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Assessing Speaking and Listening Skills

Sherry Cadorette

In a difficult economy, it’s not the amount of qualified job candidates you have to worry about – it’s finding the perfect job candidate. Fact is, if you choose the right people to become a part of your company to begin with, you improve the chances that they’ll be a valued employee for years to come. However, good hires don’t happen by accident or luck. They’re a result of careful preparation, expert interviewing techniques, and sound decision making.

Two important areas to consider while assessing a job candidate include listening and speaking skills. Before you begin the interviewing process, be clear on what skill level is required in each area. For instance, if it's a sales position you’re looking to fill, the candidate will have to have a high degree of interpersonal skills and a strong ability to articulate. On the other side of the coin, a research analyst for a financial company will probably need to have excellent listening skills to mine important information from investor calls, earnings announcements, etc. Public speaking will most likely not be a central part in what he/she will be doing on a day-to-day basis.

That said, the perfect candidate should have a good mix, in varying degrees, of both listening and speaking skills. Below, are tips on what to look for while assessing candidates during an interview:

Assessing Listening Skills

Listen for restatement and reflection to check understanding. The candidate who actively listens will rephrase what they've heard (restatement) and communicate feeling as well as content (reflection).

Look for the candidate to focus on what you are saying at that particular moment. Since listening speed is faster than talking speed, the candidate should be analyzing the factual content and emotional tone and body language. If the candidate reacts with surprise, excitement or concern over what you're communicating, you will know that he/she is focused on your delivery.

If the candidate maintains eye contact with you, it shows that he/she is interested in what you have to say. Typically, active listeners maintain eye contact 80 percent of the time.

Active listeners use silence effectively. Most people are uncomfortable with silence and have an impulse to break it.

Watch for nods and smiles from the candidate to indicate that he/she has heard what you've said and is interested in hearing more. If the candidate seems preoccupied with other things, such as ringing cell phones, beeping palm pilots, etc. he/she is not providing his/her full attention to the situation.

Assessing Speaking Skills

Look for these aspects in the candidate, and keep in mind that although speaking skills are important, other attributes are equally, if not more important than the actual words, such as tone and non-verbals:

Does the candidate project energy, confidence and a friendly demeanor?

Does he/she use natural gestures or is he/she clenching fists, fussing or seem stiff?

Can he/she be heard or do you hear mumbling or a sing-song tone?

Does the candidate use slang or colloquialisms such as "you know?"

Is the candidate relatively positive or does he/she answer with negative statements?


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