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Sunday, October 25, 2009

taking notes in an interview

A reader writes:

I have an interview next Friday. Is it weird or considered rude to take notes?

When I'm interviewing, I am desperately trying to stay alert, listen, take mental notes, and think of my response to the dreaded behavioral questions (I HATE those!) at the same time. I am pretty darn organized -- I love my notes, calendars, and lists. I always come prepared to any interview with a physical list of questions, I've just never actually written down notes because I didn't want to seem like I was too stuffy or wasn't flexible, which I definitely am. Most people seem to like that I come with a little notebook, but still being unemployed for so long, you start to wonder if even little things like that might hinder you getting a job you're well qualified for!

I think taking notes is great, as long as you're not doing it at the expense of the natural flow of the conversation or causing long pauses while you write. (Presumably you don't want to write down every single thing, though, but rather just those things that you want to use in some way later.)

I suppose it's possible that some interviewer out there might not like this, but that would get into the realm of interviewers who are going to penalize you for other perfectly reasonable behavior, and you don't want to work for them anyway.


Mary said...


Yes, no feverish writing word-by-word. If the questions aren't answered in the natural course of convo, then I just wait until the end and pull out my notebook (nerd alert) and ask away. They're all legitimate questions I have, not ones to ask for the sake of asking.

I am well aware that it's pretty nerdy, and I'm OK with that! I just don't want to take it to the next "Oh..Oh gosh. I don't think I want to work with that!" level.

But, you're right- if I'm going to be penalized for having my own organizational method, then I probably don't want to work there.

Anonymous said...

When an interviewee doesn't have any questions for me during the interview, that raises a flag for me. There is no way that anyone can understand any job/company 100% before they start to work there. When they show up with a notebook, have questions prepared and jot down the occasional note, that lets me know that they are engaged and interested.

Steve said...

You can always ask the interviewer if they mind if you take notes, although i would default to not taking notes because some people find it offensive. When there is a break between interviewers you can write down a few things, and after the interviews you can write/type anything you missed. I find it nice to keep notes about questions i was asked in interviews since its amazing how much the same questions keep being asked, even between companies in different cities. The next time the question comes up you can ace it. I like to listen to the interviewer and taking notes can distract me from that i find.

Steve said...

oh yeah, and the phrase "you don't want to work for them anyway" is overly cliche and dosen't really apply when you are competing with dozens or more candidates for a single money paying job.

Ask a Manager said...

Well, if people are interested in just getting any job, even if it's the wrong fit, they're reading the wrong blog.

Anonymous said...

Taking notes makes it look like you're actively listening. Writing down some salient points, especially the names of the people in the room (nothing quite like calling Marie 'Marty' the whole interview or in the thank-you note) can save you later. I just noted some things like hours, dates, department names, etc. - most of the time I was totally focused on the interviewer and engaged in the discussion. And when it came time for questions, I could flip right to the page with my questions, cross out the covered ones, and pick the one or two remaining. It also helps with the crazy intense eye contact you get from some interviewers. I've always gotten good feedback on the notebook.

Anonymous said...

Fine as long as you ask if you can take notes, and explain why (notes on benefits, work environment, names, the job, etc. are fine, anything else is questionable). Bringing your own list of questions is great in my book, it means that the candidate is interested and thought about the position beforehand.

I used to work in a very small, close-knit industry, and interview questions often got passed on to candidates by their friends. We once had someone who was clearly writing down every single question we asked them. He was not taking notes on anything we said on the company, the job, or anything else, but was only writing down our questions. We cut it off halfway through and ended the interview. Was he trying to just pass the questions on? Who knew, but it was questionable actions for us and he became a no.

Anonymous said...

I'm a habitual note taker. I have a slight issue with auditory processing and have found taking notes to help, not just to remember what was said, but to understand questions - it's like my hand has a direct link to my brain that my ears don't have.

I have found, at times, that some people find note taking threatening. I haven't noticed it in interviews, but in day to day work. I have one manager who gets downright pissy about it. He likes to make racist and misogynous remarks, and someone writing things down makes him jumpy and aggressive.

So yes, certainly there are people who don't like someone who takes notes. They'r d***s though.


Anonymous said...

Best practice... ask the interviewer. Different companies may have different policies. As an interviewer I certainly encourage individuals to take notes. If it allows the individual to keep their attention and ease their nerves what is the harm. A note to interviewees you should not be taking more notes than the interviewer... remember you should be doing most of the talking the interviewer should be doing most of the listening.

Anonymous said...

I always have a notebook on me for interviews, a small steno pad safely tucked away. If the interviewer is throwing a lot of dense information at me, I always wait for a pause and ask if they mind if I take notes. Otherwise, I wait until it's my turn to ask questions and jot down the answers (job duties, pay scale, etc...). I've never had anyone mind in the slightest, but I ALWAYS make sure to ask first.