Can Your Hospitality Candidates LISTEN?

By Innovate CV’s Ryan Garman

This past July, I met an old school friend for lunch at an unassuming Italian restaurant. As we followed the waiter to our table, we were continuing our discussion about New York summers.

Not a minute passed before our waiter delivered us a large ice-cube jammed jug of ice-cold water. As she thanked our smiling waiter, my friend’s tone suggested that even she – a regular – wasn’t expecting this welcome surprise.

And then it hit me. The waiter must have heard me mention that I find New York summers very humid. Full marks. But it wasn’t his hearing skills that impressed me…it was his listening skills.

It’s been said that we are so busy making sure that people hear what we have to say, that we have forgotten how to listen. When my waiter analysed and responded to a message that I was communicating, even unknowingly, he demonstrated the power of active listening in hospitality.

The hospitality industry is essentially built on customer sensitivity. The hospitality establishment that can best be sensitive to my specific needs is a step ahead of their competition. And as our waiter taught us, listening is the best way to ascertain my needs.

People working in hospitality are constantly hearing all day. They hear from customers. They hear from their team members. They hear problems that they have to fix. They hear opportunities that they have to take advantage of. And the clock is ticking.

But behind the noise are vital messages. Quality Listening gives staff the opportunity to effectively deal with situation at hand, and take action.

While effective listening can be taught, it’s a difficult process. As such, employers need to be able to identify the skill, or lack there-of, during the interview process. This means knowing what to look for (observing) and asking the right questions.



Be mindful if the candidate’s eyes are constantly drifting towards distractions, such as a window or decorations, or if they appear lost in their own thoughts. If a candidate can’t focus during a job interview, there’s little chance they’ll be able to pay full attention to a customer or team member.

Attentive candidates maintain eye contact, sit still, and make ‘interest noises’ – “uh-hu”, “yes”, “I see…”. Such candidates will naturally be able to develop a far greater repoire with people.

Outward focused

Does your candidate talk too much? This may be triggered by a natural inability to effectively listen to others. Often, people bypass a “frustration” of having to listen by dominating a conversation. Also, such ‘inward’ candidates have a high tendency to cut their interviewers off mid-sentence. It’s not enthusiasm; it’s poor listening.

Outward focused candidates ask relative questions. After all, they’re naturally interested in hear what you – and customers – have to say.

Capable of assimilating information

Quality candidates don’t only hear words, they listen to what’s being said.

Listening requires processing what has been said, and thought to ensure a clear understanding of what is meant. Listening is knowing what the other person means when they say something.

Candidates that pause before they deliver a thoughtful response demonstrate that they have listened to your question and have digested the relevant information. Another positive sign is when candidates confirm that they’ve understood you by summarising or rephrasing your statements.

Reading “between the lines” is a superb demonstration of active listening. During an interview, a listening candidate may become aware of an interviewer’s key concerns by paying attention to lines of questioning or usage of particular words. When a candidate takes the initiative to address any underlying issues, an interview can be assured that they’re a truly effective listener.


Interview questions that address listening skills include:

  • Tell me about a time when you were serving a customer and had to read between the lines to find out what was important to that customer.
  • Tell me about a time when listening skills really paid off for you when you were serving a customer
  • Are you capable of getting to the bottom of a situation, when someone is incapable of communicating what they really mean? If so, how do you achieve this?
  • Relate an occasion when you withheld your own opinion, and tried to obtain the opinion of others.

When my waiter heard my comment, but listened to my message, I knew that that restaurant’s owners valued the skill of listening, and by natural extension, customer experience. I wasn’t let down, and I’ll most certainly be back.

How do you value and determine candidates’ listening skills?

Ryan Garman is Business Development Manager at Innovate CV. When he’s not eating out at restaurants and coffee shops, he’s improving the way they hire.

Image1 credit.

Image2 credit.



Categories: Articles for Employers, Job Interviewing, Recruitment Strategy


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