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Someone I knew from school is starting a company. I connected with him over a video call for an informal interview. At the end, he said he could see the reflection on my face from when I switched windows to the note-taking app, and asked if I had been taking notes. I said yes. He said I should have asked first and that it was like recording someone without their permission.

I've never heard of this before. Is it recommended to ask for permission before taking notes in an interview or other type of meeting?

I know sometimes there are NDAs, but if there is no such discussion, I think the assumption is that note-taking is expected. I may have been taking a few more notes than usual, but that's because there was no written document prior to the meeting (e.g., there was no job description).

Sometimes I have trouble understanding how someone could think so differently than me, especially considering we went to the same school and worked for the same employer in the past.

Is taking notes in any sort of meeting or specifically an interview rude if you don't ask the organizer first? Also, I'm not really sure how he knew I was taking notes, though I guess he could see my hands typing. Should I change something in the setup?

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He said I should have asked first and it was like recording someone without their permission.

That interviewer is very unprofessional. Do not work with that person. It's like you said. If they wanted this interview to remain confidential, they should have said something or made you sign an NDA.

Taking notes is usually a good idea. It means you're paying attention. It means you're taking the interview seriously. Personally, I like taking notes, because it keeps me from talking over the other person and it makes me listen better.

Someone I knew from school is starting a company.

Some inexperienced business people believe that coming up with a clever business idea is the primary reason they're going to be successful. And for that reason, they become controlling and paranoid about sharing their ideas with others.

And if he was really paranoid. He should have just said: "Please don't take notes. [I'm paranoid. Or this is a new idea, I'm still working out the details.]". Instead he said that you "...should have asked first and it was like recording someone without their permission."

So not only the interviewer is inexperienced and paranoid, but he's making up a rule out of thin air and he is comparing it to a pretty serious breach of trust.

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My personal opinion: I've never heard of someone having issues with an interviewee taking notes during an interview.

Remember - an Interview is a two-way street. They are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them.

Now - traditionally, this would be a pen and paper in the Interview, whereas with remote interviews, some could see typing during the interview as 'distracting' or rude. I'm not a big note-taker myself, but if I needed to take notes, I'd probably ask initially 'Do you mind if I take notes during parts of this interview - you may hear me typing and that will be me jotting things down'.

There may be Cultural differences where this is considered more or less taboo. But as a general rule - Note taking is fine.

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    To be clear, are you advising to ask at the start of each interview? I'd be more concerned that people would think it's a stupid question.
    – Avenstoro
    Jun 13, 2023 at 3:53
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    @Avenstoro - if you are an avid note-taker, then I would ask at the start. I'm not a big note taker myself - or I'd ask the first time you go to take a note. That said - as per the other answer here - a factor may be that the interviewer is a new business owner and is inexperienced at what is 'expected' when sitting on the opposite side of the table. Jun 13, 2023 at 4:25
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    +1. I think with the issue of notes we are missing something. Maybe op and the friend were discussing something on the less than up and up, maybe they were talking trade secrets before signing NDA (you shouldn't, but also happens literally all the time, especially among friends), or maybe it's all just one big misunderstanding. We don't know, but that's the right lesson from here - next time simply ask. Personally I just say "One sec, I need to get my notes ready" at the start, instead of making it a question. They are free to say "I rather you didn't" still.
    – Aida Paul
    Jun 13, 2023 at 10:59
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    @Avenstoro "I'd be more concerned that people would think it's a stupid question" Your mileage may vary, but since I've lived a huge part of my life outside of what people call "society", there are a lot of things people found weird in my behaviour. I've learned that it's best to ask a stupid question once than to be awkwardly unaware of "social norms".
    – Clockwork
    Jun 13, 2023 at 21:53
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    @Avenstoro "I'd be more concerned that people would think it's a stupid question". There are no stupid questions, but there are stupid things that happen because someone didn't ask a question.
    – Simone
    Jun 15, 2023 at 7:21
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I would not want to join a company whose owner shows this level of paranoia in an informal interview.

I would not think note-taking is rude in an online interview unless eye contact was never made and the interviewee is talking to the interviewer while continually writing–but that's rather an extreme situation and one where an admonishment is legitimate.

The OP mentioned that the company is a startup, so it was practically impossible to do any meaningful research into the company's history and future projects, I find note-taking a totally reasonable response considering the job description was missing as well.

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It's rude in the sense if we're taking notes on a videocall we're blankly staring away somewhere in points of time and because the person doesn't see what we're doing it can be a bit disconcerting. So it's nice to give a heads up, even though it's normal for both the interviewer and the interviewee to take notes.

I'm mainly answering to add: if he saw you're taking notes and he felt a certain way about it - why did he bring it up only at the end? If he truly believes note-taking is equivalent to an audio or video recording and you crossed a boundary - why do a whole interview before saying anything?

My personal impression is, and this is completely subjective, this is some weird power play situation. It might seem counter-intuitive to show unhealthy behaviour during an interview, but it's one way to sift out people who can stand up for themselves. Since you did catch on it was an unusual behaviour and are asking this question, you're just not a good long-term victim material.

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    It does the wrong kind of sifting: you end up with people that are either desperate or unable to stand up for themselves. I would not follow up with a company, especially a startup, that displayed such lack of professionalism on their first try. Jun 16, 2023 at 3:13
  • @MadPhysicist Absolutely. Employers like these -at best- want yes-men, at worst - a playground for messing with people stuck in a contract with them. Neither is likely to achieve success in business.
    – vspmis
    Jun 19, 2023 at 6:15
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For what it's worth, the protocol that I've personally fallen into, is to inform the other person that I'll be taking notes. For example, as I take out my phone (in person) or pull up a notepad application (in a video call), I say, "I'm writing down what you're saying."

Note that I'm not asking permission. I feel that it's polite to explain that I'm still paying attention, even though I may be momentarily facing another screen. And I suppose it gives the other person an opportunity to object if they need to; without requiring a response, either, so as to not interrupt their flow.

To date no one's objected. If someone did, then I think I might diplomatically finish out the one meeting by complying, but likely not work with that person again if I can avoid it.

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I had a company state up front in their interview invitation that writing notes in the interview would not be allowed. The reason is they don't want you recording their interview questions and tipping off other candidates. It seems like a reasonable request if communicated beforehand. But the behavior of the person you mentioned is abrasive and controlling. No one should have any expectation to control what you do in your own space with your own equipment.

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    It makes me sad that there are interviews that ask everyone the same questions and people can "pass" the test by knowing the questions ahead of time. I've conducted a lot of interviews, and would be fine if they passed our questions on to other candidates. It's difficult to tell what someone actually knows if they're nervous. If having the questions ahead of time makes them feel more prepared and less nervous that's a good thing. Most of the questions I ask are based off someone's resume and not repeats though. Except maybe "If you could design your dream job, what would it look like?"
    – ColleenV
    Jun 14, 2023 at 19:44
  • Yes, and their questions were very generic, textbook questions. "Describe a time when..." Each person would answer differently.
    – RC_23
    Jun 16, 2023 at 1:49
  • @ColleenV: Or that people would write down the interview questions during their interview, and pass it onto another candidate to tip them off about the question, for the purpose of making the other interview candidate look better. Sure, they might be working together if there's more than one opening, but if they don't know how many openings are available... Jun 16, 2023 at 3:39
  • @AlexanderThe1st If I can’t tell whether someone will work out on our team, even if they’ve gotten a peek at our questions, I’m a terrible interviewer. The best they could hope to accomplish is get through the phone screen. Our work is very specialized though. We’re not hiring assembly line coders where anyone will do if they have skill in a particular language. We are going to invest a lot of time training team members so we not only look for skills, but also whether they’ll like the work and want to stick around for a while.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 16, 2023 at 11:45
  • I wonder how someone who made such a request expects to deal with someone with a good memory? You might be able to tell if I'm taking notes during the interview, but you can't stop me from writing out a full transcript from memory after I walk out the door. If you can trust me with the information I can remember, why can't you trust me with what I write down?
    – BCS
    Jun 24, 2023 at 17:32
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I would have made this a comment, but since that is being actively discouraged, here is an aspect of an answer; I'm addressing your general question:

Sometimes I have trouble understanding how someone could think so differently than me, especially considering we went to the same school and worked for the same employer in the past.

The answer is that your paths have now diverged, and you find each other at opposite sides of the table, quite literally. He takes on the role of employer, you the role of employee. Your objective interests are now quite different from his, which informs the different reactions each of you has to the same situation. He may, for example, be afraid that his tech or business ideas leak, a fear you simply don't share.

Similar changes in perception happen at various stations in our lives: We may gain new insight in our parents' behavior once we are parents ourselves; we may look at a landlord/tenant relationship much differently once we are the landlords; we may view budgetary government decisions differently once we are no longer net receivers but have become net payers in the tax system.

I don't think that any of these ways to look at things is more valid or justified than the other. They are based on objectively different positions, resulting in different interests, just with you and your former colleague.

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    Also "Someone I knew from school is starting a company" is not the beginning of a story of someone with great experience or professionalism as a leader. ;-) This person may get there with time and experience. For the time being though, they certainly have mistakes ahead of them that are to be made and (hopefully) learned from. I would encourage OP to take into account everything they know about the founder - positive and negative. Also, some people are very capable in their area of expertise, but suck as leaders/teachers/communicators - a "people skills" problem that would make me think twice.
    – Mentalist
    Jun 16, 2023 at 7:13
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Was your friend/the interviewer taking notes as well during the interview? If not, why did they not inform you they were "recording" the interview when they have that expectation of you. If they did not take any notes, even during an informal interview, then I would seriously question their motivation in their hiring practices, and desire to hire the best candidates.

The thing the interviewer seems to not understand is that interviews are two-way streets, and you are interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you.

They've shown nothing but red flags with that comment, and I would be moving on immediately telling them I was no longer interested.

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If someone came to an interview, without a pen/pencil and notepad (or didn't ask to borrow a pen/pencil and some paper, if none was already provided) and didn't take notes, I certainly wouldn't just assume that they have a very good memory...

However, I would (internally) question:

  1. Their actual desire/enthusiasm for the job
    • Are they actually bothered about the details? Will this be carried through in to their work practices?
  2. Their suitability as a candidate
    • Do they seem a little too laid back? Will this be carried through in to their work practices?

I would also quite probably go so far as asking, "Are you going to remember all of this?" - unless, of course, I had already provided them with (or told them that I would provide after the meeting) a printout listing the points covered, or sent them an electronic equivalent (i.e. PDF, email, etc.).

However, this might be because my memory is shot to pieces and have to take constant notes (about everything) anyway.

On the other hand, if someone was looking keen and taking notes, that certainly would inspire confidence in choosing them - provided that they didn't over-do it - over a more nonchalant/laid-back candidate... unless, of course, the laid-back candidate was actually a confident guru who had written a book about the subject matter in hand.

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  • I think this is heavily dependent on the industry. In my experience, job descriptions are well documented and candidates are often referred, so they already know a lot about the job and there's often no need to take notes. Of course, there are lots of candidates who do take notes, they're just in the minority overall. Jun 15, 2023 at 20:45
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    A valid point. However, in smaller software/hardware companies (such as in the OP's question), I have found that the job description is a general overall (almost generic) description (i.e., "Perl developer", or "Test engineer", required with a particular skill set) and in the interview I would be probably going into greater depth of the work involved, day-to-day tasks and outlining the companies set-up and systems. It is these minutiae that I might expect to be noted down. Jun 15, 2023 at 22:19
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He said I should have asked first and it was like recording someone without their permission. I've never heard of this before. Is it recommend to ask for permission before taking notes in an interview or other type of meeting?

While I disagree that it's "like recording someone without their permission", I agree with the interviewer that you should have asked first.

For some interviewers, it's not about confidentiality. Instead, it's about focus.

Should I change something in the setup?

No.

A simple "Is it okay if I take notes during our conversation" is the way to handle it. Most won't care. And you get to decide if you wish to continue without notes or just thank them for their time and decline to continue if they don't want you to take notes.

if there is no such discussion I think the assumption is note taking is expected.

When I was the interviewer, I never expected candidates to take notes or record the interviewer. I took notes myself and always made it clear at the start that I would be doing so.

It never came up. If they had asked, I would have probably agreed.

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    I'd expect some notes, because an interview is a two way street - you might want them to jog your memory about things to follow up on - did they waffle on salary? was there a nice point you wanted to remember if the chance to take the job came up? red flags? I think, broadly, it's ok if a candidate takes notes, because I'd view it as a sign they're taking the process seriously
    – lupe
    Jun 13, 2023 at 8:20
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    "For some interviewers, it's not about confidentiality. Instead, it's about focus." - Taking notes helps some people focus though.
    – marcelm
    Jun 13, 2023 at 8:56
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    Why do you make it clear that "you would be doing so", but expect them to ask and are not sure you would even agree to them doing so? What a weird double standard and a huuuge red flag from the interviewer.
    – Matsemann
    Jun 13, 2023 at 9:09
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    So you don't ask for permission, just tell them you will be taking notes, yet expect them to ask? And you would probably agree?
    – AnnaAG
    Jun 13, 2023 at 9:47
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    When someone takes notes while I'm interviewing them I usually think they're probably doing it to show that they're focused on our conversation and are treating it seriously. Since that's exactly what people are supposed to do in an interview I don't see why they would need to ask permission to do that. If anything, someone who's taking notes gets a small amount of bonus points from me--not really enough to make a difference in the final outcome of the interview but I appreciate that you're showing effort. Jun 13, 2023 at 14:18

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