I just got this question from a client: I did tons of preparation for my interview, and I have a bunch of notes. Can I bring notes to a job interview?
Typically, no, I don’t recommend that you bring notes to a job interview.
I understand why you’d want to bring them. Having tons of notes ready that you “happen to show” to an employer during an interview indicates that you did your homework (well done!).
Of course, you want the employer to see that you mean business and that you’re a diligent potential employee, and your extensive notes would reflect well on you.
Notes can help if you need to speak to something and the data’s not top of mind. They help shore up your confidence and reduce some of the job interview nerves, giving you a sense that you aren’t just “winging it” on an interview.
However, here’s why I typically recommend NOT bringing notes to a job interview:
- They’re distracting. If you need to make a point and you suddenly need to stop and flip through your notes, it breaks up the flow of conversation. Or if the notes are on your phone and you suddenly whip out your phone mid-sentence, you come across as potentially unprofessional.
- They’re often messy. Unless your notes are all in a computer printout form, your handwriting and personal scribbles may actually have the opposite effect of making you seem like you’re personally all over the place. Or, there’s the guy I interviewed one time at a software company who had his notes written ON HIS HANDS and kept looking down at both front and back of his hands as we spoke. The hiring manager got a laugh out of it, and the guy didn’t get the job.
- They’re typically too low-level. Often, notes contain detailed data points, but the interviewer’s more likely looking for your conclusions about the data, and not the specific individual items.
- They were an answer to a question that hasn’t been asked yet. The best interviews seem like a conversation between two people, and the same question can be asked in multiple ways. If you have a pre-set answer that you answer using your notes, you may be missing the point of the question the interviewer’s asking.
- They brand you as someone whose memory might fail. Think about it – if you’re an interviewer, and every time you ask a question, someone’s referring to notes, you might start to wonder if they retain information well. You might wonder if they’d need notes in an important situation in front of a client, or what might happen if they didn’t bring their notes along to a meeting.
Here’s when it’s perfectly fine to bring notes to a job interview:
- You have a disability. If you truly have a medical condition that restricts your recall, go ahead and bring notes. Make sure they’re typed, printed on clean paper, organized and easy to use.
- You were asked to do a project for the employer. If they asked you to prepare something ahead of time (a presentation, report, analysis, you name it), bring notes (clean/organized) and feel free to refer to them.
- You have detailed data that the employer sent you that they’d like you to speak to in the interview. If they’ve sent budget projections, org charts, KPIs, strategic initiatives, etc. – bring those. Like everything else, make sure they’re organized and clean, but you’re welcome to use them as needed in the conversation.
- You have ONE typed/printed, short page of questions for the employer that you want to ask, and those are tucked into the other documents you’ll bring (resume copies). If you want to use those as a prompt, you can; interviewers typically won’t mind if you reference your list of questions once or twice. In general, the best questions flow naturally out of the interview, but if you need notes in this section of the interview, it’s usually fine.
You can always TAKE notes in an interview, but most of the time, your preparation notes need to stay behind.
The good news? You’ve done your homework, and you’re well prepared for the interview. Take your knowledge, research, and the confidence that you’ll know what you need to know in the moment, and focus on connecting with the future employer instead of the piece of paper in front of you.
Readers, what do you think? Is it ever a good idea to bring notes to a job interview?