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Best Practices for Taking Interview Notes

From knowing what type of interview is best to getting honest answers from candidates, a lot goes into the interview process. Taking interview notes might not seem like a big deal, but this small step can impact your candidate selection. Learn more about taking notes during interview sessions and how to use those notes effectively.

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Basics of interview notes

When you’re interviewing candidates, you hear a lot of information in a short time, all of which goes into making your hiring decision. Interview notes help you document the key details each interviewee shares with you. You don’t need to write down every little detail, but having the highlights, such as the candidate’s values, experiences or unique qualities, can be beneficial when you choose an employee.

Why you should take interview notes

No matter how great your memory is, you won’t likely remember every answer you get from each candidate. If the interviews are spread out over several days, it can be even more difficult to remember each candidate, and you might get them confused with one another.

Taking detailed interview notes helps you remember the qualifications of each candidate. You can also use the notes to record your impressions of each candidate and how well they answered the questions. When you review your candidates and make a decision, the notes can help you compare them to see who matches your job vacancy well.

Interview notes can also help protect you if you’re accused of unfair hiring practices. You can use the notes to show the qualifications you documented for each candidate and that your hiring decision was the best fit for your company.

Note-taking can also help build rapport with the candidates. They might notice you writing down their key qualifications, so they know you’ll have them for reference when making your hiring decision.

What to include in interview notes

When you take notes during an interview, you need to balance listening to the answers and jotting down details. Keeping the notes short and only writing down the most important information can help with that balance. Include relevant responses and details about the candidate that would influence whether or not they’re a fit for the position.

Since your interview notes could be necessary to defend a hiring decision if a candidate complains, start by including details about the interview, such as the date, time and location. This information can also help you recall the interview if you don’t make a decision right away.

Include specific responses, such as skills the interviewee says they have, job duties they’ve done or their past work experience. You might also note your observations based on their answers. For example, if you’re interviewing for a teaching position and a candidate’s answer indicates that they have a strong understanding of curriculum development, state this along with specific reasons why.

Connecting with the candidate

As the interviewer, you set the tone for the interview and help put the candidate at ease. When an interviewee feels comfortable, they’re more likely to give you thorough answers and show more of their personality.

To do that, start by being welcoming to help them relax. Explain how the interview will work so they know what to expect. Mention that you plan to take some notes during the meeting, and explain that you’re doing this to help remember their important qualifications. You can also let them know they can take notes as well if they want.

During the interview, be attentive and use body language to help candidates stay relaxed. Show interest in what they’re saying by giving them responses and asking follow-up questions. If you find yourself constantly writing notes, put your pen down for a few minutes and focus on the interviewee.

Ways to make taking notes during interviews easier

If you have difficulty taking notes during an interview, using tools can make the task easier. Pen and paper is the traditional method for note-taking, but these things can improve the process:

  • Standard form: Instead of grabbing a blank notebook, create an interview scoring sheet with room for notes. Include each interview question, a scale for scoring the answers and a large enough space for details. This standardizes the documentation for each candidate.

  • Laptop: Most people find it faster to type notes than write them by hand. Creating a document for each candidate gives you a space to take notes. Be sure that the computer screen doesn’t interfere with eye contact, and avoid staring at the screen for the entire interview.

  • Recording: You can use audio or video recordings of the interview if you want to focus on listening. This allows you to go back to the recording later to review answers or take notes. Always check the laws on recording interviews in your state to determine if you need consent, and consider how recording might make candidates feel.

  • Multiple notetakers: While it’s useful to take your own notes to capture what you feel is important, it can also be helpful to have other people in the interview take notes. The team interview approach gathers different perspectives and could help you catch things you missed. Even if you’re the ultimate decision maker, having other team members sit in on the interview and take notes can result in more comprehensive information.

Tips for interview note-taking

Taking notes during interviews gets easier the more you practice, but these tips can help you improve right away:

  • Prepare for the interview: Being familiar with the interview questions and qualifications for the job makes note-taking easier. When you hear details that match what you need for the position, you can jot them on your notes page. Preparation helps you sort through the information and determine what’s important.

  • Create codes: Writing out full words and sentences takes time away from the candidate. Come up with codes or abbreviations for common things you hear in interviews to speed up your note-taking process.

  • Maintain eye contact: Don’t get so caught up in taking notes that you never look at the interviewee.

  • Expand later: During the interview, list a few key details. Right after the interview, you can expand those notes before you forget the details. This lets you focus more on the candidate during the interview while still preserving important information.

  • Schedule ample interview time: Spacing out the interviews and leaving time after the interview to review and expand your notes helps you avoid being rushed.

  • Stay objective: When you meet a candidate, your unconscious bias can affect your impressions of them. Avoid writing down anything that could support that bias or that’s not relevant to the job. Including anything related to gender, appearance, race, age or other irrelevant factors doesn’t support an objective decision, and it could be discriminatory.

  • Compare notes: If you use a hiring team to interview candidates, consolidating the notes into one document can assist you when comparing the interviewees. It can help you see how others interpret answers and identify patterns in your reactions. This consolidated note document can also serve as the foundation for discussions when choosing the final candidate.

As you get more comfortable with interview note-taking, you’ll customize your processes to make them more efficient. Reflect on what parts of your notes make your hiring decisions easier and what additional information would have been helpful to improve your process.

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