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Jan 10, 2014

In many ways, experience is a good thing.

As a recruiter, you probably are used to looking for experienced candidates and even might use someone’s experience as the tiebreaker when evaluating prospects and candidates. In your own career, you may have highlighted as a key, competitive advantage. And when I am flying, I like having an experienced pilot.

However, after working with many recruiters, I have observed a mistake that is almost epidemic — especially among more experienced recruiters.

So what turns your experience as a recruiter into a liability?

It’s when your experience actually replaces — or becomes a substitute for — your listening skills.

Let me explain how this happens and provide five specific “watch-outs” to help you avoid this costly error.

Watch-out No. 1: Making assumptions

As an experienced recruiter, have you ever stopped to count the number of prospects and candidates you’ve interviewed? Probably thousands.

You may even take pride in your ability to predict what every prospect or candidate is going to say. You’ve probably heard the same objections, career aspirations, or hopes and fears over and over.

It’s true, to some extent, that you may be able to correctly predict some responses or questions from your prospects and candidates. But the danger is that when you are in the mode of assuming you know what is going to be said, you stop listening. And when you stop listening, you lose opportunities to retain control of your calls with key skills of questioning, clarifying, and probing.

Watch-out No. 2: Multi-tasking

You can’t be in control of your calls and effectively listen when you are checking email or responding to meeting requests. It’s common practice for experienced recruiters to think they can use time on calls with their candidates and prospects to do other tasks.

But the research is clear, perhaps even alarming: Multi-tasking actually wastes more time than it saves and is killing our concentration and creativity. I would add that it is also severely limiting our ability to develop listening skills.

My advice for this “watch out” is simple. When it comes to interviewing prospects and candidates, give them your full attention. If you are pressed for time, find other ways to become more productive — ways that do not jeopardize your ability to be fully attentive to what’s being said.

Watch-out No. 3: Interrupting

Another classic symptom of poor listening is interrupting prospects and candidates.

I’ve heard experienced recruiters become excited (again, making costly assumptions based on a word or two and not listening) and begin “selling” or “closing” candidates at inappropriate times. It takes careful and thorough listening skills, along with some patience, to ensure that you have given others adequate time to express themselves or respond completely to your questions.

Once again, your experience can be the problem here. You interrupt because you have heard whatever is being said before and you assume (big leap here!) that you completely understand what is being communicated, before hearing the person out.

Again, be careful. Try approaching each engagement with “beginner’s mind” (an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lacking preconceptions).

Watch-out No. 4: Not allowing for enough silence

Some experienced recruiters can go into auto-pilot and simply drive processes forward without even pausing to take a breath. Your experience may indeed give you the advantage of knowing what do to in most situations; however, be careful with excessive driving and pushing forward, because you can sacrifice key listening opportunities when you are “driving the bus.

Sometimes slower is better — especially when it comes to careful listening.

Allowing for moments of silence is particularly critical if you are an experiencedand extroverted recruiter who is engaging with quieter or more introverted prospects and candidates. These personality types typically may need a little extra time to form and share their responses and usually prefer to “think before they speak” instead of quickly shooting from the lip like so many extroverts.

Slow down the conversation and you may just speed up the relationship.

Watch-out No. 5: Having to know it all

Your experience can make you a virtual encyclopedia about your company, client, or opportunity and give you the ability to answer 100 percent of the common questions your prospects and candidates have.

That’s not all bad. But the danger comes when you (often unconsciously) take on the persona of a “know-it-all.”

When you answer too quickly (think: don’t listen) or give the impression that you are closed to new learnings, ideas, or ways of looking at problems, you can actually jeopardize rapport — especially with your passive candidates. Instead of “spouting quick answers,” use your listening skills to help you develop a natural interest and curiosity in what others are saying before you respond.

Remember the old saying — “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” And remember that you demonstrate that you care by listening. When you listen with interest and follow-up with powerful questions — especially questions that help others gain valuable insight — you obtain key competitive advantage.

Today’s savvy buyers (and prospects) appreciate the right questions more than the right answers. They want to be heard, challenged, and given new insight.

And they respect and value recruiters (and sales professionals) who — above all — know how to listen.