You can bring notes to a job interview, but you should ask the interviewer for permission as you enter the meeting. And you should limit your note-taking and note-reading to 10% of the interview or less.
You may not want to bring notes, though. There are pros and cons to doing so, which I’ll share coming up.
Job candidates who focus too much on reading or taking notes, instead of making eye contact in the interview, will harm their chances of getting hired.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about bringing notes and writing notes in an interview, including the potential drawbacks.
Most employers will allow you to bring notes during a job interview, but you should ask the interviewer if it’s alright to bring notes first.
And while it’s okay to bring a few notes (for example, one half of a small page), it’s not recommended to bring multiple pages of notes.
Your focus in the job interview should be on having a two-way conversation and maintaining good eye contact, and you should never bring notes that will distract from that.
It’s better to give genuine answers to interview questions while making eye contact (even if those answers aren’t perfect) than to read word-for-word from your notes.
When you bring notes to a job interview, you should aim to only write down the most critical, impactful points that you need to remember.
And don’t write word-for-word sentences that you plan on reading. Your notes in the interview process should simply be reminders and basic talking points to help you begin an answer.
For example, you could write a couple of your top accomplishments in your most recent role.
That way, you’ll be ready to answer some of the most common questions interviewers ask, like, “What are you responsible for in your current role?” or, “What is your greatest work achievement?”
You can say, “I’ve got a couple of notes here of my three biggest achievements this past year.”
Then glance down, gather the basic talking points from those notes, and then go back to making eye contact as you answer the questions and discuss your recent work.
You should never answer interview questions while looking at your notes, though. Make eye contact while talking and answering interview questions.
The purpose of bringing a few notes is only to provide a reminder or help you begin your response and hit the key points you want to cover as you answer questions.
I suggest bringing notes in bullet format instead of paragraph format, which will help you see the main talking points you hoped to cover much faster.
You should be asking questions in every interview. Candidates who don’t ask questions will leave the interviewer worrying that they’re not interested in the job/company.
It’s appropriate to bring notes with questions based on the info you saw on their job description, their company website, their social media profiles, and more.
Here are some killer questions to ask employers in an interview.
If you’re expecting a job offer soon or think the employer may bring up the topic of salary requirements in the interview, then it’s appropriate to bring any salary research you’ve done.
In fact, it’s always a good idea to prepare for this topic, since you never know when the interviewer’s questioning will shift toward pay.
Usually, references are reserved for the end of the hiring process, when the company is sure they’re interested in offering you the position.
If you’re nearing the end of the process or anticipate the interviewer asking you for professional references, though, you can certainly bring notes during the interview with names, contact details, and the best time to contact each reference.
If you think there’s little to no chance of being asked for this, then avoid bringing notes on the topic. More notes can become a distraction in your interview.
There’s also a critical interview mistake that having too many notes can lead to… which I’ll discuss coming up in this article. So make sure to keep reading until the end.
While it’s acceptable to bring notes to an interview, there are some ways it can harm you if not done correctly.
Hiring managers don’t want to hear rehearsed, prepared answers. They want to hear genuine, thoughtful responses and they want to have a real conversation with you.
So you should stay engaged in the conversation and have a real back and forth dialogue with the interviewer.
If you bring too many notes or try to read directly from your notes, it will simply be a distraction that will damage your rapport with the hiring manager and harm your interview performance.
Taking notes to your interview is never a substitute for giving good, thoughtful answers in the moment.
Think of bringing notes to your interview as a backup plan or safety blanket to ensure you don’t forget a couple of the most essential facts and talking points you wanted to remember.
That’s the only situation where it’s acceptable to bring notes.
Otherwise, you want to focus on answering questions in the moment, being genuine in your responses, taking time to listen intently when the hiring manager tells you about the role and company’s history, etc.
In addition to bringing notes to the interview, it’s perfectly acceptable to take notes during a job interview. In fact, this is common and something I recommend as a recruiter.
If you want to take notes during an interview, here’s how to best do it:
As you begin the meeting or walk into the room, ask the interviewer, “I brought a notepad with me to take a few notes as we talk about the role. Is that okay with you?”
99% of the time, the interviewer will say “yes”.
Then, as you discuss the role with the hiring manager, you can jot a couple of key pieces of info down, or you can jot down questions that you’d like to ask later.
For example, maybe you have two or three prepared questions, but then you also hear something interesting about the role that you want to ask about later.
This is where bringing a notepad is valuable, since now you can write down that question and not have to remember it for 45 minutes.
As mentioned earlier, though, you should spend less than 10% of your interview time taking and viewing notes.
90% of your time needs to be spent having a direct conversation and maintaining eye contact with the interviewer.
Note that for a panel interview, you’re likely to be receiving far more information, so it’s recommended to bring a notepad and plan on taking notes here.
And you’ll want to have more prepared questions since you’re likely meeting with human resources, the hiring manager, and possibly other team members. So a notepad will help there, too.
Just ask the interviewers if it’s okay first, as always.
Throughout the hiring process, you may want to include the following in your notes for job interviews:
Along with any notes you plan on bringing/taking, always carry at least one copy of your resume for each person you’re going to be meeting in the job interview.
And be familiar with your resume so that you can explain your background to a potential employer.
This type of preparation will help you answer questions like:
Also, think about the following before any interviews:
What did you do in your most recent jobs?
What was most relevant about that work when compared to the job opportunity you’re interviewing for?
Most companies are going to ask potential employees a few questions to make sure they understand the job and are genuinely interested in the company.
The top candidates aren’t just qualified for a role they interview for; they also show enthusiasm, knowledge, and interest in the position.
This is what sets them apart to interviewers.
You can expect specific questions in your interview designed to measure this, and you’ll do better in your interviews if you prepare accordingly.
To recap the info above, it’s okay to bring notes to a job interview if you ask permission and communicate why you’re bringing them.
However, as a former recruiter, I can tell you that the average job seeker in the average situation is better off WITHOUT bringing notes into an interview.
The only exception is if you want to bring a list of questions to ask the company. That’s always appropriate.
However, I do recommend bringing a blank notepad so that you can take notes.
That shows interest and preparation and helps you remember questions to ask about this new job, points you’d like to make later to show the interviewer why you’re a great potential employee, etc.
So I recommend bringing a blank notepad, perhaps with a few questions you want to ask the employer, and then just empty space to write anything as needed.
Instead, learn some memorizing techniques, study the job and truly understand what the interviewer is looking for.
Then, go talk, and build a genuine connection.
The company isn’t looking for a flawless, rehearsed speech in the interview. And they’re definitely not looking for note-reading. So leaning too heavily on notes is a bad idea.
Employers want to get to know you and have a real discussion.
So keep this in mind when deciding if you should use notes during the interview.
We’ve talked about quite a few types of documents you might bring to the job interview… from copies of your resume to job references to salary research.
There’s one more important tip you should know to impress the interviewer and to avoid giving a bad first impression:
Research has shown that when entering any meeting (including a job interview), people look more competent/prepared if they’re only carrying one single item.
This means that if you have a coat, you should leave it in the waiting room, and then you should have any documents/notes you’re bringing in a single bag or briefcase.
Do not walk into the interviewer with a stack of papers or multiple items. It’s not a great first impression.
The other challenge here is keeping your notes/papers organized if you do bring more than one document to the interview.
You don’t want to be rummaging through your bag, throwing papers aside as you look for that spare copy of your resume, etc.
So I suggest you put a couple of clearly-labeled folders into a small bag or briefcase so that you can quickly grab a document you need without pulling everything else out.
Do this in your interview and you’ll be perfectly fine bringing notes!
While it’s appropriate to bring notes and take interview notes, you should focus on giving genuine answers and maintaining eye contact with the interviewer for the majority of the meeting.
Just because you can bring written notes doesn’t mean you should or need to.
I suggest trying to prepare for the interview enough to not need notes.
That said, if you feel a couple of brief notes will help instill confidence, then go ahead, and explain to the potential employer why you’ve brought those notes while also asking permission to carry them in.
Then, you’ll have an extra security blanket and can refer to the notes if needed.
But you should still focus primarily on giving answers without needing to read anything, which is the best way to build a bond with the interviewer and get hired by the company.
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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