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The Etiquette of Thankfulness: What (Not) Sending a Thank You Note After a Job Interview Tells a Potential Employer

Jennifer Marciniak, Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center

JenniferMWhile Thanksgiving reminds us to show appreciation for those around us, it’s also a good time to consider how we communicate this appreciation. From my own experience, I can tell you that just saying Thank You means a lot. I have Thank You notes from students pinned up on my corkboard in my office. The colorful, handwritten cards are from students who I helped in the writing center when I worked as a face-to-face consultant as opposed to my now cyber existence in the Virtual Writing Center. One card, from a student I worked with on a few different projects all semester says, “You have really helped me write well and reduce stress. I appreciate your enthusiasm and enjoy working with you.” Another, from a student whom I helped with her personal statement for a graduate program, says: “You helped me rediscover my voice . . . for that I will be forever grateful.” The meaning behind these notes is personal. It tells me that what we have done together mattered, that I have affected their life somehow, and, in turn, theirs mine. Sometimes we need these little tokens to remind us of our value.

Thank you notes are nice to get, but they can also be essential to give. It is important to remember what saying Thank You can do for you professionally. In the fast-paced world of online job applications and telephone/Skype interviews, sometimes remembering to send that traditional note of appreciation after meeting the hiring manager and/or job committee gets lost in the shuffle. Thank You notes resonate with potential employers. And if there is any doubt about that statement, consider recent results from job search firm surveys. According to a CareerBuilder 2011 survey of hiring managers, about 22 percent are less likely to hire a candidate if a Thank You note is not sent, even if that candidate is one of their top contenders. The survey also found that 88 percent of hiring managers say that the lack of a Thank You note shows a “lack of follow through,” and 56 percent say that not sending a Thank You Note suggests the applicant is “not serious about the opportunity.”

Who would have thought those two words – Thank You – would pull so much weight in an already overly competitive job market? Apparently most employers, according to Amanda Augustine, a job search consultant for The Ladders, a job match service for career professionals. In an interview with Forbes Magazine about after-interview etiquette, Augustine maintains that it is a mistake to think the job interview is over once you step out the door: “Based on my decade-long experience in conducting interviews, I can attest first-hand that failure to follow-up can be the deciding factor in rejecting a candidate who is otherwise a great fit.”

With the knowledge that Thank You notes may make or break your chances for a job, there are many decisions to make about content, as well as whether to send them via email or through the mail. A survey of hiring managers by Accountemps, a staffing company for accounting and financial professionals, revealed that 87 percent believe an e-mailed Thank You note is considered appropriate. However, this also depends on the culture of the company, according to Forbes contributor and career coach Lisa Quast. If the company is a bit more traditional, a hand-written note, usually sent within 24 hours of the interview, is best. Heibling and Associates, an executive consultant staffing firm for engineering, real estate, and construction companies, says it is in the candidate’s best interest to send an email and a hand-written note. This is advised because a handwritten note “gets more attention” than an email note, but if the hiring process is moving quickly, “you will want to expedite your Thank You and send an email.”

Some more interpersonal forms of appreciation are warned against. A telephone call is an option, but not recommended. According to the Accountemps survey, only 10 percent of hiring managers find it suitable to send a text message as a Thank You note. Quast says that while texting is convenient, it is just not professional etiquette: “Thankfully, I’ve only had this happen once, when a candidate texted, ‘Thx for the intrvw!’”

In terms of content, most staffing firms agree on one major component — make it personal. Address the hiring manager by name. Also, if the hiring committee is more than one person, write a Thank You note to each individual member. Include in the note the position you interviewed for and the date you applied. Also, personalize the note to the position and the company. This jogs their memory, according to HCareers.com, a search firm for hospitality professionals, especially if the same committee is hiring for multiple positions. These tips are taken directly from HCareers.com:

Show Gratitude Basically, you want to thank the employer for his or her time at the job interview. This will grab the interviewer’s attention and make the person realize that you are a warm and considerate person—this goes a long way in the hospitality industry.

Confirm Your Interest Mention something specific that you are excited about (i.e. “I really love the idea of working at a four-star hotel and am confident my skill and expertise would help maintain the hotel’s excellent reputation.”).

Show You Were Listening You don’t want to recount the entire conversation, but it’s great to mention one or two specific things that came up in the interview, especially things that are relevant to the position for which you interviewed.

Point out Some of Your Strengths Don’t be afraid to add in a little self-promotion! Employers want their prospective hires to be confident and assertive. This is a great place to explain a few of your skills and share how your background and relevant experience will help you succeed in the job. You don’t want to go into too much detail here, but reminding the interviewer of why you are a strong and qualified candidate can go a long way.

Suggest a Follow Up End on a positive note by saying thank you again, and then, depending on how you left it in the interview, mention that you are available to talk again in person or over the phone in order to answer any questions the interviewer might have.

In addition to the many tips for what to write in Thank You notes, there are also many warnings against what not to write. Some of these may be common sense, but search firms feel they need to be asserted. Some of the most common “don’ts” for Thank You notes are mentioning salary or waiting too long to send the note. Some other big ones include:

Penmanship and Errors Typos and misspellings tell your potential employer that you wrote the note in haste, which may cause the manager to doubt your interest in the job, according to Miriam Salpeter, job search and social media consultant for USNews. Write out your note on a separate piece of paper first. If you are sending an email, write it out on a Word or Pages document first. Make sure to check for all spelling and grammar errors.

Don’t Be Generic “If you can’t sound invested in the position and take the time necessary to write an interesting note, you may be wasting your time,” says Salpeter. While you may think you are saving time and energy by sending the same Thank You note to 10 different employers, you aren’t. Employers can tell if you are being generic. Salpeter advises candidates to read their note before sending it and ask “Could someone who didn’t even participate in the interview have written this?” She says if the answer is yes, “it’s back to the drawing board, or you’ll risk leaving the interviewer unimpressed.”

Sending a Gift Sending flowers, food, or gift cards can be seen as a “desperate, inappropriate candidate,” and can possibly make the employer uncomfortable, says Salpeter. Diane Gottsman, founder of The Protocol School of Texas, says in an interview with Forbes that it can be seen as a bribe. “Sending, or receiving, a big box of steaks on ice is not the right way to secure a job position.”

Researching the etiquette of thankfulness for this blog reminded me of my past life as a job search consultant. Before my journey into academia I recruited, interviewed and hired (or not) for two different large companies. I can attest that the ones that actually took the time to send Thank You notes made an impression. To me, taking the time to hand-write a Thank You card showed thoughtfulness and practicality – two skills that most employers find very valuable. Thank You emails are also thoughtful, but hand-written cards, because of their personal nature (picking out the card, taking a pen to paper, sealing the envelope, stamping and sending), demonstrate that the candidate delegates time and energy to the little things. And a lot of the times those little things are the ones that really matter.

Below are links to templates and tips for writing solid post-interview Thank You notes:

Job Seekers: No, the Interview Thank You Note is Not Dead

Making Post-Interview Thank You Notes Worth Your Time

Write a Post-Interview Thank You that Actually Boosts Your Changes to Get the Job

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2 thoughts on “The Etiquette of Thankfulness: What (Not) Sending a Thank You Note After a Job Interview Tells a Potential Employer

  1. It is amazing how big of an impact a simple thank you letter or email will have on someone, especially a potential employer. If you are not sending a thank you letter or email to a company after they have interviewed you, then you are definitely hurting your chances of getting hired.

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