How to Take Notes During an Employee Interview
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Communication is fundamental to an employee interview, whether you're considering someone for a job or interviewing a witness to a workplace complaint. Listening is an important element of communication. Listening comprises about 45 percent of communication, according to research conducted by University of Missouri agricultural information professors Dick Lee and Delmar Hatesohl. Their research suggests that writing comprises just nine percent of the time we spend communicating. Note-taking during employee interviews can affect your ability to synthesize the information job candidates and employees provide.
Setting the Stage
During an employment interview, it's customary to set the stage with an icebreaker and an explanation of the process. In these first couple of minutes during the interview, tell the candidate that you will be taking notes during the interview because you review them during the selection process. This is a courteous way of saying that you may not be able to make eye contact 100 percent of the time. It also prepares the candidate for any awkward silence during which you're writing instead of talking. That said, don't lead the candidate to believe that you're going to be recording every word he says. And, if you need a moment to finish, make a brief note, look up, smile and say something like, "Good answer, give me a second to note this," or "Interesting question, I'll write it down and make sure I get you an answer."
Being attentive during an interview with a potential employee says that you're interested in what the candidate has to say about her work history, her interest in your organization and the contributions that she believes she can make if hired. Sure, you want to capture many of the key points the candidate raises when she responds to your interview questions; however, you needn't transcribe her responses verbatim. Develop a shorthand method for taking notes during an employee interview so you spend less time writing and more time listening and understanding.
During an employment interview, refrain from making notes on the application or the candidate's resume. Writing your interview notes on a separate page mitigates your risk of liability for making notes that have nothing to do with the candidate's qualifications or expertise. Human resources best practices strongly advise against using the application and resume for note-taking. The kinds of notations you make during an interview should be solely focused on the candidate's suitability for the job -- never on non-job-related factors, such as appearance, nationality, language, religion, age, disability or any other factors that signal unfair employment practices. If you're interviewing and hiring practices are ever called into question, any notes you make on the employment application and resume could be subpoenaed for production if an unsuccessful candidate pursues legal action to prove that you or your organization engaged in discriminatory selection practices.
Taking notes during an investigative interview is entirely different than note-taking during a job interview. When an employee comes to your office to file a workplace complaint, you still begin with an explanation of why you're taking notes. But, the reason you're taking notes during this type of interview is to ensure you accurately record every point the employee makes and you'll be using your notes to construct a written statement for the employee to review and sign. This form of note-taking also requires careful listening, but it may also require you to do more writing while the employee is explaining the details of her complaint. Using a word processing application is the most effective way to take notes during this kind of interview, particularly if you're a fast typist.
When you're on the other side of the desk being interviewed for a job, taking notes can suggest that you're fully engaged in the interview process and taking your candidacy seriously. Before you whip out your notepad, however, ask the interview if she would mind if you took a few notes. It's unlikely that a recruiter or hiring manager will say "No," provided you don't say something like, "Wait one second while I write down what you just said." Taking notes during your own interview also helps when it's your turn to ask questions about the job and the company.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.