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What’s the secret to the thank-you note?

In the February 2, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about adding value after a job interview.

Question

Your newsletter has been an education for me. First as an employer, now as an applicant seeking to move on. But, there’s one topic you haven’t mentioned: the thank-you, or follow-up letter. When should it be sent? After the first interview, after the interview with the top dog, or both? And, what should it say?

value-addedI just sent one, after talking to the top dog. I repeated that I am interested in the position and told him of my immediate schedule. More importantly, and motivated by your columns, I told him about some activity of a standards committee that might have a strategic impact on his operations. I said I would be joining the committee, ex officio, by contributing some research I was doing, and I also told him what my input would be if I were working for him.

Back to my question: I think the best way to show I can solve his problems (and that I am more “dialed in” than his present staff, who are unaware of the standards committee) is in the follow-up letter. What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

Ah, you’re living proof that the employment system brainwashes us all and that smart people dumb down when they go job hunting! (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?)

You have answered your own question, but I think you’re worried you’re violating some interviewing protocol. Your idea is good — you did the right thing.

When to send a follow-up letter or e-mail is up to you. Trust your judgment. The main purpose of such a note is to add value for the benefit of the employer. My advice would be to send it to the manager you’d work for if you were hired, right after you’ve met with him. That’s the person you need to impress with your value. (See The most important question in an interview.)

I like what you did in your follow-up letter. You provided value. You offered information and a suggestion that could — if used properly — contribute to the employer’s bottom line. That’s a very powerful follow-up to an interview, because it demonstrates your commitment to help the business. Now that I’ve set you loose, here are a few tips that might help you avoid going a little too far next time.

  • Be judicious when communicating your value. Remember that some managers might feel threatened by too much “value” in your presentation. Be careful you don’t come across as a know-it-all.
  • Balance your ability to do the work with your ability to work with others. If this top dog’s team doesn’t know about the standards committee, you might suggest how they could use what you know, rather than emphasize that they don’t know it.
  • Be diplomatic. Avoid expressions like, “I can solve your problems” or “the best way to do this is…” It may seem obvious, but while you’re trying to follow The Headhunter’s approach, it’s easy to fall into the self-aggrandizement trap. You may be the best solution, but the manager needs to feel that’s his conclusion, not yours.

So, how do you go about communicating your value without risking going too far? Pretend you’re sitting around a conference table with the manager’s entire team. All eyes are on you. Your presentation will determine whether these people decide to hire you.

Batter up!

How would you present yourself? How would you articulate your ideas in that setting? Do you want to whack one out of the park, or hit a ground-roll double to knock in a few guys who are already on base? The choice is yours, but consider what the employer is looking for: a team player, or a solo star? Then craft your note to suit the situation. (See The New Interview.)

I think that’s how you want to come across in your follow-up letter. That’s the secret to a powerful thank-you note. (For more tips about thank-you notes, see Thanks is not enough.)

Do you send thank-you notes? Are they even necessary? If you use them, what do you include? To whom do you send them? Please share the outcomes of your best and worst efforts.

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15 Comments
  1. I interviewed at a company where the HR person spent half our time together telling me to send thank you emails and thank you notes. I asked for everyone’s email and was told that since I had hers I should be able to figure out everyone else’s. It turned out that no, everyone’s email did not follow the same format as hers and that she had misspelled at least one name. Thankfully I had received business cards from the staff. I was also told to send the thank you notes to the address of the building I interviewed in. They all came back undeliverable 2 weeks later since it was a satellite office. I resent them to the main office. Be certain to get the information for the thank you notes while you are talking to the people.

  2. The last time I interviewed, I was given the names of those I’d be interviewing with (individually, not as a group). So before my interviews as I prepared, I addressed and stamped an envelope for each of them ahead of time (luckily I brought extra envelopes and stamps in my bag because an additional manager was added to the interview list when I got there). When I left, I sat in a coffee shop and immediately wrote a HAND-WRITTEN THANK YOU CARD to each of them individually and made sure to cover specific talking point while they were fresh on my mind. I made sure to refresh them on a skill(s) I had and how I could add something new (value) according to any pain points they mentioned.
    I dropped them at the post office so that they would arrive and be distributed while I was still fresh on THEIR minds. Later that month I started with them.
    (side note, I’ve done this type of hand-written move only one other time and I also landed that job…I found a winning action)

  3. P.S. I’m a “Millennial”. You’d think I’d shoot off an email or a tweet to them, but I’ve seen firsthand how a hand-written correspondence trumps digital rapidity.
    It’s a great way to stick out (without being annoying).

  4. Another time a thank you goes a long way is when you move on to another job. It helps cement who you were and what you did. I had one intern who sent me a thank you (and a bottle of wine) at the end of his employment. It left me with a good feeling of appreciation plus motivated me to continue to add that discretionary effort to mentoring others next time.

  5. I was very impressed with Nick’s response to this person’s question. I too thought that the person may have given away too much information and knowledge in his follow up, in that the employer may not need such an “over qualified” applicant after all! My penmanship isn’t the best so I’ve opted for typed and emailed thank you letters. Don’t want to reveal that until after I’m hired and it never mattered to my job skills anyway. But I do wait to mail notes a day or two after the interview, especially if others are being interviewed so that I can refresh my status. I also appreciate receiving a written acknowledgement from employers that they have at least considered me or even rejected me for a position. Only a few good companies do that.

  6. Sending a thanks note(s) follows the principle of doing the right thing. Thank You’s is a declining art it seems.

    It also happens to be a great job hunters tactic, because when you’re hunting for a job, you’re in sales..selling yourself. And sales is all about standing out..from the competition. And so few people send thank you notes, you will stand out.

    It may not get you the job, but you’ll be remembered. Being remembered by a hiring manager and others you’ve met transcends a particular job, it aligns to an organization and company.

    So when you send a Thanks, make the point of an interest in the company, and particularly that manager’s organization. Jobs come & go, & even if you don’t land that position that initiated your contact and interest, being remembered, means when the next one comes..you have a chance of moving to the head of the line.

    The Writer noted the thank you centered on the position, which I felt was short sighted, but then as Nick noted the writer moved on to adding some value to the manager and the organization. Good move and it gave nothing away as it’s good sales, offering a sample of your value. Sample is the optimum word as you’re also saying there’s more (value) where that came from.

    When you added some value you also crossed the line positively into networking. If you’re really interested in the organization, and not just a job, follow up. Keep yourself in the memory banks. From what I see, you laid a good foundation. Great if you hit a home run first time at the plate. If not, there’s a good probability that your thank you note and subsequent follow ups will get responses which will position you to keep the connection alive. And open up further opportunities. And a home run at the 2nd time at the bat..isn’t all that bad.

  7. @Kev: I agree. Hand-written and brief trumps e-mail. Thanks for sharing your success with this.

    @Lynne: Thanks at goodbye time is very smart. Great reminder! For a wake-up call, see http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs30yourfriends.htm

    @Mary Davin: I, too, have handwriting to scare a horse. I type :-).

  8. Nick, thanks for including a link to your archived article, “Who are your friends.” Since I retired a few years ago, I’ve been very lax in keeping in touch with former employers and coworkers. Now that I’m trying to find a part-time position, I am scrambling to reconnect and find good business references. Yikes!

  9. Letter writing is your gauge to whether or not you want to pursue the opportunity. If the interview was for your ideal job, you must spend the time crafting an effective thank you to poise your mind and prepare yourself for the next steps in the process.

    The effective letter evokes your competitive drive, desire for achievement and empathy for the cultural norms you’ll face if hired. The tone is optimistic coupled with humility.

    Because so few follow up with an effective thank you, your letter will stand out and position yourself as the leading candidate.

    The hope you articulate in your letter provides your reader the confidence to make an offer.

  10. I’m a bit late to the conversation, but this is a good topic.

    The answer to Nick’s question is: yes, yes, and yes! Not only do I send a thank you note to everyone who interviewed me, all notes are hand-written (no emails, no texting).

    I thank them, recap what I thought were the more salient points of the interview, and if I’m still interested in the job, express my interest.

    I like the idea of including a sentence or two reminding them of how I would add value to the company or agency.

    Question for you, Nick et al.: Do you (or would you) send a thank you note if the interview and/or interviewers were horrible?

  11. @Mary Beth.

    Yes send thanks yous to bozos too. Thank you notes are a class act. You lose nothing and you leave the fray with your flag flying.

  12. @marybeth: I agree with Don. If the interviewers were horrible, I’d make the note a one-liner. Don’t applaud anything you hated! Let them figure it out. The thing is, you don’t know who might see the note – it might be some sympathetic person who give you a shot next time. Think of the note as a lottery ticket. You never know… :-)

  13. @Don and @Nick:

    Thanks for your feedback. I’ve sent thank you notes regardless of how I was treated, and, heeding my mom’s long-ago advice (if you can’t say anything nice….), kept it brief when the interviewers were rude or mean.

    Some were so rude (were late for the interview, were unprepared, called me by the wrong name even after I politely stated “I’m not Katie Reilly”, ignored me/paid more attention to their phones, etc.) that lately the idea of sending out thank you notes seemed to be ass-kissing and tacit approval of the rude, disrespectful behavior.

    But you’re right–I don’t have to lower myself, and I never thought about a possibly sympathetic person seeing the note. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I have deal with rudeness and disrespect at an interview.

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