How to Speak and Listen

Updated: September 21, 2020

No matter how many times you practice responding to the top 100 interview questions, you’ll get nowhere if you don’t come across as genuine and likable in your interview. Interviewers meet a lot of people, and they read a lot into your tone, body language, and conversational style. Did you cross your arms over your chest throughout the interview? Definitely not a team player. Did you avoid eye contact? No one’s going to hire you in customer service.

First impressions can set the tone for an entire relationship, so if you send the wrong signals during an interview, that relationship may not last beyond the office door. Read on to learn how to act in an interview.


Be authentic

The best way to radiate authenticity in your interview is to pursue an internship in an industry or profession that genuinely interests you. If you’re truly passionate, your interviewer will know. If you’re not, they’ll probably know that, too.

Employers want interns who are in it because they want to learn. They want people who are willing to go above and beyond if it means they can expand their knowledge or skill set. For these types of folks, there’s no such thing as grunt work. Getting coffee for the boss is an opportunity to get a glimpse into her world every morning. Making copies means making their colleague’s day easier and forging a personal connection with him. They realize that mundane tasks can lead to great opportunities.

It’s true that doing what you love doesn’t feel like work. It’s not only important to choose an internship that “fits” you because you’ll interview better; it’s important because it will be a better experience for you.  That being said, it’s called “work” for a reason, and there will always be tasks that are less enjoyable than others. Stay positive, focus on the aspects of the internship that you do enjoy, and forge ahead. Know that even these less-interesting duties are preparing you for your post-graduate career.


Be an active listener

Did you ever hear Epictetus’ quote, “Nature has given men one tongue and two ears that we may hear twice as much as we speak”? Well, now you have, and it’s very true. Employers want to hire interns who understand their organization’s goals and objectives. They want you to listen to them, understand them, and commit to acting in their best interests. In short, they want you to be focused on the company, not on yourself.

In fact, did you know that more offers are extended when the interviewer talks more than the interviewee? It’s true! More offers are extended when you get interviewers to share more about themselves and the company, as opposed to when they spend time listening to you talk about yourself. By asking good questions and gathering information on the interviewer and their company, you show that you’re interested in their needs. And that creates a stellar first impression!

At this point, you might be wondering, “How do I get the interviewer to talk about the company rather than drilling me with endless questions?” While most interviews end with the classic question, “Do you have any questions for me?” that doesn’t mean that you need to wait to ask questions. As long as it feels natural and conversational—and not like you’re interrupting the interviewer—you can sprinkle questions throughout the interview to create a dialogue and get the interviewer talking. Here are few transitions and questions to get you started:

  • Since I just told you about my applicable skills, I’d love to hear what you believe are the most important things I could do to be a great intern here.
  • Now that I’ve walked you through my resume, I’d love to hear more about how you came into this role. I know your last job was at [show that you did your LinkedIn research here]; how did you transition into this field?
  • Everyone was so friendly in the lobby. I really want to fit in if I intern here this summer. Can you tell me more about the company culture and what you like most about working here?

These questions all demonstrate your active listening skills. You’re telling them that you want to share more about yourself and, at the same time, that you value the opportunity to talk with them and want to use that time wisely. Other ways to be an active listener include making eye contact, nodding (or otherwise showing your agreement/understanding) when they talk, and not fidgeting.


Communicate confidence

You’ve got to believe in yourself in order for the interviewer to believe in you. Interviewing is like a game of chess. Often, it’s not the person with the most assets that wins; it’s the person who uses his/her/their assets most skillfully. The reality is that you can be the number-one candidate for a position and still not get an offer. Instead, the best way to consistently get offers is by influencing interviewers to believe that you’re the best candidate—and that often comes down to forming a personal connection and cultivating it.