Listen up!…and have better interviews


Do you ever find yourself drifting off while conducting interviews? Are you having trouble remembering what an interviewee said during a conversation? Are you busy thinking of your response or opinion before the other person has finished speaking?

If this describes you, your hearing may be fine but your listening needs work. To get more out of  interviews and conversations, you’ll need to work on becoming an “active listener”.


To be an active listener, you’ll need to clear your mind, focus, ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase throughout the conversation. Here are 12 helpful tips to follow the next time you have important feedback to collect.

  • Wake up: Do some light exercise before an interview. This will get the blood flowing, deepen your breathing and help your brain focus on the interview.
  • Unplug: No phones (silenced or otherwise), laptops, tablets, other electronics or projector screens. Avoid meeting in noisy locations or where there are windows to high-traffic areas.
  • Sit still: Avoid fidgeting with pens, paper, note pads or other recording devices. Your hand movements could be distracting to the interviewee. Wait for natural pauses in the conversation to adjust as needed.
  • Use your eyes: Although it may be difficult at first, eye contact establishes trust and intimacy, making the interviewee more comfortable with sharing thoughts.
  • Relax: Pay attention to body posture, arm position, and facial expressions. Make sure you and the interviewee are comfortable and engaged in the conversation.
  • Don’t interrupt: Allow the interviewee to finish each point before asking follow-up questions.
  • Ask questions: When you reach a pause in the conversation, ask a question that clarifies a previous point. This keeps the conversation going and demonstrates your engagement in the conversation. Use follow trails like “And?”, “Why?”, “How?”
  • Context is key: The interviewee may have a problem to solve or a result they want. Try to make sure you understand the difference between the need to vent and specific requests/recommendations.
  • Reflect and recap: Periodically recap or repeat portions of the conversation. This demonstrates you are listening and help keeps you focused.
  • Be positive: Nod your head, respond with positive responses to statements, such as: “yes”, “sure”, “of course”…
  • Take note: Occasionally stop and make some notes. Feel free to summarize your notes back to the interviewee to confirm your understanding.
  • Be grateful: An interview is a gift of a person’s time and attention. Make sure they are comfortable and let them know you appreciate their time.

The next time you need to interview folks for personas, product requirements or evaluation, use these guidelines to stay on track and get the most from sessions. Your project will benefit and your interviewees will appreciate your attention to detail.


  • Cognitive Interviewing, A “How To” Guide by Gordon B. Willis
  • 21-resources-to-become-a-better-listener by Dennis Callahan