Can I take notes during a job interview? (I'm the one applying.)
November 26, 2013 8:29 PM   Subscribe

Hi! Quick question for people who conduct employment interviews. I have a job interview in two days. I would like to take a small notepad with me and jot down the pertinent things discussed that I will need to consider should I be offered the position, and make a move from my current job. I am afraid I will not remember accurately the important aspects, such as salary, benefit details, and other kind of crucial stuff I will need to consider.

Would you think this was rude? Indicative of an unfocused mind? A sign of middle-aged memory failings? I don't interview often, so I suspect I might get a bit nervous, and when my husband and I thrash out a decision later (if I am offered the job), I may not recall exactly the details, which will be frustrating.

It is for an administrative assistant position with a different company, but pretty the same job that I do presently (admin assistant for strata property manager(s). So I will want to consider what that position offers in direct comparison to where I work now. Thank you!
posted by Savannah to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I always do this - in fact, I usually make a list of the questions I want to make sure I ask and write down the answers. Never had anyone comment on it unfavorably, and when I've interviewed people it is more likely to make me think they are serious about their interest than anything else.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:32 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've actually heard this be recommended. Shows initiative, focus, and self-knowledge. Just maybe don't only take notes on benefits--jot down words that might be important, etc., so it doesn't seem mercenary.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 8:33 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's fine to take notes but don't expect the comp to be discussed in detail in the interview. If they call you with an offer, that's the point at which you need to take detailed notes on the comp, which will probably then be reiterated in an offer letter.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:35 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes, I would suggest a notepad of any size up to legal size that looks nice. Nice or decent pen. Jot down only key items - even just short words or abbreviations are good. I used to take a lot of notes because I thought I was supposed to, and I still bring the pad, but I end up hardly taking notes anymore. Your purpose--notes re: details they give you during the interview--sounds like it lends itself perfectly to jotting down short things. Good luck!
posted by juliagulia at 8:40 PM on November 26, 2013

I do take notes but I don't ask questions about salary or benefits in the interview. I would save those questions for if you get an offer.
posted by latkes at 8:44 PM on November 26, 2013

I bring a notepad in an interview-appropriate black binder (which also contains resumes, etc.). I like to be in the mindset of "I'm prepared to take notes at any point." But I never end up taking notes during the interiew; I want to stay focused on the interviewer. I'll write stuff down immediately after the interview.
posted by John Cohen at 9:01 PM on November 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the answers! I feel much better now, and will make sure it's a nice, professional notebook and pen. Also thank you for the bit about likely not getting too much detail about salary/benefits, and waiting for an offer first to discuss details.

I do have a list of questions I have for them, along with some letters of reference, so I will be carrying a slim portfolio and a small purse.

Thank you for the answers, all, and so quickly!
posted by Savannah at 9:06 PM on November 26, 2013

I take notes in interviews, and actually thought that's what you're "supposed" to do. I've never had anyone bring up compensation- or benefits-related stuff in an interview, though, and I don't bring it up, either (on the advice of my college's career center way back when). The notes I take are usually about how the company works and what my duties would be, just little jottings (I don't think I've ever referred back to those notes afterward, whether I ended up in the job or not).
posted by rue72 at 9:07 PM on November 26, 2013

Definitely take notes, although they probably won't talk anything specific about comp/benefits.
posted by radioamy at 9:18 PM on November 26, 2013

Yeah, it would almost be strange if you didn't come prepared to write down things and occasionally do so.

What WOULD irritate me: if you write down every question asked, as if you're planning on publishing a detailed "behind the scenes - interview at Company X!" blog post later.
posted by ctmf at 10:20 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, I've never brought a notepad into a job interview before. Maybe I will start. I think it would be weird if you opened it up and started writing everything they say, but used sparingly and when appropriate, I don't see why it would be bad.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:48 PM on November 26, 2013

I've always taken notes in interviews. I would think it would be stranger not to do so, or at least not to be prepared to do so.

Here's what Ask a Manager says on the subject. (Spoiler alert: pretty much the same thing as ctmf's post above)
posted by SisterHavana at 10:50 PM on November 26, 2013

I take detailed questions about pay or say leave policy or expenses procedures at interview stage as a bit of a red flag. I appreciate considered questions about the role or the team however. I prefer a more organic interview where the applicant's queries are addressed throughout the interview but understand some applicants amd interviewers prefer structure with questions at the end. Yes absolutely take notes if this helps you do this.

Use the offer conversation to discuss pay etc later Think of the interview as like a first date. It's only at offer stage you're committing to anything and really need to nail down those details.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:22 AM on November 27, 2013

I always bring a notepad. I'm a contemporaneous note taker, so I'd feel naked without it. I will say that it's important to ask, "Do you mind if I take notes?" Remember to pay attention to the interviewer, not the notes. Make eye contact and smile.

Unless you were asked to bring them, don't bring up your reference letters, let alone leave them for the interviewer. I've never had to produce references, I just pass background checks.

If you're interviewing for the same job you have today, you should have a really good narrative about WHY you want this job instead of the job you currently have.

1. Is the company better, with more room for advancement?

2. Will you have an opportunity to work with better technology, or new software?

3. Is it a better commute for you?

4. Is the compensation package better? (It's perfectly fine to say this, BTW.)

5. Is the company re-organizing or going out of business?

Be prepared to address these in a totally positive way. What you want to assure the interviewer is that you aren't leaving because:

1. You have a poor relationship with your current manager.

2. You have a poor relationship with your co-workers.

3. You're a screw up.

What I do suggest is that you mentally answer the question: "What do you need to see from the prospective employer to make the move?"

Then ask questions that pertain to that answer. Here are some that I like:

1. Tell me about a typical day here.

2. What kind of person is successful at XYZ Properties?

3. Tell me about the person who performed this job previously.

You ask that last one because there's a HUGE difference between, "He was promoted to supervisor of the Framistannie department," and "He left the company."

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:44 AM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can I dissent?

I don't recall anyone ever taking notes interviewing with me, and doubt it would go well.

What I want from a candidate at the interview stage is engagement: someone whom I feel I have gotten to know personally a little bit, because he listened carefully to me, and responded thoughtfully to my questions. I try hard to keep from being heads-down and scribbling on the resume too much, the candidate also being heads-down and scribbling, too, that's no good at all.

Maybe you should take notes when sitting with the HR representative and talking through details,but with your potential line colleagues and managers, no.
posted by MattD at 7:15 AM on November 27, 2013

I have both sat on interview panels and been interviewing for a job recently. From the panel side, it really didn't strike me either way if the applicant was taking notes. (We're much more concerned with whether the applicant can answer basic questions about the position/their experience.*)

As an applicant myself, I always have paper in front of me to jot down a few quick notes about how the office works--whom I'll be working with/under, what other offices we interact with, projects/initiatives getting underway, etc. It's never been treated negatively, and as far as I can tell hasn't affected whether offers have been made.

*Fully half of the people I've interviewed have demonstrated next to no familiarity with what they're applying for, which always dismays me considering these are the people who got through the first screen.

If you're interviewing for the same job you have today, you should have a really good narrative about WHY you want this job instead of the job you currently have.

Piggybacking on this, I find Dick Bolles's advice useful: the best ways to switch jobs are into a different function in the same industry or into the same function in a new subject area--in both cases, because it's something you're more interested in. (I used the latter explanation in my most recent interview, which was received warmly.)
posted by psoas at 7:52 AM on November 27, 2013

Here's the lie about interviews that you should put aside: interviews are one-sided; you are being interviewed by the hiring company.


You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Of course you should take notes on responses to questions you ask and bring questions and it's always a good sign to me when an interviewee brings in questions that are specific to the hiring company.

When I interview, I always preface the actual interview with a quick outline of how the interview will go and I always finish with, "Since I recognize that interviewing is two-way street, at the end I'm going to give you time to interview me. You know that we'll be asking 'should we hire this candidate?' and since you should also be asking, 'do I want to work here?' we can make that as direct as possible for you."

I find that this overall structure is best for my candidates (I do technical interviews and I ask very hard questions and have sent candidates into a flop sweat from me being relentless and not accepting BS or flip answers) as the tail end gives them the opportunity to relax and feel like they are taking the reins instead and I will allow pretty much any question they want to ask as long as I'm comfortable with both the question and the answer. For example, I've had people ask me about my typical day or what their typical day might look like. I've had people ask me about corporate culture. I've had people ask me about my family life (off limits to a stranger, sorry).
posted by plinth at 8:49 AM on November 27, 2013

Whenever someone I interview takes notes, I see it as a good thing.
posted by dfan at 4:29 PM on November 27, 2013

« Older Do I throw her under the bus?   |   What's it like to be a RAINN online hotline... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.