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Notes or No Notes During an Interview?

If you’re looking for clear advice on whether it’s appropriate to take notes or refer to notes during a job interview, you may be interested to know that expert advice is pretty much all over the place.

Case in point:

Elizabeth Houghton on LinkedIn thinks it’s fine. Provided that they are concise and neat, employers will be impressed with your organization and attention to detail.

J.T. O’Donnell advises that you should never refer to notes. It’s distracting and not having things committed to memory through practice will make you look bad.

In the end, it probably depends on the interviewer, but maybe this should also be an area where you are interviewing them as well. Consider which kind of manager you’d rather work for. Is someone who is distracted and bothered that you are using notes to help make sure you get the information you need to make a decision the person you want to work for?

But, also understand that if this isn’t that important to you, referring to notes may be the thing that keeps them from moving on with you if they are in the “no notes” camp. The safer option might be to not bring any notes.

It’s kind of a toss-up really.

One thing I will say for sure, however, is if you’re interviewing with someone who spends the start of the interview reading your resume for what is clearly the first time, and then asking questions as they read, run. That is a red flag that says they are only putting minimal effort into the hiring process. This will only hurt everyone involved in the long term. Sadly, I’ve seen this more frequently than we’d want to believe. Usually, it’s when HR or a recruiter is doing the first run-through and then passing on candidates to the hiring manager. The manager becomes almost a bystander to the process.

Maybe instead of telling interviewees that they should be doing immense company research, and practicing their questions and responses so that they don’t ever have to refer to notes we should be calling out interviewers who do exactly zero prep work before an interview. Instead of making excuses about how busy hiring managers are and how we can’t possibly expect them to do any research into a candidate when they are interviewing so many, we should consider how many interviews the candidate is doing and how many companies they are researching. If the hiring manager can have my resume and any notes in front of him during the entire interview, why can’t I have notes too?

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