Becoming a better listener – why it’s important for your career search

Entering the workforce after being in the military comes with its own unique set of challenges. In addition to having to relearn how to be a civilian, you’re also faced with learning to speak like one. On top of that, you’re vying for job placement, and you’re up against stiff competition. One of the best ways you can separate yourself from the herd and get employers to notice you is to bulk up on your listening skills.

Much of the job search and career advice targeted for veterans centers around what you need to say. From elevator pitches to interview prep questions, there’s a lot of focus on helping you learn what to say when. What this advice fails to cover is the other half of communication – listening.

Listening is as important as speaking, if not more so. The reason? In order to interview, interact with players in your industry, and network effectively, you need to learn how to be a good listener. Listening skills enable you to connect with other people and understand issues. By understanding these issues, you’re able to solve problems more effectively and quickly. As you probably know, your words won’t hold any weight if you don’t have the knowledge to back them up.

As a veteran, one of the best ways to amass this knowledge is through listening. Remember that no one wants to be talked at; rather, they want to be communicated with and have a conversation with back and forth exchanges. This might be challenging; it’s one of the most difficult skills to master.

To become a better listener, one of the most useful things you can do is stop talking. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Most of the time, when listening to someone, you’re probably thinking about what you’re going to say in response. It’s completely naturally not to be able to give your full attention to the speaker – especially if you have an excellent point to make.

To practice being a better listener, ask someone to tell you a story. Then, in your own words, summarize what they’ve just said. This forces you to listen while they’re telling the tale actively. This might take some getting used to since it’s often very unfamiliar for most people.

How does this relate to a job search?

Whether you’re interviewing, networking, or just attending a mixer, being a good listener is an invaluable skill to have. It will help you make lasting connections with people. Even more important, it will show that you’re comfortable with pauses in conversation.

In conversation, it’s natural to begin speaking as soon as the other person finishes. To really stand out in your job search, experts recommend waiting just a little bit longer than you think you need to before you respond. This gives the other person a chance to finish talking or to add a final point. It also shows that you’re an active listener and are using a few seconds to gather your thoughts. You can’t be afraid of that silence. Instead, embrace it. Of course, don’t make things awkward by extending the pause into a really long moment of silence. Use your best judgment to showcase your ability to listen and your intelligence in formulating a quality response.

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