How and Why To Write Thank You Notes After An Interview

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Common sense says to write a thank-you note after an interview. But like Emily Post, are thank-you notes now a thing of the antiquated past?

No, dear Millennial, they are not. And no, dear Boomer, they are not an obvious common courtesy.

When properly done, post-interview thank-you notes serve several distinct purposes. Unfortunately, most notes are not executed well and don't really contribute to your chances of landing the job.

For example, here is an actual hand-written note I received after an interview:

"Dear Rhona:
I want to Thank You for taking the time to meet with me regarding the ____ position. It was a pleasure meeting you and I hope to speak with you again soon.

See anything wrong with it? Before you answer, here's a hint. The thing most wrong is what's not in it.

A great thank-you note should accomplish a few things that this note--while still nice--does not. It should:
  • Help the interviewer consider you more strongly by showing your passion
  • Improve an answer to a question you may not have nailed
  • Answer a question the interviewer posed and didn't leave time to address
  • Provide deeper follow-up to a point you may have made
  • Provide another example of how you can help the organization based on something mentioned during the interview
Of course, one letter can't (and shouldn't try to) address all five points. But even though thank-you notes should be relatively short, the content or "meat" of them still takes precedence over brevity. Generally, when I get a pleasant but generic thank you letter like the one above, I immediately file it in the trash. It basically wasted my time. However, if a letter adds information about the candidate, it gets stapled to his or her resume and cover letter and kept for future consideration.

Length is important, though. A few well-written paragraphs should suffice--but no more than one page. With that in mind, only one or two points can be handled substantively. Pick the one that's most pertinent and then use the other bulleted goals for follow-up touch points in subsequent correspondence in a week or two.

Sometimes thank-you notes just feel like wasted time, particularly after a bad interview--but when done correctly, they aren't. Take goal number two, for instance: addressing a question you may not have handled to the best of your ability. In the thank-you note, you can write that after sleeping on it, you realized that you neglected to mention how you completed a project that addressed the issue, and add that information.

Email or Snail Mail?
Short answer: Both, but increasingly email. Here's why:
  • Email is immediate. It can be sent within hours of an interview.
  • Email allows links to pertinent follow-up information.
  • Email does not preclude you also sending a standard thank-you note that can arrive days later and be used as a second touch point.
Like interview questions, I believe thank-you notes are best used as conversation starters. Here's a redacted example of an email thank-you note I sent after one interview:

Dear ________:

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to meet with me regarding the open position for _____________.

Regarding our discussion on ongoing learning and new media tools, some techniques I've found valuable include:
* Recorded webinars. I developed these at The NAPL Network for key management topics, and seminars were then recorded for on-demand access by members throughout the year. I also use webinars in keeping my own knowledge base up-to-date on various media topics.
* Short Explainer Videos. This new video format breaks down difficult concepts into 60 or 90 second visual spots that keep audiences engaged. Here's a link to one I completed recently for The Press. This video was also repurposed into TV and radio spots.

These and other cost-effective options can easily be interwoven into a broader strategic communications plan for maintaining consistent and targeted messaging. I would welcome the opportunity to move to the next phase and continue our discussion for broadening the audience reach and engagement of _________. Thank you again for your time and consideration.

This was not a short note. Its purpose, however, was to function like a second cover letter, allowing me to thank the interviewer while highlighting experiences and credentials that directly addressed concerns raised during the interview. It showed that I listened, understood her questions, had something to offer, and was still excited about the prospect.

I ultimately did not get the job, but I did move to the next level of consideration, and that's really the only goal of each interaction--to get to the next level.

When crafting your own post-interview thank-you notes, don't use Emily Post as a guide. Her rules of engagement were about personal connections and note cards. Business correspondence follows its own rules, including stationery over cards, and content that is less personal and more practical. Each letter, whether on paper or digital, needs to get to the point, not waste time, add to the conversation and encourage forward motion. It's a different type of art, but one that can be easily mastered.
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