what’s up with interviewers working on their laptops during interviews?

A reader writes:

This has happened to me at two different job interviews (for two different companies). At both, there were two interviewers, both on their laptops. For the first one, I was recommended for the job by a friend who worked there, and the two interviewers took turns having one person ask me questions while the other would seemingly be doing work (it didn’t seem like they were typing what I was saying, just reading something). At the end of that one interview, I got a job offer despite feeling kind of disconnected and unsure about the job. I took the whole thing as a red flag (along with a few other things), and turned down the offer.

The other, more recent interview was for a job I really wanted. One woman (who would be my boss) was nodding and frantically typing everything I said, while the other sometimes listened, sometimes drifted back into work. I haven’t heard back since, and feel awful because I really did try and feel I was good enough for another interview, but the laptops also made it hard to focus or feel like I was fully being listened to.

Is this the new normal? Am I overthinking it? Part of it comes off as “they’re literally too busy at this job to not be simultaneous working during a job interview.” It also comes off as “we already know how we feel about this applicant, so might as well squeeze some work in.” If it IS the new normal, how can I better prep for these things? I feel like I get so bogged down on the lack of eye contact/feeling like they’re bored or distracted that I start to lose my confidence a little. Would love to hear your thoughts!

There are a few things that could have been going on:

* The person on her computer might have been reading something relevant — like the key skills they were seeking in the job, or the interview rubric she’d need to rate you afterwards, or the set of interview questions they wanted to use.

* The person reading on her computer might indeed have been reading something unrelated — which could be because she was there to evaluate a very specific thing and was tuning out when it wasn’t being discussed (a little rude, but not outrageous), or because she was bored (definitely rude), or because she was indeed busy (not necessarily a terrible sign about the culture there; sometimes someone is just having a really busy day but it’s not reflective of anything more than that).

* The person who was frantically typing everything you said was, I’m guessing, a new or inexperienced interviewer (or just not a very good one, or one who doesn’t trust her own abilities) who for some reason thought she needed to document everything you said, rather than just key highlights or key impressions.

I don’t know that I’d say it’s a “new normal,” but it’s definitely not unusual for interviewers to have laptops during interviews, and I think you’re probably reading more into it than you should … and that in turn is throwing you off and making you uncomfortable. You’re better off deciding in your head — whether it’s true or not — that the interviewers are listening and engaged, and psyching yourself into speaking in the exact same way you would if they didn’t have computers and were making active eye contact. That’s easier said than done, of course, but it is doable, although you might have to do some mental contortions to get yourself there.

To be clear, if an interviewer were asking me about this, I’d tell them to be aware of how off-putting this can be to a candidate and to avoid doing it — or if it were unavoidable, to explain the situation so the person wasn’t left to guess like you were. But you can only control your side of this.

{ 134 comments… read them below }

  1. Bubbeleh*

    FWIW, at two of my jobs (both public sector), we were told by HR that we had to get down as much verbatim from the candidates as we could. (Yes, we thought this was ridiculous as well, but we had to turn everything in to HR, so we did it.)

    We only had pens and paper, though, and we were completely up front about it to the candidates. We knew we looked, well, incompetent, trying to scribble down as many words as possible, and that it was completely off putting to the candidates.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Ha! I said the same thing below. Assuming you and I work for different public sector organizations, it’s kind of a relief to know we’re not the only ones who do it this way!

      1. H.C.*

        Thank goodness my public agency doesn’t require me to do that as an interviewer, esp with my chicken scratchy handwriting! (We have to turn in our notes, but no need to try to jot down interviewees’ responses verbatim.)

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Why not record it? A friend of mine interviewed at a big mayor’s office, and the whole thing was recorded.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Somebody actually asked this in an HR training I was in recently, and the official answer was a shrug and “Well…you know…” So I’m going with that. I don’t know, of course, but neither does anyone else!

            1. AnnaBananna*

              Ding ding ding. Someone somewhere would need to transcribe it. Whatever.

              My thinking on the two companies is that they’re both a paperless operation. Which sucks, especially when interviewing, because unless you teach folks how to interview (key words, important quotes, etc), they’ll spend so much time typing that they’re really not listening hard enough to truly be able to analyze whether someone is a good fit or just well rehearsed in their responses. It’s also unnatural to speak to the top of someone’s head and can really distract a speaker, hence why you’ll see focus group interviews rarely writing anything down. They may record it, but it’s usually more important to let the natural flow of a conversation happen, vs by rote.

      2. Anon From Here*

        1) Could be legally problematic.

        2) It creates further work: someone will have to hop on the Dictaphone, or whatever it is the young people are using these days.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          It’s more #1 – any company tablet or computer can record audio, and most simply have click on/click off modes to record and stop. Even my 70-something mother can do it. It is far less work than scribing an entire interview.

          1. teclatrans*

            But transcribing it afterward takes a long time. And transcription is a specific skillet. Much easier to just task the interviewer with handling it. (Also, ridiculous and awful.)

            1. Marion Ravenwood*

              Agreed. You can get transcription software – I know a lot of people like Trint – but there’s still an element of manually checking that it captured everything accurately, so I’m not entirely sure how much time it saves.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              I disagree. With a recording, you can start/stop the audio for transcription purposes and not be scribbling frantically while someone is talking. It’s more accurate and can be fit in around other work since it’s not a one-time opportunity to capture. Personally, I would run the audio through a program (like Nuance’s Dragon Speech Recognition) and then clean it up.

              A group in my organization transcribes videos being used for evidentiary purposes, and they record and transcribe from the audio file because it’s easier to do in real time and also allows them to focus on the content the first time through.

      3. McWhadden*

        Well, the reason for government rules like this isn’t **just** to have it word for word but also to show the interviewer was paying attention to what was said. As opposed to just nodding along while planning to hire their nephew.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Honestly, if I have to write down what the candidate is saying rather than engaging with them, I’m not really paying attention to what they said, I’m focused on taking notes. It’s really an ineffective way to interview and probably pretty awkward, too. If it’s so important to have this sort of record, they need to provide a stenographer or note-taker so the interviewer can pay better attention to the candiate.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, I was wondering about this! Having someone verbatim type what the person was saying makes sense if recording can’t work for some reason (court reporters do it, as mentioned – heck, I can do it if you don’t mind a million spelling mistakes).

            But I don’t know (a) how you can expect someone to take verbatim notes while conducting a cogent interview, and (b) how you can expect someone who doesn’t know shorthand to do that on paper.

            Paging Archie Goodwin!

            1. Liane*

              I can tell you that transcribing recordings–where you can rewind, slow down, etc.–is no easy thing to do, and live is probably much worse. I know I can’t do transcribing.

          2. Cobol*

            I have a horrible memory. If I don’t write something down I forget it. If I’m engaging* with you I’m not hiring you because I’m not going to remember what set you apart.

            *This is inadvertantly prejudicial thought. I can engage with you while typing. Both traditional “look them in their eyes” engagement, as well as others.

            1. Emily*

              I too have an awful memory. Here’s how I balance the need to record things and remain actively engaged:

              – I write out the questions I plan to ask ahead of time, along with a couple of general headers for types of relevant information I might want to record, like “areas of interest” to make note of what parts of the job they’re displaying affinity for, or “wow” for things that impress me and set them apart from others we’ve been interviewing and I want to be sure to remember, with lots of room underneath for me to write answers.

              – As the candidate responds to my questions or says something I want to note, I scribble down really brief notes like “mktg cert 10 yrs, recert in prog” or “moving – UK – husband’s job – August” or “exp w/ lean mgmt – at LOL Industries” that capture just enough detail without taking long to write.

              – As soon as the interview is over, I go to my desk and type my notes out more fully using those brief little things to jog my memory. Since blessedly I can’t remember ever being scheduled for back-to-back interviews (we struggle to find enough qualified applicants to interview most of the time, honestly) that means I’m usually only asking myself to recall details from 30 or 45 minutes earlier, and there’s enough context from my notes to get it all down.

              1. Emily*

                (I should also note I don’t just go through my list of questions one by one, they’re more like things I’ll make an effort to work into the conversation if they don’t come up naturally, and there’s a lot of jumping around from one page to another and back again to add more details that came out via another question.)

              2. Cobol*

                But if you’re going back to your desk to retype, why not take notes on your laptop?

                I engage, and make eye contact, and don’t take verbatim notes, so there’s plenty of non typing, but not using a laptop doesn’t make sense to me.

                1. Lavender Menace*

                  Because taking notes on a laptop during an interview completely changes the vibe and the exchange between you and the candidate. I do interviews for hiring but also do interviews for research at my job. There’s a marked difference between an interviewee’s body language and non-verbal communication when you’re staring at a laptop (even if you are taking quick notes) vs when you are jotting quick notes with a pen and paper. Laptops also often encourage people to take longer notes and zone out rather than just focusing on the key points (because people can type faster than they can write) and stay engaged by giving their own non-verbal communication back to the candidate.

                2. Cobol*

                  And people from different backgrounds are seen as less friendly. That doesn’t mean it’s true. We can’t make decisions based on a prejudice.

                  Back to OP’s question. There are work environment where laptop note taking is not the norm, but they clearly are fine where OP is interviewing. So OP needs to adjust per everything Alison said.

                  More importantly, we’re moving more and more to typing, so this is getting more common.

          3. McWhadden*

            But you can review the notes later. So, what they said would be factored in.

            It’s part of the overall attempt to curb patronage.

        2. AnnaBananna*

          “but also to show the interviewer was paying attention to what was said”

          In my public higher education organization, it’s to CYA so that we can justify choosing one candidate over the other regardless of their demographic. Cynical? You betcha, but it’s better safe than sorry.

      4. Brett*

        Audio recordings are extremely hazy in sunshine laws. Although personnel records are confidential, this often only covers paper records and digital representations or abstractions of those records; not recordings.
        More importantly, even if not sunshineable, those records are discoverable. Audio, and especially video, recordings could pick up a ton of information that could be used in a lawsuit that would not show up in paper records.

        Lastly, video and even audio recordings can reveal the race, ethnicity, and gender of an applicant. Obviously the interviewers know this anyway, but some agencies abstract out the screening process (not the final selection) so that someone with no knowledge of the race, ethnicity, or gender of the applicants is selecting who goes forward based on an objective scale generated from the interviewer scores.

    3. JessaBee*

      Just adding to the chorus of government workers mandated to furiously take notes during all interviews. We do it by hand, god help us. However, we also tell all the interviewees that all candidates are asked the same set of questions and that we will be taking notes on their answers throughout. If OP did apply for a job where this was the case, it’s odd (but not necessarily a deal-breaker) that they didn’t explain the process a little before diving in.

      1. roisin54*

        That’s how it works here too (city government.) There’s a set of questions that have to be asked in all interviews, although they can be tailored to specific positions if needs be, and the answers are written down. I found it to be a touch awkward every time the interviewers paused to write something down but I got used to it pretty quickly.

        Reference checks are the same, there’s a set of questions they have to ask everyone (again, they can be tailored) and they have to write the answers down. I served as a reference for a co-worker when she applied for a different position in the organization and the interviewer apologized for oddness of some of the questions.

      2. AnnaBananna*

        But does your HR department want the verbatim answer from start to finish? Or are they expecting one or two short sentences outlining the candidates answer to the question?

        I fear the reason folks are maddingly becoming stenographers in these meetings is because HR isn’t training them that verbatim isn’t necessary, but content of answer is, even if the content is: “She felt her last role not challenging”. BOOM, that’s all that’s needed, not “Well, like, I used to really like my job, but then, like, it got all suuuuper boring [etc etc]”.

        For those that interview, double check with the HR manager on the requirements so you’re not stressing yourselves out over nothing. Also, how about one person records, one person asks? That way there’s always true interaction? So many ways around recording interviews by hand.

    4. Washi*

      Yep, same. We had one person in the interview just to type notes so that the others could focus on listening. (And we needed to upload written notes afterward to our system so we couldn’t just record the interview.) It felt very unnecessary but our feelings (and common sense) were not considered!

    5. NW Mossy*

      I have heard this recommended by some people I respect, but their take on it is not “do this to legally cover you” but rather that getting at least some of the exact words candidates use can be a useful check on the interviewer to focusing closely on what the candidate is saying, not the interviewer’s interpretation of what they’re saying.

      I found it helpful because I’m a “leaper” in my thoughts – someone will say something and I’ll start running away with my own response and lose my focus on the message the person is trying to convey. Also, I work in a business where being precise with your terms matters a lot, so reviewing the notes later can be a good check on how well tuned they are to that need.

    6. PlainJane*

      Yep, same at my public university. We also have to turn in our notes, which become part of the official file for the search. I explain it to candidates so they know why the whole search committee is frantically typing while they are talking.

      1. AnotherJill*

        At my public university, it was common not to take notes for that reason. We weren’t required to take them, but if we did, they were part of the record.

    7. Brett*

      I had the same requirements as well. I had a form with 14 blanks that I had to fill out for every candidate. Each questions I asked, I had to write down in the relevant blank(s) along with the candidate’s answer (fortunately not verbatim) and my response to that answer.

      What the candidates did not know, was there was also a 300 point scoring scale on the back that I had to fill out based solely on my responses on the front. Basically, I was drafting our entire hiring justification during the interview, accounting for every one of those 300 points in case we were dragged into court (which did happen with disturbing regularity).

    8. Anja*

      In (Canadian) city government here. I hire for union positions and we do a lot of fevered writing/typing as we have requirements from the union and from our employer in case there’s a challenge from the union. We can only mark applicants on what they say and what we document – so we write almost everything down (not verbatim, but each item listed) so we can prove how applicants have met certain competencies. That note taking then also needs to be comparable in case there’s complaints to the union if an internal person with seniority applied for the position and didn’t get it. It’s…challenging at times.

    9. TardyTardis*

      I would use a recording app on my computer, and then run it through Dragon Naturally Speaking before checking the sound for any corrections, but then I’m lazy and want machines to do all my work.

  2. Matilda Jefferies*

    The person who was typing everything you said – if it was a government interview, it might have been a requirement (it is, in my workplace!) Something something “fairness,” so they can go back and evaluate every candidate exactly equally, or something.

    Everyone seems to agree that writing down a candidate’s every word doesn’t have anything to do with “fairness,” and that it’s a weird way to conduct an interview, AND that there are better ways to record conversations if it really is that important. (Hint, with a voice recorder and the consent of the interviewee….) And yet, the practice persists, because we’ve always done it this way. *shrug*

    1. kittymommy*

      For my specific positon there has to be a court reporter present – so yeah, lots of typing!

    2. WellRed*

      I am a news reporter and take notes when recording isn’t practical. But, I have my own weird shortthand, ocassionally have to apologize while I write and they…wait, and often miss part of what they said anyhow. I can’t imagine how awful this would be in a job interview.

    3. Drop Bear*

      How many interviewees would be genuinely ok with being voice recorded though? I wouldn’t want to be recorded, but I’m not sure I’d feel able to refuse if I really needed/wanted the job but I think I’d perform worse if I was being recorded. I also think it would be even more difficult for most people to ‘ignore’ a voice recorder than someone scribbling/typing.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I don’t see it as much more invasive than having every word out of my mouth transcribed. At least then I know it’s accurate and nothing was missed?

        I don’t know; this is just another reason I don’t think I have any interest in public-sector work. I interview so many people, and this process just sounds miserable for all involved.

        1. Drop Bear*

          That is one point of view, but it is considered in law (where I live anyway) to more invasive and therefore the use of recording devices is covered by legislation. But my point – which I probably didn’t make well :) – was more about people feeling comfortable refusing if they do see it as invasive – people expect what they say in interviews to be written down in some way I’d say – having a recording made of all their ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ not so much.

        2. Psyche*

          Yeah, for me transcribed vs recorded isn’t really that much of a distinction. I am fine being recorded in a formal situation like that. If it were a more casual type of interview where you meet up to “chat” about the job it would feel weird, but this sounds very formal already.

      2. Kittymommy*

        Some jobs it’s not a choice. if you want to be considered you must consent to the voice recording.

    4. Ciara Amberlie*

      Not government, but I worked at a large university and had to do this. We had to make copious notes on each candidate, for each question we asked (and we had to ask every candidate the same set of questions). Each question was marked then the candidate’s scores were calculated. The highest scoring candidate got the job, no arguments with HR allowed.

      We had to write everything down, because candidates were allowed to request their score sheets after the interview if they wanted (in the interests of transparency). We were specifically instructed to write in pen, not pencil, so that we couldn’t be accused of changing the notes later to suit a preferred candidate. And we weren’t allowed to write anything inflammatory (one story was that an interviewer wrote “this guy is such a dick” in his notes, and of course THAT candidate requested to see his score sheet!)

    5. chi type*

      Yes, “fairness” is basically the reason it is done where I work. I suppose this isn’t outing myself too much more than my name does but in Chicago all has to do with discouraging political patronage under federal court order. (You can google Shakman Decree if you’re curious about some prime Machine skulduggery.)

  3. Former call centre worker*

    I think this is more likely to be the interviewer grading you against their criteria and making notes than them doing other work. I’ve often had interviewers explain at the start that they would be doing this and emphasise that they will be listening. I imagine that if you’re not that experienced at interviewing and/or your organisation has an extensive system for scoring candidates it must be really hard not to look like you’re doing something else. Perhaps these interviewers just forgot to explain at the start or didn’t realise how it would look?

  4. purlgurly*

    I work in a public-sector workplace and we type all of our interview notes into laptops when interviewing volunteers – that way the interview notes are automatically saved in the volunteers’ database files.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Although I would never bring a laptop to an interview, I frequently bring my laptop to meetings because most meetings aren’t run very well. Here’s why!

    * The bulk of the meeting either doesn’t pertain to me or is about so much technical gobbledygook that I can’t follow it. The latter always happens in any IT meeting.

    * I have a lot of stuff to do, but I also work in a culture that loves meetings. Americans constantly complain about being overworked because there’s a good chunk of employers who want lean staff. That’s fine, but I don’t work nights and weekends so multi-tasking during the day is a must.

    * The more the people, the less likely I am to contribute because my work doesn’t overlap THAT much. If I do have something to say, I’m going to say it to the person it pertains to, not the 44 other people who don’t care.

    * I’m in frequent meetings with people who like to hijack discussions with long monologues. Wonderful but I already know what you’re going to say so I’d rather redirect my time to answering email.

    * My old boss ran a weekly meeting that was comprised of his updates and a round robin. He meandered when he talked so he’d go on for about 45 minutes about whatever was on his mind then it was an information dump from 45+ individuals. Let he who is without a laptop cast the first stone on that one!

    1. Murphy*

      I think a meeting, especially like the one you describe there, is a much different story from a job interview!

    2. Elle*

      Ugh. If I didn’t bring my laptop and work in meetings, I’d never get anything done. My workplace seems to think that its completely reasonable to have three, 2-hour meetings a week to gather status updates from all 30+ of us… instead of just scheduling 10 minute time slots for every person to give an update individually. Or, you know, letting us put it in an email.
      Its gotten so bad that most of us call in from our desk instead of going to the conference room down the hall, so we don’t lose our double monitors.

    3. Smarty Boots*

      But this isn’t a meeting. It’s an interview, so while there may still be the same issues as at meetings during an interview, it’s not really an appropriate venue for doing that.

  6. The New Wanderer*

    Two of my all-day on-site interviews had multiple interviewers in the one-on-one sessions frantically typing my comments down as I spoke. In every case, the interviewer would explain at the beginning that they’d be typing in my responses, and it was clearly that rather than trying to work on something else. I didn’t push back, obviously, but it definitely affects the flow of conversation and even the flow of my own answers. Each time I would have to wait until they stopped typing before continuing. In one case, I gave a kind of halting answer at first and needed the interviewer to clarify her question, and then when I got into the groove of responding she cut me off saying she ‘got it’. Okay then. I wasn’t monologuing for 10 minutes, FWIW, it came across like she was done typing for that question.

    I do think it’s a rookie interviewer move – I got the impression that since most of my interviewers were non-HR, they probably rarely did interviews or were new in general (one person had only been there two months and would have been a peer). There’s no reason I can think of that they would need to write down the exact wording of my comments rather than an overall impression, and I felt like I had to say things very smoothly, like in sound-bite form, because of the apparent focus on capturing exactly what I said. That’s a lot more pressure than I like in an interview – IMO the best interviews flow like actual conversation where the topic just happens to be their job needs and my skills/experience.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Because it sounds like it might be common for federal jobs, just noting that this was in the tech sector, not government, and two very big well-known companies that pride themselves on their thorough interview processes. I don’t think that the laptop note-taking was mandatory, though since a few (more senior, mgmt type) people didn’t do it that way.

    2. Amazonian*

      This sounds like Amazon- we’re expected to take close to verbatim notes in interviews it’s so awkward sometimes! Especially when a candidate starts rambling and I don’t feel like I need to keep taking notes to cover the gist of the answer, but I also don’t want to give anyone a reason to worry why I’m not typing!

    3. College Career Counselor*

      I agree that the best interviews flow like a conversation. But the sound-bite approach can be useful when you’re trying to “boil it down” for people who don’t know the specifics of your role. This happens all the time in academia, where the typical slate interviews will have multiple audiences (students, faculty, specific department staff, senior leadership, alumni, etc.) who don’t always know (or sometimes care about) the particulars of the work you do.

      If you can “sign post” your answers to the people furiously scribbling/typing, that can be helpful, too. For example, “There are three major issues that we would need to contend with in that situation:
      1) issue/response
      2) issue/response

      But yeah, don’t answer every question in exactly that format. Unless you’re a robot.

  7. Ella*

    Laptops in interviews doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to me, mostly because I’d want to have the job posting language and an interviewee’s resume/cover letter available during the interview, and I almost never print things out on physical paper when I don’t have to. Of course, it’s quite rude to be distracted by a laptop or obviously doing other work, but I think when screens are involved it can also be hard to tell if someone is genuinely not paying attention or if they just have resting zoned out face when looking at a screen.

    Either way, Alison’s advice is definitely best here, unless they start making it actively clear they aren’t paying attention. (IE not just looking zoned out, but asking you questions that clearly show they missed your previous answers, etc.)

  8. Librarianne*

    I work for a city government agency and we are required to write down verbatim everything an interviewee says. We’re not allowed to type it, so it wouldn’t be on a laptop, but we do write down all their answers. I can imagine in another city with more funding/technology that it could be typed.

    That said, we explain that to our interviewees at the beginning of each interview. (And yes, everything we do in the interview has to be exactly the same for every interview.)

    1. TardyTardis*

      If I were you, I’d record it on my phone and then do the bulk transcribing with another app, and correct as required. Just me…

  9. Drop Bear*

    A previous employer lost an employment discrimination hearing primarily because there weren’t sufficiently comprehensive notes of the interview responses to prove their side of the case, so every interview after that had to be transcribed as if we were court reporters! But we did tell the people we were interviewing that we would be doing it so they weren’t surprised/worried that we weren’t always making eye contact.

  10. Tea Lady*

    The only time, as an interviewer, that I’ve been working on my laptop is when I’ve been administering a coding test. Then I’ve got an hour of “sit in the room and be available to answer questions” and I’d go mad if I didn’t work. Otherwise, never – I always print a copy of the CV to take in with me, and I’m usually standing at the whiteboard anyway!

  11. Angela S.*

    I could tell you my experience in interviewing for my current job. I was interviewed by 2 team managers at my first round of in person interview. I had a great conversation with one manger while the other one spent his entire time typing away on his laptop. I was eventually hired after 2 more rounds of interviews and the “typing” manager became my supervisor. Last Christmas Eve, I wished the “talking” manager Merry Christmas and for offering me a job. My supervisor heard and jokingly took offense about that, saying that the honour should have gone to him. I said to my supervisor that he was typing away and I couldn’t know what he was thinking during the interview. Then, my supervisor said that he was busy typing, trying to make a case to bring me back for the second interview. The rest is history.

    1. Angela S.*

      Oops, I didn’t proof-read! I was going to wish my “talking” manager Merry Christmas and to thank him for offering me a job. My supervisor heard and then he jokeingly said he was offended….

  12. CM*

    I think Alison’s advice is sound — basically, if you’re being interviewed, try not to be thrown off and assume the best. Still, I think this is incredibly rude and if there is a reason, the interviewer should tell you right upfront. If they’re just typing away on their laptop, or for that matter checking their phone, without any explanation, I would consider that a red flag that I’m not going to feel respected at this job.

  13. Neosmom*

    What about installing software on the laptop that transcribes the interview on the spot? Isn’t that available? Then the interviewer(s) can review afterward and correct any mistakes the software may have made. This creates the draft transcript and frees up the interviewer(s) to have a conversation with candidates!

  14. Quaggaquagga*

    I interviewed someone while on my laptop yesterday. I wasn’t working, but I was: 1. looking at the candidate’s resume, portfolio, and LinkedIn profile, 2. taking notes, 3. reviewing my list of interview questions, 4. doing quick web searches on the candidate’s former employers and things they mentioned during the course of the interview (e.g. softwares and platforms they used). I appreciate this letter though, and in the future I’ll try to make sure I’m doing a good job of engaging with the candidate and not just defaulting to looking at my screen if the candidate or another colleague is speaking. While interviews are important (and exciting!) they can sometimes feel like another thing to fit into a busy schedule. I’ll have to remind myself what it’s like on the other side!

    1. Brett*

      This is exactly what I do as well.
      I also have a big bank of questions built up for candidates, and I expand or delete questions as I go in the interview.
      (Because typically I am one of 4-6 people, so I have to wait my turn to ask questions.)

  15. Augusta Sugarbean*

    Sorry I don’t have anything constructive to add but I wanted to say I applaud you taking such a constructive approach to this problem. It would feel so disrespectful and offputting that I’m not sure I would want to move forward with a company like that. Your letter is a good reminder to keep an eye on the prize of getting a new and better job (and not totally discounting your red flag warnings). Good luck!

  16. Bea*

    This is interesting to read about, especially the comments about it being SOP for public sector jobs. I’ll use it as more of a reason to stay in my corner with the private for profit world. I would never be able to handle this kind of set up. It feels so cold and detached. The interviewers aren’t actually making a decision, they’re waiting to check boxes after you say magic words!

    1. PlainJane*

      Not really. We just have to document in detail to justify why one person was hired over another. We still engage with interviewees and have actual conversations with them too. But public sector hiring can be really rigid and bureaucratic.

      1. Bea*

        It still seems cold and detached to me. It explains a lot of the problematic personality issues we as the public encounter when dealing with public employees as well. Since you’re screening so specifically without any weight to the fit aspect of a department.

        I’ll never understand or accept an interview process with so many hoops. It makes sense why the hiring process seems to be a million years long as well when you’re boiling down to every specific technicality.

        1. LawBee*

          I suspect “cold and detached” would really depend on both the person conducting the interview, and your reactions to the situation. I’ve had behind-the-laptop interviews that were just as engaging as any other, and face-to-face interviews that fell like a lead balloon.

          “Problematic personality issues” – I’ve always thought this was more urban myth than anything else. I’ve never really had issues with any of the public employees I’ve had dealings with. It seems like you’ve got a little narrative you like about public sector work, and you’re sticking with it. ::shrug:: whatever works for you. Or doesn’t. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          1. Bea*

            I’ll admit bias. I’ve had many bad interactions with public employees and complaints are no use. I’ve also seen people who I know work with insufferable horrible bullies who aren’t terminated but are allowed to act boorish and unprofessionally.

            So the interview process says a lot about the end product to me. It’s all a machine that requires you to punch the right buttons and disregard major things that can make or break an office dynamic.

            But at least it’s to the letter of the law so that’s cool.

            1. Drop Bear*

              Sorry in advance for straying even further off topic, but isn’t that true of other industries too? Seems to me there are rude shop employees, wait staff etc too, but for some reason one bad public employee is a bigger ‘bad apple’ than a rude mechanic is. And surely there are multiple examples in AAM letters about insufferable bullies not being dealt with in companies where they could be terminated easily – why are public employees the poster children for bad service? I wonder sometimes how public employees who read AAM and do their work diligently, politely etc (and I’m sure there are more of them than there are insufferable/rude ones) feel when they read this sort of comment.
              Perhaps more a topic for a Friday open thread though!

              1. LJay*

                Well, you can go to another mechanic if you’re getting bad service. You can’t always go to a different department of public safety or whatever – a lot of times there are requirements that you go to the office that services your zip code, or there might only be one branch of that specific government office that you need to work with.

                Also, a mechanic that is rude and has terrible service will be fired, or the company that employs him will eventually go out of business because they’re not providing the services the customers/general public want or need. The government office isn’t going anywhere, no matter how rude or unpleasant the staff is.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Exactly. DC Superior Court only has one civil clerk’s office, and I can’t take my filing elsewhere when DC Superior is the proper jurisdiction. They’ve been generally difficult to deal with all 20 years of my legal career, and no one’s shut them down yet.

            2. Eliza H*

              That’s really not how it works, but you go right ahead making wild assumptions with no basis in fact to help you tell your sad little story. It’s just people’s lives and careers you are so rudely and ignorantly dismissing.

              What a piece of work.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                I don’t think that saying one has unpleasant experiences with public sector employees is unfair. I work in legal in the DC area, and I hate having to deal with DC Superior Court because they are slow and rude. When I called the Clerk’s office because they had not yet posted (nor rejected) a document we’d filed nearly a week before, they told me that they’d “get to it when they get to it”. It is an anomally to get someone who is helpful and pleasant, and dealing with a number of the other state and federal agencies in the District is not all that different. I got this really helpful lady at the DCRA once for a more complicated corporate registration (after one of her coworkers refused to help and another gave me the wrong forms to complete), and she was such a gem I emailed her supervisor to let her know what an amazing experience I’d had with her.

                This is not to say that all public sector employees are lazy, rude, and terrible (I’m married to a fed doing 1.75 FTEs worth of a job due to a hiring freeze, though even he would tell you it’s impossible to get rid of the people who aren’t doing even mediocre work) – there are some really good ones and I’m sure more behind the scenes that the public never sees, but, after dealing with many of the public-facing folks for about two decades, I get the perception. Any of my paralegals will tell you that you may have to call a court/agency several times until you get someone who will actually answer your question or help you.

                1. Drop Bear*

                  Well, it seems to me that the person I was responding to was in essence saying *all* public sector employees were lazy etc by, for example, saying that what she/he perceived to be a flawed interview system ‘explained’ a lot, or using phrases like ‘magic words’. There are a whole raft of cognitive biases that influence how we form opinions on people we meet and I think it would behoove people to perhaps keep that in mind when making sweeping statements about a large group of people – some of whom are fellow posters on this site – not to mention fellow human beings entitled to basic respect. And to say that is only govt agencies that don’t get rid of problem employees ignores the myriad letters to AAM that provide examples to the contrary. It may be that in govt they can’t and in some companies they won’t, but the outcome is the same.

        2. Brett*

          “without any weight to the fit aspect of a department.”

          That’s intentional. A lack of diversity in public sector teams is even more problematic and damaging than a lack of diversity in private sector teams. Look no farther than the issues around diversity in police departments, where fit tends to influence promotions and retention too much.

          Add in the relative immutability of public sector teams, and hiring to fit can really calcify significant diversity problems.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        But it seems that a lot of places interpret this as writing down or summarizing everything a candidate says, which is overkill for the purpose of hiring justification. When I interview, I can send my recruiter an email post-interview(s) that says that candidate A was strong for X, Y, Z reasons but lacked experience in Q and R and candidate B was strong in Y, Z, Q, and R but had no experience at all with X and base my decision of which skills are most necessary to the position. I do not have to spend the whole interview capturing their responses for posterity, particularly in cases where it is clear from about five minutes in that they are not a strong enough fit with the job requirements. (It would also irritate the crap out of me not to be able to cut short interviews that are nonstarters for the sake of asking all the “required” questions, too. A lot of my questions are foundation – if you can’t answer the first one, it’s going to be silly to ask you the next parts of it.)

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        But it seems that a lot of places interpret this as writing down or summarizing everything a candidate says, which is overkill for the purpose of hiring justification. When I interview, I can send my recruiter an email post-interview(s) that says that candidate A was strong for X, Y, Z reasons but lacked experience in Q and R and candidate B was strong in Y, Z, Q, and R but had no experience at all with X and base my decision of which skills are most necessary to the position. I do not have to spend the whole interview capturing their responses for posterity, particularly in cases where it is clear from about five minutes in that they are not a strong enough fit with the job requirements. (It would also irritate the crap out of me not to be able to cut short interviews that are nonstarters for the sake of asking all the “required” questions, too. A lot of my questions are foundational – if you can’t answer the first one, it’s going to be silly to ask you the next parts of it.)

      4. Tired*

        And even then, the process is not always fair and impartial, especially when a panel is involved. Stack the panel and you get who you want.

      5. rogue axolotl*

        I’m sure this varies a lot, but it does happen–one of my relatives works for a Canadian provincial government, and she’s told me that it really is all about saying the right magic words so the boxes can get checked. All internal promotions and transfers require the same “open, transparent” process, so in practice rampant favouritism and cronyism is just disguised under a thick layer of bureaucracy–they’ll tailor the job requirements for a certain person’s credentials (even when not relevant for the job) and then groom them to use all the right jargon in the interview.

    2. Tired*

      It is not required t otranscibe verbatim a candidates interview responses in the US federal sector.

    3. McWhadden*

      “they’re waiting to check boxes after you say magic words!”

      That’s the literal opposite of what it’s doing. They are trying to capture the whole essence of what is being said not just key words. That’s why it’s copious notes not just a check box system.

      You are making a ton of assumptions that have no basis in reality.

  17. O'Bunny*

    I went to an interview at a placement agency some years ago, and was absolutely astonished. To the best of my ability to tell, the interviewer simultaneously typed everything she said (into a desktop computer, we were in her office), everything that I said, asked intelligent questions, paid attention to what I said and used it to form really good followup questions. She looked at the screen once or twice (about like someone referring to notes in an interview), but she was engaged in the process while her hands transcribed the words.

    Scared the heck out of me, but I did get some pretty good contracts from the agency.

    1. Sleepy Librarian*

      Thanks for this comment. Yes, it is possible for someone who can type well to be engaged in the process and still take very thorough notes. I work in the public sector and have to turn in thorough notes and not just impressions. And as a side note, I have ADHD, and someone in that situation or with other various conditions might find it difficult to backtrack if someone starts saying something that seems irrelevant (not worth writing down) and then turns relevant (having to back track). I don’t think my having ADHD makes me a bad interviewer or manager, though, and I’m not inexperienced either. *shrugs* I’m more thrown off about OP seeing someone looking distracted and not paying attention in the interview than about the note-taker (though perhaps that person could work to make it seem less frantic, ha).

      1. Cobol*

        I have ADHD too (and separately a bad memory), for both a laptop helps, especially in an interview situation.

      2. boo bot*

        Oh, this, yes! I frequently have to interview people for long periods, and when doing it over the phone I pretty much type it verbatim, mainly so I can keep paying attention. I have a really hard time staying focused on people talking when I can’t see them. (I have ADHD, if that wasn’t clear.)

        I realize I seem to be contradicting myself a bit here – above, I said it was unreasonable to expect the interviewers to be able to ask questions, listen, and record all at once, and I do think it is, for the same reason it would be unreasonable to expect them to give sketch artists descriptions with perfect recall instead of taking photographs – people (like you and me!) can do it, but it’s an unusual and somewhat random skill set, that I’m not sure is easily learned.

        Random aside: The place I do most of that work for recently implemented a call recording system and transcription service, and now I stay focused on interviews by coloring in grown-up coloring books. Not having to constantly type is great for my hands, but for in-person meetings I imagine I’d look kind of disengaged if I brought my colored pencils…

  18. Not Today Satan*

    I’d consider it a red flag too. So many interviewers don’t take into consideration at all how they come across to interviewees. When I take notes or need to refer to a document or template during an interview, I print them out so that I don’t look disengaged.

    I also disagree about being so overworked that you need to work during an interview not necessarily being a red flag–again, it’s about hospitality. I wouldn’t invite someone to dinner and then work on a laptop or clean the bathroom while they’re expecting conversation.

    It’s really, really not hard to do the bare minimum in terms of making interviewees comfortable. But a lot of people just don’t care.

    1. Argh!*

      They could at least explain if they have a good reason, like reviewing the resume, taking notes or filling out a form related to the interview. Just sitting there and not looking at the person would be a red flag for me too.

    2. Jasnah*

      I agree. I think it’s really disrespectful of the candidate’s time and effort and just goes to highlight the power imbalance in interviews. If a company doesn’t care that their representative to prospective employees is disorganized, distracted, poorly prepared, incompetent, etc. then it should rightly dissuade candidates. A candidate would never get away with this during an interview, so why should it be OK for an interviewer to do this?

  19. Cobol*

    OP, others have given reasons why people are typing, so I’d leave that alone, but I don’t think the idea that somebody is on their laptop means they are distracted, or not paying attention.
    It’s disconcerning to me that you saw this as a red flag.

  20. Shorthanduser*

    My employer also requires the search committee’s members’ notes (doesn’t have to be verbatim though). I take my notes in shorthand and then transcribe. Knowing shorthand sure comes in handy!

  21. drpuma*

    As the candidate in this situation, is it worth offering to wait a few minutes so that the interviewer can finish what they’re doing on their laptop? Acting as if under the assumption that the interviewer will not be on their laptop the whole time, and letting them explain as appropriate.
    I’ve had a number of video interviews where the interviewer is taking notes at the same time, but all of my interviewers have explained up front that if I hear typing, it’s because they’re taking notes.

  22. Justin McGuire*

    This happens all the time in interviews for programming jobs. I’ve seen the other side, and often they’re filling out some form (probably Excel) noting a lot of information about your answers.

  23. IL JimP*

    I do a lot of interviewing and I know we have our behavior assessments on there plus the candidate’s resume and the evaluation/questions form. I try not to use it during the interview since I’ve done so many but I know a lot of other interviewers that refer to it often during our interviews.

  24. 1.5 years til Retirement*

    I do most interviewing on the phone, so it creates a lot of dead air when I am making notes. I explain this to the person at the beginning and tell them that I will be making notes and if they hear mad typing don’t worry about it.

  25. Adele Dazeem*

    I’ve only seen this sort of thing happen in one interview. A co-worker and I were interviewing a candidate together, and when she wasn’t talking, the co-worker was scrolling or typing on her phone. It wasn’t taking notes or related in any way to the interview. This was typical of her behavior, which was to constantly flap her arms around and loudly tell everyone how “busy” she was, and rudely multi-task to prove it.

  26. Argh!*

    I was at an interview in which the potential future boss was scrolling on his smart phone while the interviewee was at the “tell me something about yourself” stage. He may have been reviewing her resume, but I thought it was very rude.

    Coincidentally, this man’s department has experienced quite a bit of turnover.

    1. Londo Calling*

      I had an interview that was continually interrupted by the interviewer taking calls on her phone. I wish I’d known about red flags fifteen years ago. I lasted three months in that job and it is the only one I have walked out of – and I am the sort of person (or I was then) who puts up with a lot of crap on the basis that it’s probably me, not them.

  27. coffeeeeee*

    I had 4 back to back interviews (3rd round of interviews) and one of the interviewers I had was clearly doing work and barely listening to the answers to his own question.

    However, this person wasn’t to be my boss or even on my team. I got offered the job, accepted and one month in love it so far!

  28. thankful for AAM*

    I have interviewed 3 times for movies within my current place of employment. The 3rd, 3rd!, time, they all wrote so much of what I said down. They all work with me and know my skills. One was a former supervisor, one was a current supervisor, one was ther supervisor. I found it really awkward that they were looking down and writing so much.
    In other words, I found the writing they were doing off putting. It does not have to be a laptop.
    But I will now be prepared for interviewers hiding behind laptops!

  29. Lygeia*

    At a previous job, I was often one of the interviewers for new hires, and we were required to take notes on our laptop during the interview and had specific answers we had to document so this wouldn’t register to me as anything more than an annoying process they have in place for interviews.

  30. cleo*

    This has happened to me at interviews for web designer / developer jobs. These type of in-house positions tend to either be with IT or with marketing and my experience is that the IT people tend to be more focused on their laptops than on me.

  31. Keyboard Cowboy*

    I work at Tech Giant and take notes on my laptop. I went into my first interview with good intentions and a pen and paper, scrambled to get down the candidate’s implementation in handwriting, and then spent a full hour transcribing my notes into the web form we use to submit interview feedback.

    Since then, I’ve only taken notes on my laptop. If it’s in person, I assure the candidate at the beginning of our timeslot that I’m notetaking, not working, and having these typed notes has changed my feedback turnaround time from nearly 2 hours to ~20 minutes. We need to submit such detailed feedback that I really really don’t want to go back to pen and paper :)

    1. London Calling*

      *If it’s in person, I assure the candidate at the beginning of our timeslot that I’m notetaking, not working*

      THAT is what makes the difference. You have the professional courtesy to tell someone why the interview is being conducted in a particular way. Interviews can be nerve wracking enough without being given the impression that the interviewer isn’t paying you full attention.

    2. Fantasma*

      Same. Part of the reason I set expectations at the beginning of an interview that I’ll be taking detailed notes is because I think candidates would find it more jarring to have me take notes only on certain parts. At the end, I’ll close my laptop and give them time to ask me questions.

      I’d love to take fewer typed notes and interact more in the moment but my company wants a lot of info and often interviews are sandwiched by other meetings so if I don’t type it when a candidate says it I may forget or not capture it accurately.

  32. Kitty*

    IMO this is pretty rude in any case. If they really are so swamped that day that they can’t spare 30 minutes to properly engage with someone they might hire, then they should reschedule the interview.

    1. Cobol*

      Others have said something similar, but there’s nothing inherently rude, nor unengaging, about taking notes on a laptop.

      If the person taking notes is not asking questions that is rude, but that has nothing to do with the laptop. Yes, it hasthe capability to distract, but I spent years in school doodling on a notebook.

  33. Karista*

    I think demeanor is an important factor as well. My now-boss used his laptop during our interview, but the others in the room did not (the CEO and someone else on the team); I assume he was taking notes, not sure if we was doing other things as well. I was somewhat off put by it but he was also conversational and had a sense of humor. In another interview I did before that one (I had a grueling 1+ year job search) an HR person was on her tablet, probably also taking notes, but the interview had a weird vibe from the start and kept feeling weird (they seemed bored and like they didn’t want to be there the entire time) so the woman on her tablet definitely didn’t help matters. That was the first time I think I’d encountered it as well so maybe I wasn’t as surprised when I saw my now-boss doing it. If I were interviewing someone I wouldn’t do it and I think it’s off-putting as well but maybe becoming more acceptable. Checking phones though, which I’ve also encountered? NO. NOT OKAY. If you’re checking the time, fine, but this woman was very clearly doing more than that and it was towards the end of the interview and after she showed up late. yeah.

  34. Kelly*

    At my interview for the job I most recently had, my would-be boss was on his computer the whole time, looking half-engaged, not really interested. Turned out to be exactly the kind of boss he was. He only had half a foot in the door, communication was *terrible*, and turnover extremely high. Sometimes your intuition is right. I wish I listened to it.

  35. The Wall Of Creativity*

    Whether we’re talking about interviews or just minute taking in office meetings, people that take notes on a laptop (as opposed to taking notes on paper to write up afterwards) generally end up with really poor, jumbled up notes.

    1. LawBee*

      You should see my coworker’s depo notes – taken on the fly as she’s defending the deposition. They are things of organizational beauty. Good note taking doesn’t depend on the medium.

      (I don’t take notes during depos, except to jot down areas where I may need to follow up. I do not have her skills, and fortunately I can depend on the generally excellent court reporters.)

  36. Bookworm*

    If it looks like they’re taking notes on your resume (vs. printing it out and saving paper) then I wouldn’t worry about it. I have been in interviewers where it’s clear the laptop’s a barrier and the interview didn’t go well.

    I’m inclined to believe this is more and more “normal” but take it as a case by case basis. If it seems they’re engaged, it could be they’re crunched and multi-tasking (which isn’t good, but I came to an organization that was severely understaffed and I came to understand the laptops in the interviews in retrospect). But if it seems like they’re really not interested, I’d say there’s nothing wrong with using that as metric for turning down an offer. I haven’t had to do that, but I might have in certain interviews if they hadn’t rejected me first (and therefore avoiding that conversation!).

  37. MLB*

    Sorry but this is rude and inappropriate – I really hope it’s not the new normal. It’s no different than trying to hang out with a friend who is constantly staring at their phone. If it’s a requirement of your company to take massive amounts of notes during an interview, and writing them down isn’t feasible, you should at least let the candidate know that beforehand. Interviewing is extremely nerve wracking for many, and if someone was on their laptop and seemingly not paying attention to a word I was saying, I would be more nervous and really pissed, which would turn into a crap interview because I have no poker face. I had an interview once held in the person’s office. He was checking emails, answering both his work and cell phone, and basically didn’t hear a word I said. I was desperate for a job, so I tried to be as professional as possible, but I let the recruiter know what happened after the fact. Take a notepad and a pen, and a printed copy of the person’s resume and make sure you’re invested in the process.

  38. Liz*

    I interview with my laptop, too, and when I’m looking at my screen, I’m doing what others have mentioned — checking out the LinkedIn profile, following along on the resume, taking notes, doing web searches to learn more about their previous employers. These are all pretty normal things in an interview setting these days, I think, though I will often mention what I’m doing or weave it in to the questions during the interview so the candidate knows I’m not just checking my email or something. Example: “I’m just taking notes, keep talking, this is great” or “I’m looking at your LinkedIn profile and I noticed you mentioned X — that’s super interesting, can you tell me more about that?”

    I also think candidates can gently call interviewers out for this in the context of the interview to find out more about what’s going on. One reason I started weaving what I’m doing into the questions I ask is because a couple of candidates asked questions that reminded me of the optics of the situation, e.g., “am I answering the question like you expected? I can’t tell.” or “are you getting what you’re looking for from me here or should I pivot in another direction?” I heard that and thought, WHOOPS, I need to communicate what I’m doing and that I’m still engaged! Not every interviewer will be able to take a hint, but a lot of us can. :)

  39. LeRainDrop*

    I am absolutely SHOCKED to read how common this practice seems to be. I’m a lawyer and have NEVER been in an interview where an interviewer was using a computer at all. Apparently I’m clueless about the norm because I would have felt exactly like the OP, unless the interviewer had explained up front what they were doing.

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