Years ago when I was interviewing for a broadcast news management position I brought along a Franklin Planner, which I took with me everywhere. Back then, it was an effective way to keep track of notes, appointments, and contact information, prioritize tasks, and get more done. Today we use apps for that.
At the start of that job interview, I asked if I could take notes. After getting the nod, I pulled out my planner and wrote down those things I wanted to remember. I also added questions I wanted to ask when the time for questions came up. The hiring manager was deeply interested in the planner itself and started asking me questions about it. I gave a brief description of how it kept my notes neatly organized and in one place. That interview started on the right note and turned into a job offer.
As technology progressed I gave up the Franklin Planner, but I often look back at how well it worked, especially when it involved a job search. There are attorneys who use black binders for keeping track of their case loads. That way they can walk right into the meeting, with pertinent information at their fingertips, along with a place to put additional notes about the case. The black binder is a great tool that will also work well in your job search.
Before you start grumbling that an app is easier solution, I can assure you that old school pen and paper is more effective when you’re face-to-face in an interview. The tabs make information faster and easier to access. Plus, you’ll be expected to turn off your phone for a couple of reasons. One, it you don’t want any disruptions during such an important meeting. Two, it respects the privacy of the meeting. In other words, “please turn off all recording devices.”
To get started, obtain a one inch black loose-leaf binder to organize all notes regarding the company and the job you applied for. Not only will it help you prepare for the meeting, it will keep you focused and organized during the interview, reduce stress, and increase your confidence. Moreover, it will show the interviewer you’ve done your homework and are prepared for your next role.
Remember, this binder is for your use. Think of it like a patient’s medical history that a doctor refers to in the exam room. Or a CRM file for notes account representatives refer to when they call on a client. It’s not a “leave behind” although you should bring along some “one sheets” about how you’re perfectly matched to the job. The sell sheet or “leave behind” can be a bio, a thumb drive, a list of references, a calling card, or anything else you may be asked to bring with you. These should not have holes punched in them. Use a pocket or add a plastic sleeve to the binder.
Within the binder, put together TABBED sections so you can easily reference the material during your job interview. Your pages will need to be 3-hole punched, with certain restrictions below. Here is a suggested list of tabbed section headers and what to include:
Include a map print out with step by step instructions and estimated time. If you have an email confirming a place and time of the interview, print it out and include it, just in case there is any confusion. It also provides proof if there’s a scheduling snafu. You can present it to the receptionist. Jot down who the interview is with as well as contact information. Should technology fail, you have instant backup.
Print out the vacancy announcement for position you applied for. You’ll be able to refer to it during the job interview. Include the cover letter that accompanied the resume, and if you filled out an online application, print that out as well.
Peruse the company website and social media accounts. Print out and highlight pertinent information such as:
- The company’s profile or overview
- The company’s core values or mission statement
- Profiles and photos of the key officers and the people interviewing you. Note: If this information isn’t on the company website, you can usually find it on a Linkedin profile. The photos will help you remember names on panel interviews.
- The company’s customer base
- Current and future projects
- Any past acquisitions or mergers
- Annual sales projections
Include a few blank pages so you can take notes. Don’t forget to bring two pens. Just in case one loses ink.
The S.T.A.R. acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. Type up a list of situations, tasks (or challenges) you were faced with to include in this section of your notebook. What action did you take and what were the results of those actions. You can put one on each page or use a dividing line so you can easily find the information.
Refer to this section when asked the dreaded question, “tell me about a time when you had to appease an angry customer,” – or – “Tell me about a time when things didn’t go as planned. How did you handle it?”
You’ll gain a lot of confidence having these reminder notes at your fingertips.
Hiring managers expect you to ask questions. While you’re putting together your notebook, you’ll start forming your own questions. Bring a list along, and check them off as the interviewer answers them during your conversation.
Have several clean copies on nice paper without hole punches or staples. This is where a plastic sleeve will come in handy. You never know how many extra people will be called in to talk to you. Or if the online copy doesn’t look as nice as you intended due to compatibility issues or boring white paper.
Make sure your letterhead and contact information match your resume and cover letter as well as the paper. No holes punched.
Sell Sheet/Leave Behind
This can include a bio, or a list of what you bring to the table that tells why your qualifications closely match the company requirements. This would be the only document I would recommend having a photo on so they can quickly remember you against all those other people they interviewed.
Pockets or Sleeves
Chances are you’ll get a copy of the job description (you should ask for it). You should also get business cards from everyone who interviewed you so you can follow up with thank you notes. This keeps it all neatly in one place for faster response.
How to use it
When you arrive at the interview, pull out a pen and your black binder and ask if you can take notes. Start jotting down information. When the interviewer begins asking questions about what you know about the company, or what you think of their website, you can quickly refer to the tabbed sections and answer with confidence. Also, when they ask if you have any questions, you can flip to that section and start asking away.
Why it Works
The interviewer will notice that you are highly organized, care about their time, and are eager to represent yourself and their company well. This alone will help you stand out among all the other candidates.
In some instances, the interviewer may try to take a peek into the black binder. As I stated before, the binder is for your use to refer to during the interview. It is not intended or required to be given to the person interviewing you.
Finally, keep this documentation secure. It contains a lot of private information that can aid in identity theft. On a positive note, it’s not hack-able or prone to viruses.