We’ve likely heard this advice throughout our lives: listen more than you talk. In a world of social media, influencers, and seemingly constant opinions and arguing, listening gets put on the back burner, and the focus is all about talk.
That can be especially true for recruitment, a career where conversing with people is often viewed as the central theme. It’s a bit of a stereotype, but recruiters can be notorious at tech and software engineering events for being the loudest people in the room—pushing conversations on others without noticing how the people they’re speaking with are uninterested in what they’re trying to say. Ever pushing, needing to talk, talk, talk. This sales-y approach is often a turn-off to engineers, further alienating recruiters from the community.
So what happens when recruiters decide to listen more than they talk? Why should they be an emotionally intelligent and empathetic recruiter who truly listens to the folks they’re trying to connect with? What’s beneficial about being a quiet, even introverted recruiter?
Recruitment is not a solitary activity; it’s a community activity. While you can make some hires without building a community, it’s not sustainable. Community should be the center of recruitment efforts because community is the center of software. Software is written by people and for people. Community surrounds every aspect of the process. It’s one of the main things that sets engineering apart from most professions. A community works together on open-source projects, helps each other in their careers, guides members’ growth, shares memes, and everything in between.
Whether recruiters know it or not, they are part of the engineering community when they recruit engineers. They aren’t necessarily community leaders, but they can support and help grow the community by listening to engineers and knowing where recruitment fits in. Listening can help recruiters build trust within the engineering and larger tech communities.
Many engineers are leery of recruiters due to the overly talkative nature of many in the field. Often, the needs and interests of those being recruited are tossed aside, and a strong and overly sales-y pitch is the sole focus of the conversation. How do you build trust with an engineer?
Put them, not your sales pitch, first in the conversation. Engineers are passionate people with many interesting perspectives and are happy to share their interests. It’s a misguided stereotype that engineers don’t talk and are not interested in conversation. In my experience, engineers are quite talkative—you just have to know how to guide conversations in a supportive way.
Aside from building trust, listening more than you talk is also helpful in tracking tech trends. Tech is fast-moving in nature—new technologies, languages, apps, etc. constantly pop up. Engineers are at the forefront of it all. They’re on the ground doing the work, speaking with their colleagues, following the engineering blogs, you name it. By allowing space for conversation and listening, you’ll be able to pick up on trends—some might be more relevant than others. Use these trends to inform your team or clients and build stronger relationships with engineers.
Some examples include what engineers are looking for in benefits, their thoughts on interview processes, languages they want to work with, or things they dislike in the field.
It can be hard to know how much to listen vs. talk, how to start a conversation without leading it completely, and how to change your conversation practices. Here are some things to consider that will help you start your listening journey.
While many posts and articles suggest utilizing talking-to-listening ratios, including Big Think’s suggestion of a 43:57 ratio, it can be hard to calculate and gauge how much time each individual has spent talking when you’re in the action.
It might be helpful to aim for a 50:50 ratio to start and adjust based on the other people you are conversing with (some are more open to sharing their thoughts than others).
I tend to lean on small talk only to get quick facts—one’s profession, where they’re at in their career, warming them up by talking about the weather, but it gets old fast. After initial small talk and intros, use some prompts to garner interest and allow the platform for listening.
The prompts will likely change depending on the environment and who you’re speaking to, but I have utilized some:
“What has been your favorite talk at the conference so far?”
“Do you work on any open-source software?”
“Tell me about your experience transitioning from being an x (old profession) to a software engineer.”
“What interests you in life?”
It might be helpful to change your perspective on yourself in conversation. We view ourselves as the other half or portion of the conversation, which makes sense. When you’re looking to shift the conversation so others talk more and you listen more, viewing yourself as a conversation moderator might be helpful.
Sometimes, I think of myself as a podcast host. I’ll interject at certain times to move the conversation along, but for the most part, I let my podcast guests speak more than I do. This way, different perspectives than my own can be platformed.
Many think they must be experts to converse about a subject. That’s why listening more than speaking is magical—you don’t actually have to know anything! All you need to know is how to move the conversation along and learn as you go. It helps build trust not to be a know-it-all. We all know those know-it-alls who HAVE to know everything about every subject. They can be draining to speak to.
Instead, it shows that you have humility and are interested in what someone is talking about when you ask questions, even if that question is “I don’t even know what that is—can you tell me more?” This can help you go from an outsider in the engineering community to an active participant who is willing and interested in learning more.
- Keep curious and engaged—ask questions, especially when you don’t know something! Being humble helps build trust, too—staying quiet and allowing others a platform to speak is a good thing.
- Use great opening prompts. Think outside the box. This will be your hook to engage the other person, and you can guide the conversation from there.
- View yourself as a facilitator and a participant.
- Have fun!!
Join the conversation about this post on our N.E.A.T community What techniques do you use to be more present in conversations?
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