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How to Summarize an Interview

by Ruth Mayhew, studioD

Summarizing an interview facilitates better hiring decisions. You can review your notes before determining which candidates should be short-listed. Or, if you discuss the candidate choices with another HR staff member or hiring manager, your summary provides better recall about the candidate's qualifications and interview responses. Highly sought-after positions and jobs with recognized industry leaders or employers of choice often attract many qualified applicants -- too many to remember. Summarizing your interviews enables wise decision-making when it comes to hiring staff.

Application Materials

During the interview, you're likely to have the candidate's employment application, cover letter and resume. These documents become part of a permanent record, regardless of whether you extend a job offer. Therefore, don't make your notes or summarize any part of your interview on the official employment documents. That means don't write on the application, the candidate's cover letter or resume. Remembering this important rule could keep you out of hot water if you are ever required to justify your company's employment practices.

Phone Presence

Many organizations conduct preliminary telephone interviews, which are essential for narrowing down the applicant pool to a manageable number of qualified candidates. Telephone interviews typically are brief; however, you can glean a fair amount of information from them. Summarize a phone interview by noting the applicant's phone presence, which includes telephone etiquette and the quality of the speaking voice. Also, ask candidates for a brief work history and note whether they meet or exceed the basic job requirements.


The face-to-face interview is where you obtain the most information. In summarizing the first in-person interview, you're probably going to assess whether candidates have a professional appearance, but don't spend too much of your summary describing appearances. When candidates fall short in this area, consider giving them the benefit of the doubt, especially if their qualifications exceed your expectations. If you feel that it's appropriate, you might be able to give a candidate feedback on making a stronger appearance for a second interview.

Communication Skills

During a face-to-face interview, how a candidate responds to your questions is only one part of the verbal communication assessment. Also note the candidate's listening skills and any other nonverbal cues. Summaries should always address how well candidates articulate work history, experience and qualifications. Summarize the interview responses to your behavioral and situational questions, noting the types of questions to which the candidate provides the best responses. The summary should include notes on whether the candidate practiced good listening skills. Did you have to repeat practically every question? If the follow-up responses signaled that the candidate is an active listener, mention that in your summary.

Professional Traits

During the course of an hour or so, you're likely to discern the candidate's professional traits from the kinds of responses offered, even if you don't directly ask about traits such as integrity, work ethic or business principles. Carefully summarize what you believe are admirable traits that you're seeking in your next employee; however, if you notice some red flags, don't omit those from your summary. For example, if someone indicates a commitment to working more than 40 hours a week for the employer, you could indicate that the candidate appears to be a dependable, hard worker who puts job responsibilities ahead of the time clock.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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