Taking notes at an interview
September 22, 2006 11:20 AM   Subscribe

JobInterviewFilter: Should you or should you not take a pad of paper with you to the interview? If so, should you use it for any of the following purposes (inside)?

(1) Do you take notes when your interviewer talks about the company?

(2) Should you write down your questions about the position in advance, and consult your pad of paper when the interviewer asks if you have questions?

(3) When the interviewer answers your questions, should you write down the information you’re given?

(4) Are there particular things that you should definitely write down, either because it "looks good" or because you may need that information later?
posted by pricklypear to Work & Money (26 answers total)
What general kind of job are we talking about here?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:24 AM on September 22, 2006

A notebook is a great idea for an interview, as long as you're not ignoring the interviewer by furiously transcribing everything he/she is saying.

I have heard on numerous occasions that light note-taking looks good to potential employers, and that prepared questions like you ask about in (2) can help you get some information, seem interested and not stumble through your thoughts.

(3): As long as you're not writing word-for-word, notes are great. Just take light notes and stay interested in the interviewer and his/her company.
posted by jeffrygardner at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2006

Just a standard corporate office setting.
posted by pricklypear at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2006

From my own experience conducting interviews:

-You should have paper and pen handy in case you need to write down something. Usually it will be something that obviously needs to be written down - such as when the interviewer gives you the name and number of someone you need to talk to.

-Otherwise, be careful with having pen and paper in front of you. Its too easy to hide behind. The interview should be a one-to-one interaction not a student-teacher thing but a genuine conversation. Jotting down stuff here and there is fine but your eyes and your focus should be on the interviewer not on a a piece of paper.
posted by vacapinta at 11:27 AM on September 22, 2006

Another thing - a notebook can be a very bad thing if you use it as the complete object of attention and refrain from eye contact with the person conducting the interview. In my opinion, eye contact is an important aspect of an interview.
posted by jeffrygardner at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2006

I don't know what kind of job interview this is but my gut reaction is no.

when I interview people, I have basically decided I like their work enough to bring them in. all I want to see is who the person is, if I get along with them, if I would like to have a drink with them or if they freak me out. as corny as it might sound, I am just having a chat here.

that being said, bring a small pad and a pen and if the other person says something interesting, whip it out and say something like "oh, I should really write that down, that is actually quite interesting to me." I like people who are always curious and live to expand their knowledge. make sure it doesn't look like you planned it.

do write down questions. have tons of them. have meaningful questions, not ones that you could have researched on your own. but don't bring them in. you are asking what you are curious about, not what you feel you are supposed to be curious about. that's a huge difference!

if you write down what I say, I will ask myself what you intend to do with the information. it will make me worry.

I would want to see that you are nice, capable and quick on your feet. but that's just me.

what kind of job is this? what kind of company? where?
posted by krautland at 11:29 AM on September 22, 2006

I generally do, to quickly jot down names (I have a problem with them) and to note questions I want to ask later in the interview. In a technical setting, it can often be useful for on-the-fly technical questions - in my last interview, I think the engineer was impressed that I could diagram out an answer. That said, I didn't carry just that with me - i have an interview portfolio that contained copies of my resume and papers I have written, so it didn't look as bad as carrying around a notepad.
posted by muddgirl at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2006

Agree. Have it on hand, use it sparingly. For writing things down, keep it to things that are hard to remember--names and numbers. As for having your questions written down ahead of time, I'd say if you think it would be helpful, have them written in there, but only scan it once toward the end of the interview to make sure you haven't forgotten anything. Don't read them to her from the notebook. Probably more often than not, they all will have been answered by that time. But you don't want to wish later that you'd asked something, but forgot because you were wrapped up in nerves or talking about other things. Another good thing to have in there is phone numbers and other info of former bosses and other references, if it's not the type of job where you'd hand those in on a preprinted sheet of paper. In case you have to fill out an application by hand.
posted by lampoil at 11:36 AM on September 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've done all of one through three, and they worked well. I was second pick at the job I applied for before this one, and obviously got hired where I am today as well.

I can take notes really well while maintaining eye contact, and without looking at the notepad, so that helped a lot.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:38 AM on September 22, 2006

Definitely. As muddgirl does, I write down everyone's names after the first introduction. otherwise I have a nasty habit of forgetting/getting it wrong when I thank everyone at the end. Sometimes questions come up that I want to remember at the end of the interview so I write those down. You really can't go wrong by jotting down information during the interview.
posted by JJ86 at 11:51 AM on September 22, 2006

I always bring paper and pen with me and have never thought twice about it.
posted by orangemiles at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2006

Yes to 1, 2, and 3, "because you may need that information later".
posted by MsMolly at 12:08 PM on September 22, 2006

1. Only if it's interesting and something you want to remember to recall later.

2. Yes, definitely. Always have good questions prepared ahead of time. It's better to write them down as reference in case the interviewer covers some of the topics so you have others to ask later.

3. No, unless it's an answer that you might forget and want to recall later.

4. Write down anything you'll want to refer to for the Thank You letter and follow-up interviews. Typically I'll write down name/number of the person who I would follow-up with assuming I don't get their biz card. Also interesting facts - specifics about what your interviewer worked on that you can dig up more info on later.
posted by junesix at 12:17 PM on September 22, 2006

#2 For me it's more about writing down questions as I think of them. Typical interview structure doesn't encourage you to ask questions as you have them (the interviewer just wants to get through a rehearsed spiel) so you may as well save them for the all-important "Do you have any questions for uuuusss?"
posted by Doctor Barnett at 12:31 PM on September 22, 2006

I was chastized for not bringing a pen and paper to an interview once. However, I am a writer and was being interviewed by a writer who talked a whole lot.

The style of the interview should strongly influence how you use the pen and paper. It could just be facts, it could be a list of questions you want to refer to, etc. How else would you bring up the questions you have based on the research you did on the company before going in?

I wouldn't use it for say, your standard answers or selling points, after all, you should know those.

Also, if the interviewer is more of a talker than an interviewer (you know, the people that go on and on), use it to jot down questions that come up as they speak so you don't interrupt or lose a valuable thought.

As everyone's said above, keep eye contact, don't write everything down and keep it simple. It'd be better to bring it with and not use it than to leave it at home and wish you had it, yeah?
posted by Gucky at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2006

If you need to remember names and numbers, ask for a business card.

I am very reluctant to have a frank and open discussion when someone is taking notes. It could come from having tralked to reporters on numerous occassions that either misquoted me, took things out of context or quoted me correctly when I should not have said it.

Otherwise I agree with vacapinta
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:03 PM on September 22, 2006

You need to bring extra copies of your resume/CV anyway (you DO bring copies, don't you?) so you may as well just carry a nice looking notepad folio.

I have never once worried that someone would look at me and think "sheesh, he came OVER-prepared?"
posted by phearlez at 1:15 PM on September 22, 2006

Don't use the notepad to look good. Use it if you need to.

Consulting your notes near the end to make sure you haven't forgotten something is fine. Looking like you need the paper to remember everything you want to say is bad. On the other hand, depending on the questions, you might be better off reading them than forgetting them altogether.

The main thing I'd write on the pad for is to note something they say that you want to come back to later (just jot down a few words to remind yourself) -- e.g. something mentioned off-hand in the middle of a long answer to another question so you can't ask about it right away.

Otherwise, I'd only take notes of important points that you're afraid you otherwise won't remember correctly (e.g. things that will affect your decision on whether to take this job or not). But generally, we tend to remember the important things by ourselves (at least long enough to write them down in the car after the interview :-)
posted by winston at 1:24 PM on September 22, 2006

If you need to remember names and numbers, ask for a business card.

Yes, but when I interview with 10 people in a day, and have a stack of 10 business cards, it can be nice to link each name to an interview, so I'd write, for example "John Smith Water Filtration" or whatever. Much more memory-invoking than a business card.

I am very reluctant to have a frank and open discussion when someone is taking notes.

If an interview is a conversation (which I agree it should be), and the interviewer is writing down notes on what I say (which I think they should be), then why shouldn't I note down that the Water Filtration group is working on carbon fiber nano films, so that I can remember later to look up a white paper?

hings that will affect your decision on whether to take this job or not.

Yes, an interview is a two-way street. If you feel you need a pen and paper, then by all means bring one.
posted by muddgirl at 1:35 PM on September 22, 2006

I've been told to project the attitude (without being obnoxious) that I basically have the job and am ready to start doing it well. So, I take notes if they start giving specifics about how things should be done. Like "there will be three main products we will need to make," or, "we would need to finish the calls by June so we can make the map by August." If I had the job, I'd be writing those things down. I just act like I take seriously what it is they want done and am already thinking through how to do it. (But I work in a small professional world, so it's not like they're interviewing 60 people for the position. In that case, it might seem presumptuous.)
posted by salvia at 2:40 PM on September 22, 2006

Be careful about writing down questions ahead of time if you have a tendancy to read like a robot or monotone (me!). I find it works better for me to write down more of a general outline of a question than something I would read verbatim.
posted by blind.wombat at 2:53 PM on September 22, 2006

If you do, rememeber not to doodle.
A lot of us doodle when bored, and if you are stuck in the kind of group interview where the lead guy rambles on about Core Values and The Mission, that pen hand can have a mind of its own.

I interviewed a candidate once, and after my boss was done droning on, the interviewee's pad was _covered_ in circles and squares. He tried to quick flip to another page once he realized, but it was too late.
posted by madajb at 5:20 PM on September 22, 2006

I too take the portfolio with a notepad and my resume / other relavent info I've collected about the company. I usually structure the top page of the notepad (the only one I use, usually, in the interview) as follows:

Top right corner - vital info: name of interviewer, phone #, location, whatever else you might need.

Beginning at the first line on the right indented side: my key selling points. I usually have 3-5, they are the reasons I am a good fit for this company. See here. By the point of the interview I usually have it memorized, but put it there anyway to remind me to use it at least a couple times.

Below that I space out the rest of the page with well thought out questions about the company. I do not write out the question in any verbatim format, instead only make a quick notation of what the question is ("why is the position avail.?" "who would I report to?" "what are key skills needed for role?" etc.). Then I leave a couple lines after each question for room for noting answers.

Many interviewers have a template that guides them through the interview, and I don't think its bad to have your own - as long as you aren't totally reliant on it and you keep good eye contact / engagement in the conversation, as mentioned above. (Of course, it all depends on the type of interview you're in - if its a confirming interview, for instance, maybe you should try sans notepad...)

Remember, interviews are not just about are you the right person for the job. They are also about is this the right job for you. You should have questions about whether this job is a good fit, and you should get them answered, to paper if possible. Having this mindset will set you up to be in a better position for contract negotiations from the start.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:46 AM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I keep a notepad and take notes while still maintaining eye contact. I usually only make notes if there's a point I want to follow up on during my Q&A response period, but I never take my eyes from the interviewer. It ought to be inconspicuous, in my opinion.
posted by mykescipark at 2:10 PM on September 23, 2006

I was recently on a twelve-person panel interviewing our top ten or so candidates for an administrative opening. Every one had some sort of notebook or tablet which is expected. What stuck out in my mind was the fact that they didn't have them out and ready to go when they walked in the room. One guy even said "hold on a second while I get situated" while we all sat there staring at him arranging a little workspace in front of him. It says to the interviewer(s) "your time is not important to me". I know this might sound trivial, but when interviewing I always assume the other candidates have my exact qualifications and every little mannerism or gesture could cost me the job. In this situation, we ended up hiring a slightly less qualified candidate because we simply liked him more.

It might also be a good idea to have an extra pen just in case. It never looks good to ask to borrow a pen in an interview.
posted by bda1972 at 7:27 PM on September 23, 2006

I have a nice looking leather folio with a pocket inside it for holding extra resumes or anything they give me. This is what I looked for in a folio: slim, easy to open (no zippers or clasps), paper pocket, small pocket (for business cards), pen loop. It stays in my briefcase, although easily accessible, until we sit down. Then you just grab it and go, no fumbling necessary. It looks very sleek.

At my last interview, it sat closed on the table for nearly the entire time. However, when you are meeting with several people, I consider it a must in order to put names and faces together with notes about our conversation topics - enough to help me fill out the thank you notes later.
posted by MrZero at 9:49 AM on September 25, 2006

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