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Totaljobs Editor
10 min read

How to make interview notes

Taking effective notes during the interview process is crucial for making informed hiring decisions, avoiding bias and providing comprehensive candidate feedback. In this guide, we delve into the best practices for making interview notes and examine how tools, including AI, can make this process more efficient.

Interviewing is a crucial part of any recruiter or hiring manager’s job. Those who conduct effective interviews will be better equipped to identify and hire the talent an organisation needs to meet its strategic goals and objectives.

One crucial, yet sometimes overlooked, component of candidate interviews is note-taking, as comprehensive interview notes can simplify the process of:

  • Determining the strongest candidate
  • Providing feedback following an interview
  • Producing evidence in interview disputes

However, it’s not as straightforward as jotting down everything a candidate says in response to questions. Effective note-taking during job interviews is a skill that requires practice and refinement.

In this article, we delve into the importance of interview notes, explore best practices for note-taking, and provide insights on how recruiters and employers can streamline this process to make their hiring practices more efficient.

Importance of taking effective interview notes

In the dynamic and ever-evolving world of recruitment, taking accurate and thorough interview notes is an important part of the hiring process for several reasons. These include:

  • Enhanced decision-making: During an interview, you’re looking for candidates with the desired competencies and experience who seem like a good fit for the organisational culture. Comprehensive notes can assist in tracking which candidates are ticking these boxes and make it easier to decide between two candidates that might otherwise appear to be neck-to-neck.
  • Compliance with legal obligations: There are numerous laws hiring managers need to adhere to, such as the Equality Act 2010. If, for example, a candidate complains that they didn’t get a job due to discrimination, or feel they were asked discriminatory questions during the interview, interview notes can be used as evidence.
  • Mitigating bias: Overcoming bias helps organisations comply with their legal obligations and enhance diversity which can in turn boost performance. For example, companies with diverse executive teams are 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Note-taking is a vital tool for mitigating basis, helping to identify candidates based on competencies rather than factors like age, race or gender.
  • Improving candidate experience: Improving the candidate experience is essential to bolstering an employer’s reputation and nurturing future talent pools. Interview notes play a crucial role in this by enabling prompt and constructive feedback and eliminating the multiple rounds of interviews that can deter candidates by ensuring all relevant and important information is captured.

    Before the interview

    Effective note-taking that contributes to a smooth and successful hiring process requires preparation in advance. As a result, before the interview itself begins, it’s important to consider:

    1. Making notes using the candidate’s CV, cover letter, and any other relevant material. This will help you to connect with the candidate over their specific experiences and give you areas to probe for further information. Make sure you’ve got their application materials printed out for reference during the interview.
    2. Devising a system to objectively score each candidate on the required competencies based on their answers. This can reduce bias during the process and also help you to take your notes in a quicker and more organised fashion once the interview begins. This is especially effective during competency-based interviews.
    3. Dividing up who asks questions and who takes the notes during the course of the interview. There will often be more than one person conducting an interview, so whether it’s a full panel interview or just two people, you need to be prepared in order to ensure that the interview runs smoothly.

        How to make interview notes

        When it’s time to conduct an interview, there are a number of things to keep in mind to facilitate comprehensive and effective note-taking while ensuring the candidate feels your attention is sufficiently on them and what they have to say.

        Inform the candidate you intend to take notes

        Job seekers appreciate being kept informed about each stage of the hiring process, and that goes for what they should expect during an interview. Telling the candidate that you’ll be taking notes, and explaining why, ensures they won’t feel put off if you’re taking a few seconds to finish writing up their response to a question. It’s also an opportunity to explain how you’re ensuring a fair and objective assessment, which could also help to put the candidate at ease.

        Prioritise listening

        While interview notes are important, it’s just as crucial that candidates feel they are being listened to while giving their answers. As a result, it’s important to prioritise listening over taking notes while candidates are answering, ensuring frequent eye contact during in-person interviews, for example. This will help you to keep your attention on the candidate and what they have to say while also taking the all-important interview notes.

        Be concise

        Keep the notes short and sweet. This will help to keep you focused on the candidate and reduce the amount of time you spend writing.

        You don’t need to be adept in shorthand to do this. Stick to the facts and the key points in the candidate’s answers. If there’s a note you want to follow up on, perhaps underline it or put a star by it so you can find and address it once the candidate has finished speaking.

        This is where the real skill in interview note-taking lies – identifying the relevant information within candidate responses. Use clear bullet points for any information that either confirms or questions whether the candidate meets the required competencies, experience, or cultural fit.

        Ask candidates for clarity

        Don’t be afraid of asking a candidate to repeat themselves in order to clarify their answer to a specific question. This can help to make sure your notes are taken accurately, and that you’ve understood clearly what the candidate was saying.

        This avoids potential misunderstandings and promotes active listening. Candidates may reveal more relevant information by expanding on an answer, which can help to strengthen their case and improve your understanding of their fit for the role.

        Note-taking best practices

        On top of the essentials outlined above, there are some additional best practices you may want to bear in mind when taking notes to make sure you’re doing so productively.

        Schedule an appropriate amount of time

        Interviews need to be long enough so the candidate can dedicate an appropriate amount of time to their responses and have some bit of back and forth with the interviewer.

        However, you also need to factor in a bit of extra time for note-taking.

        If you’ve explained at the outset that you’ll be taking notes, the candidate will understand if you’re taking a few seconds following their answer to write them up. This is fine, as long as the candidate isn’t losing a significant amount of the time they need to answer your questions effectively.

        Look for STAR answers

        This is especially useful when candidates are answering competency-based interview questions. Noting the candidate’s answers based on the STAR method (situation, task, action, result) will give you a clear note-taking structure for each question.

        It is common to suggest to candidates prior to the interview to break their answers down into this structure, as this can help them to better express their answers.

        Leverage the right technology

        The right technology and software can significantly improve interview note-taking. For instance, when conducting a video interview over Zoom or Teams, with the candidate’s consent you can record the interview and compile notes later.

        New and innovative software can now also transcribe interviews and deploy artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities that summarise responses and highlight key points in candidates’ answers. However, transparency is also crucial when using these applications. Our research on this topic revealed that while over half (52%) of candidates are comfortable applying for a job where a small part of the recruitment process is driven by AI, the majority (89%) want to be made aware of the use of AI in advance.

        Despite the array of solutions available, some recruiters still prefer taking interview notes by hand, as the pen and paper approach can be less distracting for candidates than typing out notes as they respond to questions. Ultimately, it’s down to recruiters to decide which method or technology best suits them and harness it to produce notes that enhance the hiring process.

        Compare notes

        If there are more than one of you conducting the interview, comparing notes is great practice. It can help you and your colleagues to see how others have interpreted a candidate’s answers, and it will help to build a more holistic view of their performance.

        For example, if there are any points of contention or disagreement regarding a candidate or their answers, your accurate interview notes should help to clear up any confusion.

        Handling sensitive information

        Like any other sensitive information a candidate has shared as part of their application, the notes taken during an interview need to be carefully handled, stored, and removed after a certain period of time.

        As a result, it’s vital to ensure that there is a data protection policy in place for the safe storage of the data and compliance with GDPR. Furthermore, this information should only be shared with relevant colleagues, such as another hiring manager who is involved in the hiring process for that candidate.

        The art of effective interview note-taking

        Interview notes are a crucial part of conducting good interviews that identify the right candidates, comply with legal obligations, mitigate bias, and enhance the candidate experience. To excel in this task, recruiters should look to implement best practices and find their ideal note-taking method or technology, whether through innovative software, traditional handwritten notes, or AI-powered solutions.

        By making effective note-taking a priority, recruiters can elevate their hiring practices, creating a win-win scenario for employers and candidates alike.