Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thank You For Your Time

Thank you notes: to write or not to write?

In the age of digital instant information, emails, text messaging, and so forth, sometimes I think we all forget about thank you notes. Thank you notes are an important part of interviewing etiquette, and they can be an excellent networking tool as well, though not everyone agrees on the how and what of they should be.

Miriam Salpeter of Keppie Careers
writes that the best impression is made with a handwritten note, sent through the mail, with an actual stamp.

"I like to tell my clients that a snail mail note, sent immediately after the interview, is key. It’s okay to send a well thought out email, but following up with a hand delivered or snail mailed (as in, with an actual stamp) note helps make it more likely that your note (or notes, if there were multiple interviewers) will actually be seen and possibly added to your file."

One key point not to miss in this is your handwriting. I know plenty of people who are so reliant on the keyboard that their handwriting is illegible and messy. No one wants to have to struggle to read what you've written. Also, look at the type of paper your note will be written on and choose a pen accordingly. Shiny card stock is nice, but requires a ball point, because the surface will cause rollerball ink to smear.

I know one executive who is merciless with thank you notes, as in, if she thinks your card is too cutesy or childish, she'll throw the card and the resume in the trash. (Side note: I always have this woman look over my resume, because I know she'll be the harshest and most honest critic.) So I keep a variety of note cards in my home office, and select which one to send based on the personality of the person that I am thanking. Executive interviewers usually receive a card from the Chinese Lacquer set from the MFA. They are simple, elegant, and refined.

What you say in your thank you note is as important as how it looks. Penelope Trunk advises that the thank you note is not an opportunity to make up for something that went off in the interview.

During [the first] twenty minutes, most hiring managers are subconsciously screening for enthusiasm. Because people want coworkers who are excited about their job. Ironically, though, most people who are interviewing for a job go into that interview unsure if they want the position, and they tell themselves they’ll make a decision based on the interview.

But if you decide to be enthusiastic about the job at the end of the interview or, worse yet, when you write the thank you note, you are way too late.

I try to write something in the thank you note that reinforces a strength of my interview. By adding to a point I've already made about an idea I put forth, or reminding the interviewed that we had similar opinions on a policy procedure mentioned, it creates a positive image of myself that goes beyond the actual meeting. Another nice touch is sending along any additional materials that might help you. Peggy Post, in The Etiquette Advantage in Business, offers some sample ideas:
Use your thank you letter to recall strong points from the interview, to answer any questions that may have arisen, and to provide information you have promised: "I was very impressed during my tour of your facilities, and my conversation with Dr. Mitchell was particularly helpful. I am enclosing a copy of my paper on car phone safety issues that we discussed." End on an upbeat note by thank the interviewer and expressing you hope for a positive outcome: "Thank you for your time and interest. I look forward to the possibility of joining your staff."

Timing is everything; while Post advises to wait a day and reread your note to make sure it's perfect, I don't. Postal mail, while a standout among a flood of daily emails, takes time to get to its recipient, and you want that note to hit your interviewer's desk as soon as possible. If I have an afternoon interview, often, I won't wait to get home and grab a note card, I'll go to the nearest card shop (my favorite is Copley Flair on School Street; the manager there is wonderful), and jot down a note. For this, I carry around stamps and address labels in my datebook, so I never have to waste extra time dashing for stamps.

If you're still have trouble with your thank yous, feel free to consult your network and ask their advice, because everyone has their own opinion. Practice your writing style by sending a handwritten note to someone out of the blue; it's a great way to reinforce your network.

3 responses:

Victoria said...

I couldn't agree more... at my last job, the competition for internships became so heated that we actually ended up picking several interns based on their thank you notes. Several wrote lovely ones, so it went down to the stationary they picked! It seems trivial, but with the way the job market is these days, you never can be too careful.

Anonymous said...

Kate -
Thanks for the link. I enjoy your blog!

Typically, I actually prefer typed thank you notes - to avoid the handwriting issues that you mention.

There is a place for the handwritten note, though. As long as the note contains the same type of in-depth information that you might write if you typed it (and it is easy to read), an old-fashioned note can certainly make you stand out.

Hand writing a quick, “Thank you for interviewing me” on a note card probably isn’t going to win you many points.

Since so many people don't write a thank you note at all, sending something of substance, either typed or written, is a step in the right direction.

I look forward to keeping in touch and keeping the conversation going!

Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

KEHutchinson said...

@ Victoria - this is why I obsess so much about matching my thank you card to the interviewer's personality!

@ Miriam - you're right, you can't just write one line and expect to make an impact. I always try to write at least four lines, particularly one mentioning how much I value the interviewer's time.

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