Interviews are an exhilarating time. You made it through the silence that immediately follows submitting a job application, and now you get the face-to-face advantage to further market yourself. But as you’re doing more research on the company and compiling all your notes, the question dawns on you: can you even bring notes into an interview?
Yes, you can, but it might hurt more than it helps. Let’s talk about why.
Below we’ll explore the pros and cons of bringing notes to an interview and the difference between reading notes and taking notes.
In this article, we’ll cover:
Bringing pre-written notes to an interview
Taking notes during an interview
Notes for virtual interviews
Notes for interview
So, what are we talking about when we say ‘interview notes’? If you are someone who is new to this approach, let’s break down what motivates people to have a pen and paper on hand.
What’s important and what’s not
Overall, your goal should be to attend your interview without pre-written notes.
It probably goes without saying that you shouldn't need to rely on notes to recall the details of your resume or work experience. This use of notes could ultimately hinder your chances of landing the job if it’s perceived as you not knowing your own skills.
However, common uses for pre-written notes include
Anything from the company website or LinkedIn that resonates with you.
Specific products or services the company offers that you feel you would excel at.
Salary expectations based on research.
Hard numbers from your deliverables that you want to dictate with certainty.
Fear of public speaking is a common affliction. If you fall into this category, know that you are not alone! Many of us suffer from this mental freeze. Keeping notes on hand is a very effective tool that can help you overcome interview jitters. Reviewing your notes should not take away from connecting with your interviewer via eye contact and body language, but a quick glance down could act as a reprieve for gathering your thoughts if you find you’ve gone blank.
If you decide to bring pre-written notes to an interview, make sure they are bulleted. It’s generally discouraged to read notes verbatim, as interviewers want to hear from you unrehearsed. Don’t tempt yourself, leave the detailed notes at home.
Pros and cons of bringing pre-written notes to an interview
Most interviewers that you meet with will allow pre-written notes, but it is always good etiquette to ask ahead of time. This doesn’t have to be a formal request, but rather a quick check-in as you’re sitting down. Say something along the lines of, “I wrote some things down, do you mind if I refer to my notes during the interview?”.
You might be someone with a long work history, have a plethora of certifications, or want to list all your published works in the order of their release. When it feels like we only have one chance to display our value, it’s normal to want to be all-encompassing.
Depending on the interviewer and the field, bringing notes might position you well. It can tell the interviewer that you are prepared and passionate. An eagerness to do well is always a favorable trait in a candidate.
The reasons for not being allowed to bring in pre-written notes are varied. Interviews are conducted for more than just gaining deeper insight into your skills. In addition, we are also being examined for our ability to fit into the company culture, display an affinity for teamwork, and show potential for leadership. If a candidate is reading from notes, it diminishes their opportunity to shine in those arenas.
You might decide to opt out of bringing notes if you are applying for a specialized or technical field. You want to convey to the interviewer that you possess a deep understanding of the material. Referencing notes after being asked specific questions may present you as unqualified to represent the company.
Reading notes vs. taking notes during an interview
The key to appearing strong during your interview is how you utilize your notes. Let’s explore the difference between reading notes and taking notes for an interview.
Reading from your notes
If you’d like to bring notes to an interview, it’s important to ask yourself why. You will look strongest as a candidate if you spend time leading up to the interview memorizing your resume, researching the company, and rehearsing what you’ll say. There are exceptions though, as discussed above.
Is it OK to take notes during an interview?
Note-taking is the safest and most preferred route for utilizing notes during an interview. Interviewers love to see that you are taking their insight to heart.
I once had an interview where I asked the interviewer, “How can I align my future with your company?”. Once they realized I was writing down what they were relaying, they felt more motivated to give specifics. I walked away from that interview with a list of three certifications to get in order to be qualified for the position.
Additionally, writing down hard numbers on salary ranges, details about duties, schedules, or next steps can really benefit those who tend to forget everything from the interview as soon as their nerves settle afterward.
What’s the best use of notes in an interview?
Best practice is to bring a small blank notebook and pen. You can leave them in your bag or set them on the table, but be sure to avoid fidgeting with them during the interview.
This way, if something noteworthy does come up, you’ll be prepared, but you won't be offering rehearsed answers. This is the best way to mitigate risk while also highlighting your professional value.
A quick guide on notes for the interview
Bring a small notepad and pen.
Bring pre-written notes about personal details, employment history, skills, or practice answers to common interview questions.
Take notes about important job details, questions, or next steps.
Stare at your notes instead of making eye contact. Always make eye contact while speaking.
Take quick glances at your notes.
Use notes or pen to fidget or doodle.
Be personable, avoid notes if it makes connecting difficult.
Ask permission ahead of time.
Digital or physical interview notes
There are very few instances where it would be appropriate to bring a laptop to an in-person interview. It should typically be discouraged as an option.
The same goes for phone use. During interviews, your phone should be on silent and kept out of sight. Many companies aim to limit phone use during the work day because it easily leads to distractions. Pulling out your phone during an interview might make you seem dependent on your phone.
If you feel the need to bring pre-written notes, it’s strongly suggested to use handwritten, bulleted notes, and to limit your bullet points to about five items.
Note-taking during a virtual interview
In today’s workforce, many companies have adopted remote and hybrid policies. This has greatly influenced the likelihood that your interview will be virtual. Virtual interviews, however, also come with their own set of guidelines for note-taking.
Get permission for notes
We’ve all been there; it’s time for a virtual interview and we think to ourselves: I’ll pull up everything I need and read from it during my interview. The interviewer will never know!
It is very obvious when we are reading something. Our eyes give us away. Similarly, the light emitted from our screens changes as we dart from page to page. The truth is that it can’t be achieved secretly. It’s also just less energy to ask permission from the interviewer.
Use it as a tool
If you and the interviewer are both looking at a website, use it as an opportunity to segue back to you.
I once told an interviewer I had a question about something on their website. As we were scrolling through I noticed the logo of a third party that I recognized. “Oh I love that company, they awarded my department with a grant that funded us for a full year!”, I said. This comment highlighted my grant writing experience and my aptitude for professional relationships and mutual partnerships.
Try this approach during your next interview to bring up skills you’d like to elaborate on.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are in control of how you represent yourself. At the end of the day, who you are as a person will shine more than whether you’re reading notes, taking notes, or have no notes at all. You made it through the hardest part of the application process. Take a deep breath, prepare yourself, and you’ll do great!
Avoid bringing pre-written notes unless they fall into one of the categories listed above.
Note-taking is generally encouraged! Still, ask permission first and keep it minimal.
Be authentic and personable more than rehearsed and robotic.