The Legal Lounge: A Note About Taking Notes During Interviews

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Dec 16, 2020
This article is part of a series called The Legal Lounge.

Do you make grocery lists? Ever go to the grocery store without the list you planned for the week’s meals? Ever stand aimlessly in the vegetable section wondering what you forgot? 

Now imagine sitting in a deposition being asked questions by a scary lawyer with that same feeling, but this time, thousands of dollars are on the line. Feel confident?

“Who’s Jeff?”

Here’s the scenario: You’ve recruited six great candidates for a position. The hiring manager has now interviewed all of them and is preparing to make a selection. He picks Elizabeth, a young Latina, for the position even though her experience is not quite as robust as other candidates’. She did interview well, though, describing new ways to improve processes that other candidates did not identify. 

Jeff, an older white male candidate, believes he has been discriminated against on the basis of his race and age because Elizabeth was hired instead of him. He has sued your company several months after Elizabeth was hired. The hiring manager has to defend the decision to hire Elizabeth, but he can’t remember anything about Jeff. The company’s lawyer has shown pictures of Jeff and his resume, but the hiring manager still can’t remember Jeff or the reasons for not selecting him. What’s more, the hiring manager remains convinced that Elizabeth was a great hire.

The hiring manager’s faulty memory presents a problem for the company. Sure, the company can argue that Elizabeth was a great hire, but without knowing any details of why Jeff didn’t interview as well, there’s a hole in the company’s defense. Maybe not a fatal hole, but a hole nonetheless. 

What could the hiring manager have done differently? Take good interview notes, which can help hiring managers remember candidates, including why some didn’t make the cut, and retain important information if a candidate declines an offer. 

6 Notes on Taking Notes

Here are some note-taking tips to convey to hiring managers when conducting interviews:

  1. Mark the date, time, and place of the interview. If an interview took place over Zoom on Tuesday at 2 p.m., a notation stating that might help jog your memory later, especially when cross-referenced with your calendar. 
  2. Explain the why. If you have written questions, keep notes that explain why a candidate’s answer was a good or a bad one. Keep the notes with the particular question so you’ll be able to cross-reference later.
  3. Keep notes as objective and detailed as possible. Comments like “I don’t think this candidate will fit in” or “I don’t like this answer” are too vague and subjective. Rather, “Hortence’s answer provides some enhancements to our process” or “Juan does not seem to understand this concept as he is unable to answer this question” provide more context and are more likely to trigger a memory later. 
  4. Focus on the facts that indicate whether the candidate can do the job, not on the candidate’s position on the weather or the score of the sports ball game. Your employment lawyer wants to know why you picked a candidate, not your opinion on baseball. 
  5. Note something benign but memorable about the candidate. I often remember clothing more than faces, so if someone comes in wearing a bright orange tie or snazzy shoes, those facts will help me remember who the person was in the interview. Do not take note of religious or ethnic clothing or other factors that could suggest a protected class (like gray hair) as this could increase the likelihood of concerns later.
  6. Take time to complete your notes. Explain that you’ll be taking notes to help refresh your recollection later if needed. The candidate will give you time to take them — because, surprise, the candidate wants the job. (If you still won’t take notes during the interview, make sure to block time to take detailed notes immediately afterward.)

Beyond Legalities

Once you’ve convinced the hiring manager to keep notes, make sure the notes are easily retrievable (which could be in an ATS or other software package). Hiring managers should turn their notes over to you for the recruitment file or, at the very least, make sure you have a copy of the notes for the file. 

You never know when notes will be critically important. The obvious example for this piece is if there is litigation about a hire. But the notes could also come in handy when the position is open again. If the silver medalist was a great candidate, then having detailed notes can help shorten time to fill. Not every req needs a brand-new search and post. 

Take note of this: Having interview notes helps make a lot of things a lot easier. Yes, they can be a pain. Yes, it can be hard to get hiring managers to take notes. But think of interview notes as one of the best defenses you have for making sure the folks whom the organization hires are great candidates. Use your powers of persuasion and the relationships you’ve cultivated with hiring managers to make all of your note dreams come true.

Click here for more Legal Lounge columns.

This article is part of a series called The Legal Lounge.
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