This part of the communication equation doesn’t get enough credit for what it can reveal

Are your job interviews structured toward what people have to say, or how they, well, listen? We tend to use face-to-face encounters to gain information verbally. We may ask candidates to repeat their work and education histories, to pursue some facet that jumped out of their resumes. We may ask about their goals and values, to see if those jibe with the company’s mission. Sometimes we use what-if scenarios to get prospects to go deeper and reveal how they act under pressure. Then, we sit back and let them talk.

Suppose we could get all that by looking at how they listen. This part of the communication equation doesn’t get enough credit for what it can reveal. Here’s a new take on an interview technique that can show you how well potential employees would transact business in your company.


Track a typical exchange among relevant parties in the job role you are looking to fill. Take a few situations, such as peer-to-peer remote chats, formal group meetings, and customer-facing contacts. Then, compose templates for role play.


Identify instances of “good” and “bad” internal communication and their consequences. Maybe a staff member failed to pursue an answer when a colleague did not respond to an email. A key piece of information needed for a report may have fallen through the cracks, which can be traced back to this lapse. A legal filing based on the faulty report might have earned a penalty or harmed a client’s standing. Or, perhaps the opposite happened: a swift and sure exchange of accurate data led to a stellar outcome. Use these scenarios to pose problem-solving questions for candidates.


Highlight the role of listening—both in these hypothetical circumstances and in interpreting what you want to know right now—in the interview.

It goes like this:

Model good listening in the presence of candidates. Instead of “taking charge” of the interview, let your prospect know that you are all ears. You might start by asking, “What is it you’d like to learn from me about this job or the company?” Then, stop talking! Note whether the response answers your question, or whether that person is more focused on tooting their horn.

Move through the role-playing, noting how your candidate would communicate in typical situations.

Do they:

  • listen to understand, and not just to respond with their own views?
  • repeat what they’ve heard and ask for confirmation?
  • ask clarifying questions?

Asking for additional information or a nod as to whether they’ve interpreted the speaker correctly does not indicate a lack of ability; it’s a sign of good listening!

Finally, set up the good/bad communication vignettes for your candidate. (Bonus points if they ask for clarification as you go along.) Ask them to analyze the good and bad outcomes, detailing what they would do differently and seeking a cause for the consequences. If they chalk up those wins or losses to strong or weak communication, you’ve got a real listener on your hands!

Every business situation requires people to connect, understand, and act on what they’ve heard. Job candidates with superior listening skills will simply excel at this practice. Sometimes, in an interview situation, what they hear is far more telling than what they say.


Chris Dyer

Chris Dyer is a recognized performance expert. Constantly intrigued by what makes some businesses and individuals more successful than others, Chris has dedicated years of research to uncovering what drives productivity and profits. As a sought-after speaker and consultant, Chris works with leading organizations to help them transform their cultures to boost performance and gain an even greater edge in the marketplace. A certified SCRUM Master, Chris is highly adept at helping teams work through obstacles and find solutions quickly and effectively. He leverages this experience in all aspects of his work. Chris is the author of The Power of Company Culture, which was released in 2018. He is also the Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a background check company that has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of the Fastest Growing Companies. A passionate talent management enthusiast, Chris is the host of TalentTalk, a popular business podcast that features interviews with top executives about their strategies for hiring and promoting talent. Chris strongly believes in community involvement, and he is active with a number of organizations. He regularly serves as a judge at entrepreneurial showcases and contests, such as Miller Lite Tap the Future. Additionally, he runs two book clubs for Senior Level and HR Professionals in Southern California. Chris also serves on the board of Working Wardrobes, a non-profit organization that empowers people who are overcoming difficult challenges, such as abuse or homelessness, to confidently enter the workforce and achieve self-sufficiency. In his free time, Chris enjoys traveling with his wife and kids and playing live music with his band. He resides in Orange County, California.