Not every interview questions makes an apparent sense, and this one definitely belongs to the group. What do the hiring managers try to find out? What do they want to hear from you? First of all, we have to realize that the situation they inquire about is quite common. We often lead our inner monologue, or we are deeply lost in thought, and do not really pay attention to what’s happening around us, or what our colleague, boss, or partner tries to tell us. But should we refer to such a situation in a job interview?

Just like with other scenario-based questions, the hiring managers care mostly about your attitude. And in this case, they have a few questions on their mind: Can you admit not having paid attention to your colleagues or customers? Do you struggle with concentration at work? Does your mind wander away easily, and, instead of listening to your coworkers, you dream about the weekend?  And, do you have some remedies for such situations?

They actually have a couple of other questions on their mind, and they will become obvious as we look at 7 sample answers to this question. I tried to include on my list answers for different interview scenarios, answers from both work and personal life, and both conventional and unconventional answers. Try to pick one which resonates with the message you try to convey in your interviews, and adjust it so it makes sense for you, and for everything you’ve been through in your life.


7 sample answers to “Describe a situation in which you were hearing but not necessarily listening” interview question

  1. I’ve experienced it on a daily basis in my last job. The manager was just a talker. They loved to talk, have meetings with the team, but in 90% of time they weren’t saying anything important really. I was overwhelmed with work, behind with schedule, and did not really have a luxury of time, or free capacities in my mind, to listen to their blabber for an hour each day. That’s why most of the time I was present in the meeting, but did not really listen to their words. In my mind I was working on the problems I had to address. But the number of meetings did only grow over time, and I eventually understood it was the right time to leave the company. And that’s why I am here with you today.
  2. Working as a technical support, I learned how to filter what I hear and what I really listen to. You know, we had many complaints. The product we were offering to the customers had a lot of bugs, and people were upset. As you can imagine, they wanted to vent their anger on someone, and they typically did it on the workers in the first line–the tech support guys. In order to stay calm and simply focus on the solution of the problem, I learned to filter out the bad words, and listened only to what mattered when it came to the solution of the problem. I believe it isn’t a bad skill to have once you work with the customers.
  3. Just a month ago this happened to me, when my long time girlfriend dumped me. As it is always the case, she was saying it wasn’t my mistake, that she loved me but didn’t want to be with me. And it went on and on, and though I was hearing, I wasn’t really listening anymore. My emotions overcame me, and I felt completely empty all of a sudden. It was a hard break-up, but look, life isn’t only about relationships. I got over it, and at the end of the day I try to focus on the positives.
  4. I recall such a situation from my last job in management. I was leading a small team of people, a diverse team, with a couple of big egos in my squad. One employee, a woman, extremely important for the team, was trying to suggest that something wasn’t right. But she was not talking straight, because she was afraid of the consequences. She thought I would get her message, but I did not, because while I was hearing, I wasn’t really listening. I did not pay enough attention to her words. She tried to convey that there was an internal conflict going on in the team, in between the two guys with big egos, and one of them tried to sabotage the work of the other. It eventually transpired, we did not manage to complete the work in time, and I lost my job. I wish I’d listened better to the woman. If I did so, I would take preventive measures and the entire outcome would be different. But it is in the past now, I learned my lesson, and now I am ready to move on with my career.
  5. It has never happened to me, because I am an excellent listener. I do not find it hard to eliminate all distractions, and give 100% of my attention to the person I am talking to. Honestly, I believe it is an important quality to have in social work, because if we want to build trust with the clients, they have to feel that we honestly care and listen to them. What is more, some clients may hide something from us on purpose, and hence it is pivotal to pay attention not only to their words, but also to their emotions and non-verbal communication. That’s the only way how to get the full picture.
  6. It happened to me just a few months ago, and it is the reason why I am here. You know, I was going through a difficult period in my personal life. And I could not get the problems out of my head, even when working. So when my manager was talking to me I was hearing, but I often wasn’t really listening. Logically, struggling with my focus, I made many mistakes at work. My results worsened, and managers took notice. And when they got a directive from the executives to cut the budget and send one employee packing, they terminated my contract. It is a pity, because I liked the company and my job. But I can assure you of one thing: It is behind me now, I learned my lesson, and would not make the same mistake again.
  7. I actually tried to learn that skills during the covid-19 pandemic. Because it was bad news from everywhere… How many people caught the virus, how many people died, how the economy was struggling, what a terrible future awaited the nation, and so on, and so forth. You couldn’t really avoid hearing these things, unless you locked yourself in some hermitage. They were coming from all directions. What you could do, however, and perhaps even should, if you wanted to stay sane and not suffer from depression, was not really listening to them. And that’s exactly what I managed to do. I heard the news, accepted them, but I tired to stay focused on things I had under my control–my family, work, my hobbies, and so on.


It often makes sense not to listen

We are surrounded by constant noise. Cars, planes, computers, mobile phones, billboards, commercials. People try to convince us of their truth, everyone tries to sell us something, and the messages we hear are often contradictory.

That’s why it is important to learn to filter things out, to listen only to things that are important to us, and simply ignore negative messages that only make us feel miserable. You can definitely talk about this in your interview. Most hiring managers will be happy to get onboard someone who can actually focus on one thing only, and give his full attention to someone or something.

You can claim to be an excellent listener–but should admit some other weaknesses

Another interesting approach to the question is saying that it has never happened to you. Elaborating on your claim, you explain that you are an excellent listener–a much needed skill in the job you try to get with them.

Opting for this option is a good idea, but you should always balance your confidence with humility. You can do so either with the same answer, saying that while you are an excellent listener, you struggle with something else (time management, giving orders, staying organized in work, etc), or while answering one of their other scenario-based questions.


Do not be afraid to use an example from your personal life

Look at sample answer no. 3 on my list. Here the candidate talks about a difficult break-up with their long time partner, and how he found it hard to actually listen to their explanation, overcame by flood of emotions. This isn’t a typical interview answer, and may even sound strange to most people.

But you should realize the people sitting in the interviewing panel are only men and women from flesh and bones, just like you or me. They also have their life outside of work, and experience their share of joys and sorrows in relationships. Talking about your joys and sorrows, you can connect with them on a personal level. And that’s always a plus in the interviews.

Now, I do not say that you should answer all their scenario-based questions with an example from your personal life. Most of your answers should concern work. But you can definitely mix it up with one or two example from your personal life…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to the following tricky questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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