How to Take Better Interview Notes (Cheat Sheet)

interview tips Jul 11, 2022

What is the best method for using notes or a cheat sheet during a video interview? Today, we’re going to focus on three items: how, what and why interview notes or a cheat sheet can be extremely beneficial for you. 

Item #1—How

First off, it is important that your notes are always below your camera’s eye level. The slightest eye shifts left, right or above can be distracting for your interviewer. It’s much more natural to look briefly downward to see your notes. Be very careful not to just read your notes. This is also very noticeable and most interviewers will know when you are just reading off a cheat sheet. Use your notes for quick reference while keeping your responses in the moment.

So, what does this look like? To start, you should always have your pen in your hand and be ready to write down each interview question as they are asked. As you look down to write out the question, you will also have your notes to glance at/reference. This provides a convenient opportunity to make sure you are writing down the question, but also referencing critical information. I like to keep a notebook open. I put my pre-interview notes on the left page and then leave the right page blank for writing down questions and making new notes. This keeps everything together and easy to see at a quick glance.

You can type out your pre-interview cheat sheet if you want, but never type out your live notes during an interview. This is definitely distracting and your interviewer might also think you are looking something up. Stick with handwriting during the interview itself. And I know this is tough, most of us barely handwrite at all anymore, so practice writing the question down.

You should also have two items on your screen, as well:

  1. High-Level Notes—10 words or less with the most important data points. Make them big, bold and easy to see as you are talking into your webcam.
  2. Stopwatch—If you struggle with time and worry about your responses being too long or short, you can put a stopwatch or clock on screen to help keep you on track.

How this works is you line up yourself and the interviewer in the middle of the screen and set up these items to the left and right and leave you and the interviewer as a sliver in the middle. Essentially, leaving enough space to see them, but blocking out all the other unnecessary space.

In addition to reading this article, I strongly recommend you watch my full video on this topic. It will be embedded in the post below, or you can click here for a direct link to the YouTube video. In the video, I provide several screen shares to walk you through detailed cheat sheet examples, as well as how you can set up both your computer screen and your physical notebook.

Item #2—What

How many items you put on your cheat sheet is up to you. Include all the information that is important to you and avoid excess notes or wording that will slow you down. If there are any critical items you may struggle to remember, be sure and put them down on the sheet so you cannot possibly forget.

If I was going into an interview tomorrow, there are a few items I would really want to highlight in my notes:

Common Questions—Write down a few high level data points for questions you expect to hear in any interview, such as “Tell me about yourself” or “Why this company?”

Clarifying Questions—Note some of the key clarifying points that you would like to ask your interviewer. I refer to these as your “go to clarifying questions.”

Frameworks—Write down your frameworks, ideally three that you feel will highlight your biggest strengths.

*Assumptions—Yes, you can pre-plan assumptions. Think about the type of client, initiative, or program you will be working on in the role. *I did not highlight this item in the video, but I strongly recommend it now.

Behavioral Example Titles—You want to make a list of behavioral answer titles. Just include titles for quick reference to give you easy starting points as needed during your interview.

Item #3—Why

Why are you preparing a cheat sheet and taking notes during your interview? There are several reasons why this approach will benefit you significantly:

  1. Organization—Your notes will help keep you organized and focused on the key points you want to remember.
  2. Safety Net—Your cheat sheet is a great safety net. You always have a couple of items there to reference if you ever get stuck. It can take a lot of anxiety out of your video interview.

Remember, this is a video interview. You can’t simply go up to a whiteboard and you can’t bring the same physical energy you would to a live interview. You are preparing yourself with notes and information that will help you stay focused and engaged throughout the conversation.

Please watch the full video below for my detailed screen share examples to help you prepare your own interview cheat sheet.

For more interview training tips and resources, follow my blog, check out my YouTube channel or visit Practice Interviews.

Jeff H. Sipe

Jeff has interviewed over 1000 people in his career and previously spent five years working at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley. You likely found Jeff through YouTube and you will find the same level of dedication in his one on one practice interview sessions.

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