deliver and receive well (speak and listen), all that brilliance will do you no good. Make sure you aren't undermining your own career and job search by failing to listen well. This is a job search problem you don't want to have. This post was originally published on an earlier date.

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