Should you take notes during a job interview? Generally yes, and the way you do it sends messages about you that can help you get the job – or lose it. Here’s how to do it right.
First, show consideration for the interviewer and their process by asking, “Is it all right if I take a few notes?” Most will say “Of course,” but if the interviewer has any objection, simply smile and go along with their wishes. After all, they invited you, you’re on their turf, and they’re running the interview.
The beginning of the interview is probably the best time to ask, before the interviewer starts asking questions.
If the interview is taking place over the phone, your note taking is invisible and it would seem odd to ask about it, so just go ahead – but don’t use a laptop.
Should you take notes on a laptop or other device?
It’s generally not a good idea, for various reasons. For one thing, the physical bulk of a laptop creates a sense of a barrier between you and the interviewers. That may be more symbolic than real, but in an interview, perception is reality: avoid anything that diminishes the feeling of rapport and personal connection.
Then there’s the distraction factor. Even if you know you won’t be interrupted or distracted by notifications or messages on your tablet or phone, the interviewer doesn’t know that. And the interviewer may find the device distracting for various reasons, including the sound of the keys clicking.
As well, an interview is a learning experience, and a growing body of research suggests that note-taking via keyboard doesn’t facilitate learning as well as taking notes by hand.
Last but not least, there’s that matter of politeness and etiquette. Many interviewers simply feel it’s not good form. That, in itself, is enough reason to use paper and pen instead.
Does it matter what kind of notepad and pen you use to take notes during an interview?
A smaller notepad (e.g., junior-legal-sized) is better than a full 8 ½ x 11; being less bulky it calls less attention to itself. For the most professional impression, use an attractive organizer that holds a notepad. A high quality pen might be a plus, especially for an executive.
What about the note-taking process?
Quickly jotting down the occasional fact or detail sends the message that you’re well organized and make a point of keeping track of information given to you.
On the other hand, continually taking notes may raise questions, such as whether you’re really listening, whether you have a problem with memory, whether you’re able to think on your feet.
Laboring to take notes in full sentences, word for word, looks inefficient, and may give the interviewer the feeling they need to slow down and wait for you. That’s no good! Writing just the key points and phrases looks a lot smarter. If taking fast, abbreviated notes in this way isn’t a habit for you, practice ahead of time. It’s a skill that will serve you for the rest of your life.
What about notes I’ve made for myself beforehand? Can I bring these into the interview?
You’re expected to know about your qualifications and your accomplishments; having to look at notes can raise doubts about your memory skills, or even the authenticity of what you’re saying. If you must do it, keep the notes and your use of them minimal. The exception is this: it’s fine to refer to a list of questions you want to ask the interviewer.
If you’re planning to refer to any notes, be extremely organized about it. In a video interview, have the notes visible on the screen and/or on sticky notes around the screen. Use a very large font and write very few words, so you only need a quick glance.
Did you know that it makes a much better impression to enter an in-person interview carrying only one item? This means your list of questions, copies of your resume and personal items (including purse, if any) all need to be in one briefcase or bag. If doing so makes your bag look overstuffed, obviously that would detract from the effect, so plan in advance for a sleek and tidy impression.
What about all the things I didn’t get a chance to write down during the interview? What if my notes are sketchy and barely legible?
That’s why you need to fill out your notes more completely afterwards, as soon as possible. Leave the building and sit down in your car, a coffee shop or the train station. Note the following:
- What you found out about the role, the work and the company.
- Names, titles and other information for any people you met, including the receptionist, the shuttle driver, etc.
- Your impressions and “gut” feelings about the interviewer(s), the role and the company, including the atmosphere of the workplace (noisy? quiet? fun? serious? etc.).
- What questions the interviewer(s) asked you.
- What stories and examples you talked about.
- Anything important you didn’t get around to mentioning or asking.
- What the interviewer(s) seemed to like best about you; what impressed them.
- Any concerns the interviewer(s) seemed to have, or anything that went wrong.
- Any personal information the interviewer(s) volunteered, especially if it’s something you have in common.
- What the next steps in the process are.
Good interview note-taking can help you write better thank-you notes, prepare strategically for the next round of interviews, decide whether you want the job and even negotiate the compensation package – all in a more well-informed way.