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I have a job interview tomorrow for the role of a junior software developer at a medium sized company.

I get nervous and sometime forget what to say and questions that I have for them so I am planning to write a list of questions I want to ask and important events in my development experience that I may forget about due to nerves. I will obviously not be reading straight from my note book just glancing to make sure I have not forgotten anything.

Is it unprofessional to take pre-written notes to an interview from a professional standpoint

UPDATE Thank you everyone for your answers and comments please keep them coming as they all will be of great assistance to anyone else that has the same question

71

Yes, it's perfectly fine to bring notes to an interview. The one thing you have to be careful about is that you never want to read off a prepared answer. An interview should be a discussion, not a presentation.

Things to write in your notes:

  • resume highlights (or just a copy of your resume)
  • grades, GPA, accomplishments when in school (I'd say for recent graduates only but this is sometimes asked for years down the line in law and some other industries)
  • bullet points to remember to common interview questions: a project that failed and what you did to recover, situations that you resolved well, etc.
  • most importantly (and it's good that you bring this up): what questions you want to ask of them

For all of these, like I said, just refer to them quickly to make sure you didn't forget anything if you're worried that you'll be too nervous to remember. Just having the notes there may be enough to calm you down.

Be warned that some interviewers may object to you bringing notes, for reasons presumably best known to themselves, so don't become overly reliant on them. If the interviewer notices you reading your notes more than you're engaging in a dialogue they may comment on it or ask you to put them away. The good news for you is that graduates are often cut a lot of slack when it comes to interviewing. Most interviewers know that it's a stressful situation, especially for people entering the workforce for the first time.

If your interviewer comments on your notes or if you feel the need to explain them, just mention that they contain short bullet points from your resume and work history that you've prepared for the interview as well as a list of things to ask during the interview. No reasonable interviewer will refuse them.

A final note: while I think it should be okay for people of any experience level to bring notes to an interview, especially to list questions to ask of the interviewer, people will generally expect more experienced candidates to refer to their notes much less than a recent graduate, especially when it comes to answering standard interview questions. Referring to your notes to refresh you memory on past projects will probably become more common as your work history expands though. And while this doesn't apply to your situation, candidates applying for positions where presentation, debating and discussion skills are key qualifications will likely have to ace their interview without such notes (or be very good at hiding that they're checking them).

  • great thanks, as you mentioned I am planning on writing questions I may want to ask, grades I got, projects I have done etc... only to glance over them so I don't forget and not read straight off the paper. – AnonDCX Sep 14 '15 at 22:57
  • @DecompileCodex That's a good plan and a good practice (I really wish I had thought of it when I first started interviewing). Good luck with your interview tomorrow. A final note: while I appreciate you accepting the answer, I'd ask you to undo the accept to give other people a chance to give you a better answer. As listed in meta, you might wait 24 to 48 hours to give other people a chance to give you a better answer. A question with an accepted answer isn't as likely to receive further attention as one without an accepted answer. – Lilienthal Sep 14 '15 at 23:00
  • Ok thankyou for your suggestion. I have undon accepted and letting other people have a chance :) – AnonDCX Sep 14 '15 at 23:54
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    The interviewer should already have a copy of your resume, generally speaking. – Kevin Sep 15 '15 at 14:05
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    @Kevin Also I can speak from experience (albeit many moons ago); I went to an interview where the interviewer had some sort of scanned in 3 times, formatting stripped, probably run through a spell checker that didn't have any technical words so I was now an expert in latex and hotmeals, etc. version of my resume (and I've been an interviewer where the resume I got was out of day without it necessarily being the fault of the interviewee)... fortunately, I happened to have a draft of my resume that I was using for scrap with me that actually had things like formatting etc. – Foon Sep 16 '15 at 14:12
22

Since forgetting can go both ways, use these notes also to record what you learn in the interview. So summarize things you think you'll be asked, but also things you want to know - regular working hours, travel policy, dress code, whatever. Many interviews start with the interviewer "telling you a little about us" which can be a real information dump. By already having the headings in your notes, you can just jot down the things that matter to you. Stuff like when they were founded or the name of their most important product you don't need to record in your notes, so having these headings will help you cope with the stream of information.

More importantly, it will get the interviewer used to you interacting with your notes. Because if I ask you "so, you graduated 18 months ago?" and you pause, run your finger down a page of notes to find an item, and then say "yes, that's right" I'm going to be extremely suspicious. People generally know these things about themselves. You probably know what your best classes are, and that your highest mark ever is a 98 or an 83 or whatever without notes, right? I don't need to be told the 16 most recent grades you received. I probably don't even care what your average is. So make sure you can answer simple questions without the notes, or that you can cover up the fact you're checking your notes for even the simplest question.

But if it's just about not forgetting to ask if they pay for overtime, then absolutely write that question in your notes and leave room right next to it to write the answer. Then as the interview progresses if you are told things without you having to ask them, make a note in that blank space. When you get to the end and they ask if you have any questions, now is the time to let them see you running through the list and asking any that didn't come up, or saying "we seem to have covered everything I came here to find out, thanks!"

17

I would add to the other good answers here that as an interviewer, I am certainly bringing notes (and taking notes) because I am not an expert on the candidate. I understand that people get nervous and forget things in interviews and I am totally fine if a candidate brings (or takes) notes. The candidate is not an expert on the company they're interviewing at.

I emphasize expertise there because something I will probe on in an interview is what level of expertise the candidate actually has, particularly if expertise in a particular subject is indicated on their resume. I expect people who claim to be experts in a subject to be able to talk about many aspects of that subject without recourse to looking things up. Don't claim to be an expert in, say, agile methodologies and then have to look up what a scrum master does. I have had candidates try to claim expertise and then fake it; the interview usually does not go smoothly for either of us.

8

No, you should not bring notes. Some interviewers may deem it unprofessional. Even among those that don't, it may put you in a poor light compared to other candidates. It is not worth the risk.

I've been on the interview panel for a number of software development jobs, and I've never seen a candidate bring notes. If someone did, I cannot say for certain that I would not react to this negatively.

Consider: you state you want notes to cover the questions you're planning to ask the interview team and prepared answers to possible questions. If I'm going to an interview, I try and prepare four or five questions. I would expect most candidates to be able to commit that many to memory ahead of time.

In the second instance it could cut both ways. Some people might think it demonstrated thorough preparation and dedication, which is a good thing. On the other hand, if you refer to notes in answer to personal questions such as "tell me about a time you worked as part of a team", it could be taken as a sign you are not giving an honest answer.

Other answers have said that they might find it understandable behaviour from a graduate or someone who was clearly nervous. However, a good interviewer ought to be able to make allowances for that in their judgement. If you take notes, you are effectively assuming the interviewer will treat them with good grace. It it likely to be less risky to assume the interviewer will compensate for your nervousness in other ways.

If you do refer to notes, I would warn the interviewer at the beginning that you wish to do so and state your reason. You could also offer to show the interviewer the notes to demonstrate they are nothing but simple reminders to steady your nerves.

In short: interviewing is, sadly, a pathetically inexact science and different interviewers will do and expect wildly different things for similar jobs. But I would err on caution and not refer to notes.

There may be a cultural issue here. I'm in the UK, and I'm presuming the OP and other respondents are in the US.

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    I actually think this is a great answer and shows a constrast that I think many interviewers actually believe. They don't want to see a person referring to notes to remember even the questions for the client. They expect rehearsal, ability to exude confidence. Nervousness in the interview CAN show they will be nervous on the day before a deadline and mean they won't pull through. That people don't recognize this tells me they aren't doing a great job assessing candidates, assuming that is their line of work and not just what they hope interviewers will do. – vapcguy Sep 15 '15 at 13:32
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    I think downvotes are from disagreement. I downvoted, reconsidered, and removed it. Downvotes based on disagreement can help visitors see which perspective the most people agreed with when they're trying to decide which answer is "right". Even if some people agree with this, if 100 people downvote it and 20 upvote it, the opinion would appear to be in the minority. – DCShannon Sep 15 '15 at 18:44
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    As a developer in the UK, I can assure you that I've turned down several offers from interviewers like you. The question is very clear that he doesn't plan to read off prepared answers, but have notes to guide him. What possible part of software development do you think this is a negative indicator for? As for questions, yes, he might only ask 3 or 4, but, in my experience, many common questions are answered during the course of the interview, so having a few more noted down can be (and has been) immensely useful. – DaveyDaveDave Sep 16 '15 at 6:47
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    I downvoted because your first three paragraphs are too absolute and in my opinion bad advice that outweighs the other good points you raise. That you suggest that someone who brings notes should show them to the interviewer suggests to me that we have profoundly different views on what interviews are for. An interview is not an exam, it's a business discussion about a potential business arrangement. – Lilienthal Sep 16 '15 at 13:14
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    Compiling a set of questions to ask in the interview, noting them down and checking your notes in the interview to make sure you did not miss one is basic professional behavior. Assuming you are superhuman and have a perfect memory despite being in a stressful situation is wishful thinking and in my book wishful thinking is not very professional. He is not bringing notes for answers, he is bringing his own questions. – nvoigt Sep 16 '15 at 13:16
7

I have always brought a notebook or pad with me, along with a pen, to take notes with. If there's any real value in the interview, there will be new information for you there that you'll do well to remember, so bring something with you to write it down.

Since you're already bringing that notebook, there's no problem having a few prompts a couple pages back that you can flip to, briefly, during the meeting. Don't use it as a crutch, if you remember what you want to talk about or ask about, don't flip to it just to make sure, just roll with it, and be OK letting some of it go if it doesn't fit into the flow of the interview. As a last thing at the end of the interview, whether you've referenced them or not, I'd say it's probably OK to mention your notes and say something along the lines of "I made a few notes, do you mind if I just look over them to make sure there's nothing I've forgotten to ask?" - likely they will prompt you for questions so you won't need to be so formal.

I've always gotten positive reactions when I take notes during an interview, the same is true for coming prepared. When they see you've prepared notes for yourself, that's likely to be seen as a good thing (provided you're not overly reliant on them) - just make sure of one thing: if you can find the answer yourself ahead of time, by researching the company, then do so. The more you have prepped on them, the better you will present yourself to them.

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Since you mentioned that this is a software engineer interview, I wanted to mention that you SHOULD NOT have technical prompts / answers in these notes. It would look really poor for the interviewer to ask a question and then you flip through your notes looking for the answer. In these instances, usually the interviewer is not expecting you to have a perfect answer immediately and wants to see you problem solve.

  • Thankyou, I am not planning to write answers just questions that I have so I don't miss any important ones out – AnonDCX Sep 15 '15 at 23:46
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James Caan said it's ok in his book How To Get The Job You Want. He said more or less ''it's not a memory test'', and ''I wouldn't mark someone down for bringing notes' It's your own research''.

  • Welcome to The Workplace / Stack Exchange! Please be careful about answering very old questions with many answers unless you can add something quite novel that hasn't already been posted. – user30031 Mar 1 '17 at 22:11

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