As necessary as interviews are, they’re not everybody’s idea of fun. Thirty minutes of questions and conversation is normally preceded by days of anxiety, stress, and self-doubt. After an interview, most people will simply breathe a big sigh of relief, put things to the back of their minds and hope for the best.
Instead of simply waiting, however, it can be helpful to spend some time documenting the interview process for later reflection. An interview journal is one way to do this and gives you the chance to take stock of your performance, what you did well, how things could have gone better, and what you would do next time instead.
Whether written by hand, dictated, or typed up on your laptop, an interview journal is a powerful tool that can be a big help in your career. Below, we’ll explain how to keep an interview journal and the key benefits of doing so.
Benefits of an interview journal
- Allows you to accurately remember past interviews
Our memories are far from perfect, especially during times of stress or anxiety like a job interview. Even the most confident amongst us can find it difficult to recall past job interviews accurately.
Keeping an interview journal, then, is the best way to know exactly what was asked, by who, your own responses, the time, date, and location. Keeping a journal allows you to refer to this information in the future should you need to and as a form of preparation for future interviews.
- Keep track of your interview progress
Interviews can often feel a little demoralizing, especially as it can take weeks to hear back from recruiters. A journal can help you to see the progress you’ve made and retain your motivation.
An interview journal allows you to track not just the facts about an interview, but also your thoughts and feelings. Being able to see your own thought processes and growth can be encouraging and see how you are gaining confidence through experience.
- Gives insights into what to expect
You can also keep track of your answers to questions, allowing you to refine your answers and correct mistakes you may have made. This is especially useful for interviews that require some form of technical assessment or task. Looking over what you’ve been asked before can be a useful way to prepare for future interviews, with similar questions often posed.
How to keep an interview journal
No two interview journals will look the same. While it is a professional tool, it is also a personal document, meaning you should document your interviews in a way that suits you.
That said, here is a guideline for you to base your own journal off and get started:
Before the interview:
Most interview journals focus on the after-part, but it’s important to document the build-up to the interview too.
Begin on a new page and write in the date of the interview, the location, and the time that it’s due to start, leaving gaps for information such as “Interviewer”.
You’ll then want to make a short list of the most important points regarding the position and company. This should include information such as company history and the responsibilities of the job role so they are fresh in your mind.
Next, flag any potential issues that might crop up during the interview. For example, you might not yet have any relevant experience. Make a note of this and formulate some possible responses in case this point is raised.
After the interview:
Once you’ve had your interview, it’s time to journal the experience. Ideally, this should be done as soon as possible as the information is still fresh in your mind. It’s best, then, to find a coffee shop, a library, or even pull out your laptop on the train home to write things down.
- Fill in the gaps
Firstly, fill in any of the missing information such as the interviewer’s name, anyone else in attendance, how long it lasted, and the room the interview was conducted in. While this information might not seem too important, it could be in the future.
- Write a summarising paragraph
In 2-3 sentences, summarise the interview. Try to be objective at this point, your own thoughts and feelings can come later. Right now, simply detail whether the experience went well, poorly, hard to judge and whether the conversation was formal, conversational, or otherwise.
- List the questions you were asked
Next, list out the questions you were asked to the best of your recollection. Be sure to include the questions you might think are unimportant such as speaking about yourself and your interest as well as more formal questions such as “what makes you suitable for this role” and “are you trained in XYZ?” Importantly, try to write down the questions exactly as they were asked.
- Recall your answers
Next, write down how you responded underneath each question. It will be difficult to remember your exact wording but try to record as accurately as you can. The more detail the better as this information can be used to refer back to and refine your answers in the future. If you are struggling to remember your exact answers, notes will suffice.
- Score and critique each answer
Next, look over your answers and assess your responses. You might find that you completely overlooked an important point you should have mentioned for some questions. You might also find you answered some questions particularly well and can reuse that answer in the future.
- Write down your thoughts
Lastly, give yourself time to write down your personal thoughts and feelings regarding the interview. This can help you decompress and relax after what is for most a fairly stressful situation.
Go ahead and write down your impressions of the company, the interviewer, the company atmosphere, and how you felt you did can be a benefit to your mental health. You can be as honest as you like as this journal is for your eyes only.
Things to consider
It’s important to not be too self-critical with your interview journal. It is meant to be an aide to your career, not a document of your failings. Be sure to list things you did well including little things like making the interviewer laugh, and answering a question with confidence.
Balance this with some honesty. No interview is perfect, objectively report questions you fumbled over and technical questions you struggled with so you can work on them. Try to not take these personally, simply observe them objectively as things you can improve.
It’s also important to be consistent. While after an interview you might want nothing more than to forget about it for a while, your future self will thank you if you take the time to reflect.
An interview journal is first and foremost a tool to help you improve your interview performance. Most of us will sit through dozens of interviews in our life, if not more, so it’s important to take time to reflect and improve, benefitting our career as a result.