Do's and Don’ts of Taking Notes During an Interview
Even if you have a great memory, chances are you’ll forget a detail or two during interviews – which might make all the difference when choosing between different candidates.
Taking notes helps you keep track of all the facts and make a better, more informed hiring decision.
Here’s a list of some do’s and don’ts for taking notes during an interview.
- Let candidates know that you’ll be taking notes during the interview. This way, they won’t be surprised or worried when they see you writing.
- Write your notes on an evaluation form. Using an evaluation form helps you keep the interview on track by giving you an outline – which also helps you have organized notes. Additionally, by taking notes on the evaluation form, it means less paperwork to keep track of later.
- Watch and actively listen to candidates. Just because you’re taking notes doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be watching candidates, too. If you need to write a longer note, ask candidates to pause for a moment so you can jot it down, then go back to the interview.
- Take note of initial impressions, as well as any follow-ups you may have. Whether they’re questions you want to ask immediately or things you want to research later, write it down so you don’t forget to circle back.
- Let candidates see your notes. Candidates should be informed that you are taking notes; however, you should write in a position where candidates can’t see what you’re actually jotting down. Similarly, don’t let candidates see notes from other interviews either.
- Write anything that could be discriminatory, such as notes relating to a candidate’s race, sex, age, disability status or other protected class. Notes should be limited to a candidate’s suitability for the job, not appearance. If you’re a visual learner and want to take notes on their appearance to help jog your memory, limit it to an item of clothing or accessory that stands out to you but doesn’t have a religious or cultural significance. For example, writing that a candidate wore a bright yellow tie is okay, but a note about a yarmulke is not.
- Spend the whole time writing. There may be some pauses while you take the time to write certain insights, but taking notes shouldn’t interfere with the rhythm of a face-to-face interview. To help save time, develop a shorthand so you can keep your notes brief.
Interviewing Applicants with Disabilities
While there are basic guidelines for interviewing all applicants, there are special considerations for interviewing applicants with disabilities. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed to help prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities. Under the ADA, employers with 15 or more employees – including state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions – can’t discriminate against individuals with disabilities during job application procedures, hiring, advancement, compensation, job training or any other aspect of employment.
To prevent discrimination against applicants with disabilities during the hiring process, the ADA outlines several best practices and tips. While the ADA only applies to business with 15 or more employees, all employers should consider these guidelines when interviewing candidates with disabilities:
- Conduct interviews in accessible locations. Whenever you’re interviewing candidates, opt for a location that is accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities. For example, if your building doesn’t have an elevator, reserve a room on the ground floor so applicants who use wheelchairs or candidates with visual impairments can be interviewed without difficulty.
- Honor requests for a reasonable accommodation. If an applicant with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation ahead of time, you must accommodate them, unless it would be an “undue hardship” – defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense for your business. An applicant with a hearing impairment requesting an interpreter would be a reasonable accommodation that your business could honor. An applicant with a physical disability requesting an elevator installation to access a particular room, however, would cause undue financial hardship for your business, and you would not have to accommodate the request.
- Inform candidates of any tests ahead of time. By giving applicants advance notice of any tests you plan to conduct during an interview, you give them the chance to request a reasonable accommodation. The ADA requires that employers alter tests so applicants with disabilities don’t have to use their impaired skills – unless the test is designed to measure that skill. It’s acceptable to give a mock phone test to an applicant with a hearing impairment if he or she is applying for a receptionist position, which requires phone skills. If he or she were applying for an IT position, you would need to alter the test since that job wouldn’t require phone skills.
- Treat applicants with disabilities with the same respect and dignity with which you treat all applicants. Always offer a handshake, and make eye contact with applicants. Engage in the same small talk as you would with any other applicant. Unless the applicant has a hearing impairment or mental disability, don’t alter your speech or talk louder or slower than usual.
- Focus on the essential functions of the job. By now, you should have already identified and described the essential functions of the job. When interviewing applicants with disabilities, ask questions related to only these tasks, not others that may arise. For example, if you work in a warehouse, an employee may have to lift heavy objects occasionally, but unless it’s an essential function of the job, do not ask applicants with disabilities how they would perform these tasks. Also, ask questions about the functions and tasks of the job, not about the applicant’s disability. Asking applicants how they would complete a task is okay; asking applicants if their disabilities would interfere with the task is not.
- Avoid imagining how the work would be performed. Do not try to imagine how you would perform the work if you had the same disability as an applicant. After all, the applicant lives with his or her disability every day and has likely figured out ways to work around it in all sorts of situations. You may ask applicants with disabilities how they would perform different job functions or even ask them to demonstrate – as long as you ask these same questions of all applicants – but don’t automatically eliminate them because you can’t picture how they would perform the work.
- Wait until the applicant mentions accommodations. You can only ask about accommodations if an applicant has already mentioned he or she would need one, or if you know the applicant has a disability that would hinder his or her ability to perform an essential job function. Otherwise, you can’t assume that an applicant with a disability will need an accommodation to perform the work.
- Do not ask questions about medical leave. Health or medical issues should never be mentioned in any job interview, regardless of a candidate’s abilities. Never ask applicants how many days they were absent from their last job or if they’ll need to take medical leave. If you suspect an applicant’s disability will require time off, state your attendance policies and ask the candidate if he or she can meet them.
- Use appropriate language when taking notes. When taking notes on an evaluation form, disabilities should only be mentioned in context of the job or accommodation requests, not as a way of helping you remember the candidate. If you do need to take notes on an applicant’s disability, read up on and use the correct terminology for people with disabilities. Terms like “disabled” or “handicapped” are not acceptable nowadays, and the ADA recommends using phrases that put the person first, such as “he has a mental disability” or “she uses a wheelchair.”
Your company most likely spends the bulk of its hiring resources – including both time and money – on recruiting and screening external candidates.
In reality, it’s significantly cheaper and easier to hire or promote internally instead.
Just because it’s quicker and more cost-effective, however, doesn’t mean you can cut corners during the hiring process. Interviewing internal candidates is just as important as interviewing external candidates, although there are some differences.
While the interview shouldn’t be treated as a casual chat, you also don’t need to be overly formal or stiff when interviewing internal candidates. After all, these people are your coworkers, even if you don’t work with them regularly. It’s okay to skip the “getting to know you” discussion that’s common with external applicants, although you should still make some lighthearted conversation to make applicants feel more at ease and build rapport.
If you’re interviewing coworkers you know of but don’t know, do a little bit of research to find out what their current roles are, including basic job duties. Not only will this make them feel more welcomed, it also helps you create better, more targeted questions. When you’re gathering information, don’t contact an applicant’s direct supervisor, no matter how tempting it may be. The applicant may not have informed his or her supervisor yet, so asking a manager for a reference could get the candidate in trouble.
Once you’ve secured an applicant’s job description, you can tailor and personalize your questions to get better answers. Instead of asking a candidate vague questions about what he or she has learned in previous roles, you can now ask, for example, what he or she has learned from being an Executive Assistant. When exploring their current experience, ask internal applicants questions that assess their role readiness. How do they expect the job transition would work? What additional training would they need?
Similarly, try to find big projects internal candidates have worked on and ask questions about them. Projects typically involve collaboration and therefore offer the opportunity to ask about conflict resolution and interpersonal skills in a more realistic, hands-on way than simple hypothetical questions. Also, internal applicants understand your company’s culture and should have better ideas of how conflicts should be handled, how teams and coworkers communicate, or what ways your company typically allows coworkers to recognize or appreciate one another’s work.
The majority of your questions should be targeted and personalized – but that doesn’t mean you should skip the basic job competency questions you’d ask external candidates. If your questions only relate to the projects or work internal applicants have completed for your company, you may be missing out on previous experiences, skills or achievements that would make for a standout hire for the role. Delve into internal applicants’ previous work history to uncover these hidden talents, too.