Last week, a local TV/newspaper columnist contacted me about a question from a reader regarding note taking in an interview. Since my responses usually get chopped up by the time they hit the paper to being less verbose than I prefer, let's talk about it.
Is it okay to take notes? Should you ask in advance to make sure the interviewer is cool with it?
It is appropriate, and even a potential benefit to take notes during an interview. Taking a binder or portfolio with you is an excellent non-verbal way to communicate interest in the job you are seeking. By taking notes during the interview, you can make specific points in your thank you letter and place yourself into a stronger position for the job you are seeking by matching your strengths to their needs.
One of the tips I give clients is to prepare questions that they should ask the interviewer. You have questions, don't you? I have said that an interview is not an inquisition. It is a two-way communication that allows both sides to determine if there is a potential working relationship. Taking notes and asking questions demonstrates interest in the job and preparation on your part. Having paper and pen with you will be an asset as it shows you are prepared to learn and provide information.
What types of things should you note?
Take note of your responsibilities, particularly those that were not listed in writing. List the key qualifications being sought by the employer so you can ensure that you address how your strengths, skills, and abilities fulfill these needs.
If taking notes is okay... is it okay to have a cheat sheet with a few facts about the company?
I would not recommend a cheat sheet at all. You should be able to do enough preparation to avoid having a cheat sheet. Having your questions pre-written is fine, but the cheat sheet demonstrates lack of knowledge and preparation.
What message does it send to the interviewer if you take notes?
I believe it sends a strong message of interest and preparedness to be taking notes. This can be an advantage when you follow up with your thank you letter. The thing I like about taking notes is that you can use your thank you letter to reiterate your strengths and demonstrate how you are the best candidate for the job.
Does this come across as not paying attention the interviewer?
Regarding how this comes across to the interviewer, some attention should be paid to this. Take brief notes but don't lose eye contact with the interviewer for long. It could become a distraction if you are nervous and look down at the notes too much. Consider it part of managing your body language.
Personally, I love folks who take notes and gather information. It can help set them apart from their competition.