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Our HR rep recently set up some interviews for external candidates to an open position and I was asked to participate. I was emailed a resume, but I was told very clearly (by the person in HR) that I should not write on it during the interview. This was something I've not heard before, and I don't understand it - if I was interviewing for a job and the person across the table took notes on my resume, I wouldn't be bothered in the least. When I asked the HR rep for more detail, they just said they didn't want us doing it and didn't provide any other explanation.

Is this (writing or taking notes on somebody's resume during an interview) some kind of social faux pas that I'm not aware of and should be avoided? I just want to make sure I'm not unaware of some kind of social norm that I'm wantonly violating, like so much effort goes into constructing a resume that people are bothered when it's "defaced" by my notes.

I tried to use Google but all I get are thousands of pages with resume writing tips :)

  • If they won't tell you why, they may be concerned that the non-HR professionals could write notes that could be interpreted as illegal discrimination against the candidate. If they are on the resume instead of a separate bit of paper, there's little question about who the notations are regarding or the circumstances under which they were made. I may need to be fitted for a tin-foil hat though ;) – ColleenV Jan 29 '15 at 17:40
  • So why are they not telling him that? Even "I don't know why, my boss told me to tell you" or "I don't know why, we always told people" is a perfectly fine answer. – gnasher729 Jan 29 '16 at 9:04
  • You'd think HR people were use to communicating better with employees. – user8365 Jan 29 '16 at 19:47
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Companies are required to maintain applications and documents on file for a specific period of time whether in paper or electronic form. If your company stores paper application folders, they wouldn't want you writing on a resume because they're required to keep it and the application. You can be liable for any notes that you take hastily on the resume that later could be viewed as discriminatory.

Many HR teams will for this reason recommend as a best practice that interviewing notes be taken on a separate piece of paper. After an interview feedback should be written up/compiled and, except as required by some state laws, interviewing notes should be destroyed.

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    Basically this answer can be summed up in one word... "Lawyers". Good answer though (since a one-word answer wouldn't be appropriate). – Jared Jan 29 '15 at 2:47
  • This makes quite a bit of sense, though I've never been asked by HR to turn in my interview notes. However, I suspect the request is related to this scenario. – SqlRyan Jan 29 '15 at 3:22
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    I think nowadays due to the fact that most applications/resumes are stored electronically in applicant tracking systems, its largely a mute point. It just seems to be a carryover best practice from the days when paper resume/applications were stored for each applicant. – Pieter DePree Jan 29 '15 at 13:51
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    The answer explains hard copies handed over by applicant. But the question is "I was emailed a resume, but .. I should not write on it". What's the problem with printing another clear copy of it? – Kromster says support Monica Jan 30 '15 at 7:48
  • @Kromster That's something I'd ask their HR department - because there might be a legal reason why writing on a copy of someone's resume would be considered a legal faux-pas (such as editing their document in such a way to paint them in a worse light - which could happen if they later show the 'edited' document to someone else). It may seem benign, but could certainly come back to the person in the future. – Zibbobz Mar 7 at 14:22
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For more than a decade resumes for an interview have been in the hands of the interviewers in one of these methods. It worked the same way whether I was the interviewer or the candidate.

  • The company provides a package of documents to the interviewers a few days before the interview.
  • The interviewer downloads the resume either from an email or from the application website.
  • the candidate hands out hard copies at the start of the interview.

In the first two cases I have no problem writing on the resume. You don't have the master copy, it is just what you printed. I will read the resume prior to the interview and highlight mark areas that I want to ask about. If the answer is short I will note it on the resume. If it is longer I will make the notes on a paper that will later be attached to the resume.

When conducting interviews for a large company they wanted a writeup about each candidate uploaded into the hiring website. They asked that all notes be destroyed. If those notes are destroyed how does it matter if the hand written notes are on the same piece of paper as the resume.

In the case of the candidate handing out the resume at the interview is less clear cut. Most of the time I haven't had a resume becasue I was pulled into the interview at the last minute. In a few cases the hiring website garbled the uploaded resumes so that there was no way to print a readable copy. In either case I would write on the resume becasue I was reading it for the first time in the interview.

In the small companies I have worked with there were few formal procedures so the requirement to maintain a folder related to each candidate was either non-existent or unenforced. At no time have I ever treated the resume in my hand as the archival copy.

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Only that HR person could really tell you why but I would suggest one of these scenarios as the reason for his/her response: 1) that's just what they were told by someone in legal and he/she didn't know why him/herself 2) he/she wasn't willing to go to the trouble of explaining it 3) he/she is a control freak 4) like his/her kid, you ask "why" too much...just kidding (but half-serious there). :) Regardless, it's unfortunate you weren't answered because it's an extremely important aspect with legal ramifications. As such, I can't think of one good reason why a good HR person wouldn't feel obligated to tell you, particularly if they have the nerve to ask you do them the favor of taking on the responsibility of interviewing, assuming he/she knew the answer (see #1 above).

In the scenario you've explained, one copy of the resume must be placed in the person's employment file (electronic or hard copy since I'm not sure how the candidate sent it and/or what your company's file-keeping practices are). Other resumes printed for reference (such as your copy) would not constitute an employment record UNTIL you make notes on it. By telling you not to take notes on it the HR person was prohibiting this scenario because all notes are, by law, an employment record.

Federal law mandates retaining employment records for 1 year past the hiring decision (hire, as well as failure to hire, promotion, etc.). An employer must abide by the employer's state regulation, which may be longer than prescribed in the Code of Federal Regulations. Here in Ohio retention for employment records is 6 years, which is vastly different than the CFR so it's imperative to know the state regulation. If you are only interviewing under the direction of others, you might want to familiarize yourself with the regulations but the leader of those interviewing should provide training, including such guidelines as notetaking. However, if you're in a position to be conducting interviews I would be lead to believe you produce records other than employment records which are likely controlled under the federal and state record retention requirements and you should certainly know those to avoid issue.

As for the comments regarding electronic vs. paper resumes, you wouldn't exactly takes notes on electronic copy would you? The only risk would be associated with hard copies so they should be controlled and perhaps that's what your HR person was attempting to do (rather poorly I must say). A good HR person would ensure any packets or copies they distributed were accounted for after the conclusion of the interview.

As for those commenting on destroying notes, same as breaking any law it doesn't matter until you get caught. I would suggest in the future refraining from making comments which could implicate you and your company in a court of law. I see a lot of speculation and passing along of word-of-mouth (possibly disseminating misinformation). Should someone contest a hiring decision and it be discovered you were, in fact, taking notes during the interview and could not produce them I don't think that would go well for your case. Especially if you yourself were found to making comments on a social media forum admitting having destroyed notes in your past.

FYI - My company uses lists of standardized questions (based on position) and a separate packet on which notes are to be made. The form has a field for recording an objective score for each "competency" (category), which should be supported by any notes. Best practice is to utilize the same question (or set of questions) from each competency for every interview to fill the same opening so each candidate is assessed on a level playing field.

Quick reference: https://www.shrm.org/LegalIssues/FederalResources/FederalStatutesRegulationsandGuidanc/Documents/Federal%20Record%20Retention%20Chart.pdf

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Is this (writing or taking notes on somebody's resume during an interview) some kind of social faux pas that I'm not aware of and should be avoided?

I have only heard two arguments against writing on the resume, but both also apply to taking notes in general during an interview.

  1. If you're taking notes, you're not listening. Since interviews are supposed to be a conversation, it can be disruptive to that conversational sort of approach that (likely) yields better results.
  2. Candidates can (usually) read what you've written. That itself can be disruptive and distracting even if they can't quite read it.

Personally, I find interviews to be too much of a crapshoot to begin with. Putting more burden on my memory or my "feel" for a candidate seems like it would only result in worse results than these two issues. And the resume provides a great pre-made timeline of jobs/skills for me to append notes to so #1 is minimized.

  • If #1 was true how would any meeting minutes ever be created? I would think that most people would agree that a written record of a meeting especially in a workplace setting is a good thing for numerous reasons. – Ghanima Mar 7 at 16:27

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