Taking notes during an interview can serve various purposes, but it’s not always easy to do. You want to show attentiveness and actively participate in the conversation, but you also want to record important details to remember for later.
Therefore, learning how to take good interview notes is essential if you want to walk away from the interview with valuable information and a greater sense of productivity.
In today’s guide, we will provide some of the best tips for taking good interview notes, as well as some ways to make the entire note-taking process easier and more efficient, particularly in a virtual environment. Before we get into interview note-taking best practices, let’s look at a few of the reasons why you should take notes in an interview:
Why You Should Take Interview Notes
Many people go back and forth over the question of taking notes during an interview. Is it unprofessional to take notes during an interview? Most experts agree that the answer is no. In fact, taking notes during an interview has various benefits:
- Taking notes shows greater attentiveness
- It gives you a written record of the interview
- Writing notes helps you remember important details 
- In a job interview, note-taking makes you look like a more serious candidate
- In a research interview, note-taking ensures that you document the right information
“Note-taking allows people to outsource their memories to an external source…as well as make content explicit for future reference. Critically, learning can occur during both the production and review of notes by allowing the learner to make connections between idea units and engage in deep processing.” - Michael C. Friedman, Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching 
Whether you are taking notes during a job interview, research interview, journalistic interview, or even an interview for something else altogether, there are countless benefits to the practice. First and foremost, while some might see the act of note-taking during a formal interview as rude, it actually shows that you are taking the conversation very seriously.
Rather than merely listening to the information the other person provides, you are actively typing or writing down what you hear to ensure that you do not misquote or misremember something. Alternatively, you can record notes or have automated notes created to share with all participants.
Additionally, both formal and informal interviews necessitate the exchange of important information. Whether you are conducting the interview or you are the “interviewee,” having a record of the event is vital for future reference. You may wish to recall important topics or quotes later on, in which case you will need diligent notes and records of the conversation that transpired.
Whether you are conducting the interview or you are the “interviewee,” having a record of the event is vital for future reference.
These days, most interviews are conducted virtually via video conferencing tools. However, if you are participating in a face-to-face interview, you may wish to jot down notes by hand.
While this is certainly not the fastest, most accurate, or most efficient way to take notes, it does help you retain the information better. For this reason, taking notes by hand is often recommended for students in the classroom, but it can also be useful during an in-person interview.
Finally, the two most common types of interviews are related to applying for jobs or conducting research in business or academics. In either case, taking notes can serve you well.
For example, in a job interview, taking notes shows that you are taking the process very seriously and have the potential to be a very diligent, hard-working employee. Alternatively, in a research interview setting, taking notes is absolutely essential, as it ensures that you do not miss out on vital information shared during the interview.
How to Take Notes During an Interview
Now that you know how taking notes during an interview can benefit you in various situations and circumstances, it is time to look at a few tips to take good, effective interview notes.
Paraphrase Interview Quotes
Many people wrongly believe that taking notes requires you to type or write down everything that is said during a conversation. Fortunately, interviews are not courts of law. You do not need to be a stenographer that types every word verbatim during the conversation.
Instead, you simply need to combine efficient writing tactics with accurate note-taking and listening. Naturally, you never want to misquote someone during an interview, but unless you plan on using live transcription software (more on that below), you will need to paraphrase quotes from the other person (or people) in the interview. This way, you can quickly take down the most important information without inhibiting the integrity and quality of your interview notes.
You never want to misquote someone during an interview, but unless you plan on using live transcription software, you will need to paraphrase quotes from the other person in the interview.
Paraphrasing is especially important for saving time while taking notes. People usually talk much faster than you can write or type, so keeping your notes short and “to the point” can ensure that you can record quotes as accurately as humanly possible.
Otherwise, you may find yourself trying to play catch up throughout the entire interview, which will greatly reduce the quality of your notes.
Ask Questions to Fill in the Blanks
Asking questions during an interview serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, asking questions is one of the only ways that you can get the most pertinent information you need.
Whether someone in the interview made a vague statement and you want clarification or you need to dive deeper into a particular subject matter, asking questions can ensure that you get the most out of your interview notes.
“Active listening and being fully present for the other person will make you more memorable than you imagine. The willingness to step outside of yourself and your concerns happens when wisdom, generosity of spirit, and compassion are combined with your intent to honor another human being.” - Jacqueline Whitmore, Protocol School of Palm Beach 
Additionally, asking questions inherently shows your interest in the other person (or people), as well as your respect for the interview process. If you simply talk about yourself or rely on the other person to guide the conversation, you fail to engage with them from one human being to another.
This could be interpreted as a lack of interest in the subject matter, the other person, or the interview as a whole. So, taking interview notes and asking questions work hand-in-hand to show that you are engaged in the conversation and want to learn as much as possible.
Focus On Vital Details
Much like paraphrasing quotes, focusing on the most vital details ensures that you ultimately produce good interview notes. Most interviews feature conversation topics or digressions that could be irrelevant to the larger goal of the interview (getting a job, conducting a research project, etc).
So if you try to take down notes about absolutely everything, you will end up with way more information than you actually need. When it is time to review your interview notes, you will find that having a lot of info can be more of a hindrance than a help.
So, go into the interview with a few ideas of what you want to take away from the experience. What data is most relevant to you? How can you steer the conversation in a direction that will get you the pertinent information you need? By doing this before the interview starts, you will have an easier time discerning the vital information from the information that can be discarded.
If you choose to take automated notes or record the conversation, you can focus on vital details by highlighting specific quotes or taking down time stamps.
This is a much faster and more efficient way to collect a large volume of information while also putting greater emphasis on the quotes and facts that matter the most. Note-taking apps can offer a great way to save you time and energy during just about any type of interview.
Ask the Speaker to Repeat Themselves
In many interview situations, there may be a power imbalance that makes it feel awkward or uncomfortable to ask someone to repeat themselves. For example, if you are interviewing for a job, you may not want it to seem like you were not listening or failed to pay attention.
However, in most situations, people are happy to repeat the last thing they said so that you can jot it down correctly. All you have to do is ask and make sure that you get it right the second time.
As previously mentioned, most interviews today take place over the Internet. Video conferencing tools like Zoom and Google Meet make it easier than ever to conduct interviews with people all over the world.
However, a weak or unstable connection on either end of the conversation can increase the frequency of sound delays or even being cut off mid-sentence. Therefore, asking someone to repeat themselves over a video call is not unprofessional.
On the contrary, it is frequently necessary during remote communication, especially if you are trying to take diligent interview notes and ensure that you are absorbing accurate information.
Additionally, hearing a statement or piece of data a second time can help you retain the information better going forward. Combining this with note-taking will ensure that you absorb what the other speaker is saying and can quickly recall the info (with the help of your notes) later on.
So, even if you are in a situation where you want to make the best possible impression, do not be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves, particularly when it concerns very important details.
Prioritize Listening Over Writing or Typing
Taking good interview notes manually requires you to put some of your focus on the act of writing or typing. Naturally, this means that you won’t be able to put 100% of your attention toward listening to what is being said. Unfortunately, this could lead to misunderstandings, mistakes, and ineffective interview notes.
While there are ways around the need to take notes manually, you should always prioritize listening over note-taking. This is not to say that note-taking is not important or necessary.
It is extremely important to take interview notes (for all of the reasons listed above), but you cannot hope to take good interview notes if you fail to listen to the conversation taking place.
Much like asking questions, showing that you are listening is a good way to maintain a civil, productive conversation during the interview. If your head is buried in your notes the entire time, the other person (or people) may feel like they are talking to themselves or being ignored.
Therefore, taking good interview notes also means practicing good interview habits, particularly when it comes to actively listening and participating in the conversation.
Enhance Your Interview Notes With Otter.ai
If you are struggling to take interview notes manually, Otter.ai provides the perfect solution. Whether you are participating in a virtual interview or an in-person interview, you can take advantage of Otter.ai’s live transcription tool.
Not only does automated note-taking offer an alternative form of documenting important interviews, but it also takes away the pressure of having to listen, actively participate, and take good interview notes — all at the same time.
Using advanced AI and voice-recognition technology, Otter.ai can produce live transcriptions as an interview takes place. You can keep these notes open during the interview so that you can go back and review things that were said earlier (in real-time), highlight important sections, or even make revisions as needed.
This way, you can literally capture every word while still focusing on the most important aspects of the interview.
Not only does automated note-taking offer an alternative form of documenting important interviews, but it also takes off the pressure of having to listen, actively participate, and take good interview notes — all at the same time.
Additionally, Otter.ai provides an excellent note-taking tool for the hearing impaired and physically disabled. Rather than having to type as quickly as possible during a Zoom or Google Meet interview, anyone can let Otter Live Notes transcribe the conversation on their behalf, providing written documentation of everything said. In short, Otter.ai is the perfect tool for anyone in need of a faster, simpler way to take good interview notes.
Do you want to find out more about how to take good interview notes with Otter.ai? Would you like to learn all about the perks of Otter.ai live transcriptions and captions? If so, contact Otter.ai today for more information!
- Allison Eck, PBS - https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/taking-notes-by-hand-could-improve-memory-wt/
- Michael C. Friedman, Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching - https://hwpi.harvard.edu/files/hilt/files/notetaking_0.pdf
- Jacqueline Whitmore, Protocol School of Palm Beach - https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252070