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Interview Note Taking

Distinguishing top candidates for open positions is the most important job of an interviewer. While some candidates may stand out in terms of qualifications and personality, all candidates deserve an equal chance to compete for a position. Remembering who said what after interviewing several candidates can be nearly impossible. By taking notes during the interview, the interviewers can later score and rank the candidates in order to make a final selection.

What Is Interview Note Taking?

Imagine interviewing four or five candidates for a position and trying to remember later the qualifications of each. By taking notes during the interview and then adding to them after the candidate leaves, interviewers can distinguish among the candidates for each position and more fairly document the conversations.

Interview note taking can be quick and effective. It’s okay for the interviewer to pause for a few moments to jot pertinent information.

The Importance of Taking Good Notes During an Interview

Interview note taking is the first step in documenting the interview, both in terms of a candidate’s qualifications and in defending a hiring decision later on. It ensures that interviewers don’t confuse candidates and don’t overlook important factors in a hiring decision. While there are many reasons note taking is essential, here are just a few:

  • Taking notes during an interview helps distinguish the candidates from each other. Each candidate deserves a chance to showcase their capabilities and be remembered for their qualifications. It’s easy to confuse who said what after the fact, yet those details can be critical when making a hiring decision.
  • Taking notes during an interview serves as a baseline for scoring candidates later on. By jotting notes during the interview, the interviewer can then score the candidates using the information in the notes.
  • Taking notes during an interview helps employers defend hiring decisions when there are claims of unfair discrimination. Perhaps a candidate tells the interviewer they are only looking for a short-term position even though they have applied for a position that will require extensive training. By documenting this critical fact, the interviewer may choose to select someone less qualified but whose circumstances will be a better long-term fit.
  • Taking notes during an interview helps candidates feel confident that the interview is fair. When candidates see interviewers paying attention and documenting the conversation, they have more confidence in the process and the outcome.

What Great Notes Look Like

Great interview notes have a few important elements:

Short and Concise

Interview notes need not be lengthy and should focus on key factors related to a candidate’s qualifications.

Legible

Interview notes should be legible so other team members involved in the hiring decision can read them. They may also be discoverable in the case of litigation. For this reason, some software programs have a notes section that allow interview notes to be typed into a shareable database.

Objective and Pertinent

Interview notes should relate to the position for which a candidate is applying and include the candidate’s qualifications for that position. If an interviewer documents information not pertinent to a hiring decision, such as describing a visible tattoo on a candidate, the notes may be viewed as irrelevant at best and possibly discriminatory and illegal.

Avoid anything that could be subjective and irrelevant, including comments about someone’s physical appearance. A best practice is to avoid writing anything related to a legally protected job class, such as age, race, gender, disability status, etc.

How To Take Great Notes When Conducting an Interview

Great interviewers prepare in advance for each interview. They usually have a scorecard or rating rubric with appropriate questions written in advance. They also review the candidates’ resumes prior to the interview so they convey interest in and respect for the candidates’ time.

Having paper and pen handy or a computer ready to take notes will be helpful to make the note taking process seamless. Letting candidates know what to expect during the interview is also important for putting candidates at ease.

1. Getting Started

Welcome the candidates and let them know what to expect in the interview. Some interviewers will tell candidates they are free to ask questions during the interview while other interviewers request candidates ask their questions at the end. Establishing the format up front helps candidates feel comfortable.

2. Explain Why You’re Taking Notes

If candidates know at the outset that their responses are important enough to document, they will have more confidence in the interview process. Tell candidates you will only be documenting key points to help you remember them better after the interview is over.

3. Building Rapport with Candidates

Showing genuine interest in the candidate’s responses by listening intently, asking follow-up questions and maintaining eye contact will elicit much better information than reading a list of questions as though it’s a chore to finish. By exhibiting these rapport-building practices, interviewers will make the note taking process almost invisible to the candidates. Feel free to pause between questions if that helps you conduct a more fluid interview.

4. Ask Candidates to Repeat their Responses for Clarity

If a candidate’s response is unclear, ask them to repeat their response or provide another example. Sometimes candidates don’t understand the question and may respond with something unrelated to the information the interviewer is asking. Other times, they may be avoiding the question by responding to something they hope will satisfy the interviewer. Clarity in communication is essential for making the right hiring decisions.

6. Take Notes on a Separate Document from the Application Form

It’s a best practice to take notes on a blank paper or evaluation form rather than making notes directly on an employment application. Sometimes the interviewer may have written something in haste that is unclear or that can appear discriminatory. By using a separate evaluation form, the interviewer can correct such errors more easily.

Tools That Can Simplify Your Note Taking

Many tools are available for note taking. Paper and pen are common and still used by interviewers even when using an electronic tool such as a recording device. Different tools have advantages and disadvantages. Choose which method works best for you.

Paper and Pen

Writing notes by hand on a separate evaluation form is still the most commonly used form of interview note taking. It can be slower than using a computer or automated device, and care must be taken to attach the notes to the correct candidate so the notes are preserved.

Computer

Some interviewers find that taking notes on a laptop is quick and comfortable. The same rules apply in terms of what to document and how to maintain a comfortable interview environment. Computer notes should be saved frequently to avoid loss.

Certain applicant tracking software programs include a section for interview notes, whether taken concurrently or after the fact. This allows all decision-makers access to interview notes as they consider final candidates for selection and is an effective way to store them.

Audio and Video Recordings

Some states have laws requiring all-party consent in order to record interviews for later review, but many employers find such formats a helpful way to involve other decision-makers after the interview. One advantage is minimizing the distraction of note taking. However, some candidates may experience extra stress when they know they are being recorded. Preserving recordings also requires an established process.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Interview Notes Taking

How many notes should I take during an interview?
Take as few notes as you need in order to remember the candidate’s responses to important questions. You’ll want to complete your note taking after the interview is over to incorporate other important information, such as general impressions of the candidate’s abilities as well as any concerns you have about the candidate’s fit for the position.
How should I use the notes that I take?
Review them as you complete a candidate scorecard and make recommendations. Share them with others involved in the decision-making process as you discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your top candidates.
Carol Eliason Nibley

Carol Eliason Nibley

Carol Eliason Nibley, SPHR, GPHR and Principal Consultant at PeopleServe, has more than 25 years of experience in human resources, most recently serving as Vice President of Human Resources for a technology company in Utah County. Carol has taught HR certificate courses at Mountainland Technical College and in other settings for more than 12 years.

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