We all know that in today’s market, the most highly sought after positions can be very competitive. If you want the best possible job and the best possible compensation (and who doesn’t?) then you have to impress hiring managers and HR managers at every single step of the process. This includes the often-overlooked Thank You note.
So, what are the current best practices for writing thank you notes? Glad you asked!
When to send? Ideally, a thank you note should go out after the last round of interviews with a particular person. For example, if the hiring manager is intending to do a quick phone screen and then an on-site interview, you should wait until you have completed the on-site interview to send the note. Conversely, if you interview with a Lead Engineer and then come back to interview with the CTO, then you should send a letter to the Lead Engineer after interviewing with him/her and a letter to the CTO after his/her interview. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when the last round with a particular person will be; in these cases, it’s best to ask your recruiter or HR contact.
Who to send to? You should thank each person who took the time to interview you, even if they are not the ultimate decision-maker. Sending a note to an internal recruiter or potential teammate can give you an edge over someone who only sent a note to the hiring manager. If you are interviewing through an agency and the manager did not give you a card with contact info then please direct your notes through your agency recruiter. I strongly advise against trying to contact someone who did not provide their contact info through LinkedIn or, even worse, Facebook.
How many notes? The rule of thumb is to send an individual note for each individual meeting. So, if you met with five different people and spent 30 minutes with each, then you should send 5 different notes. If you met with 2 people at once, then it’s okay to combine their notes together. If you had a very long, panel style interview, then sending separate notes or a combined note is really up to you. If you send separate notes, however, they should all be different Sending a form letter to each interviewer separately is a bad move; trust me, people talk to each other and may feel insulted that their “personalized” note was just a copy of somebody else’s. How do you like receiving form letters?
Be sincere – This should go without saying, but when you speak from the heart, people can tell. I’m not sure how, but it shines through.
Keep it positive – There is always the tendency to point out something that you think went wrong in the interview. Resist the urge to do this! By bringing up the things that did not go well, all you are doing is reminding the interviewer of why they should not hire you. Instead, focus on the positive, if you feel that you could have answered a question better, it’s okay to include that info in a positive light (for example, you could say “I also wanted to share with you an alternate solution for your question about configuring a firewall Aside from what I explained in the interview I would also take these steps…”).
Mention specifics – This is the most important aspect of a well-written thank you letter. Specific references to the interview leave a manager feeling warm and fuzzy and, consequently, set you apart from the competition. I had a candidate once who did well on his interview but was very nervous and did not knock it out of the park. However, he followed up with a very sincere/thoughtful thank you letter that even included a new riddle for the interviewer to add to his arsenal of questions. As a result of his follow up, he was offered a different position within the company that we didn’t even know existed! The more you can solidify your “bond” with the interviewer, the easier it will be for him/her to envision you on the team.
It’s okay to include work samples – This is optional and depends on the position for which you are interviewing. For technical positions, it’s okay to follow up with code samples or other documentation that relates to something that was discussed in the interview. The rules for sending documentation are: (1) it should relate to something that was discussed in the interview, (2) it should be minimal (managers have their own work to do, so don’t expect them to spend more than 3-5 minutes looking at your work samples), (3) it should be easy to open (this especially pertains to code samples – please save the samples in a text file or take screen shots and save them as a pdf), and (4) they should not contain any proprietary info (if you are willing to share another company’s proprietary info with the interviewer than he/she will assume that you will be willing to share their proprietary info in the future – this would be bad).
Say that you want the job – I know it sounds silly, but sometimes candidates forget or assume that the manager knows.
Offer to answer any additional questions – Don’t forget to include your contact info (phone number and email).
Send via email or snail mail? Almost all thank you notes go out via email these days. Snail mail is still acceptable, but the problem is that it is slow and a decision may have already been made by the time your letter arrives. The best practice is to send an email approximately 24 hours after your interview. Depending on how much you have to write, you can do a formal letter as an attachment or include the note in the body of the email. Notes that are longer than half a page should go into a formal letter as an attachment.
Finally, proofread, proofread, proofread… and then have a friend/family member proofread! For some reason, grammar always goes awry in thank you letters. I think it’s because people overthink what they want to say. As a recruiter, without fail, almost every thank you note that I receive has at least one error in it. This is why it’s important to have fresh eyes review your note before you send it.
Remember, when you are applying for a highly coveted position, you are “interviewing” every single time you interact with a representative from that company. This includes sending your resume, scheduling interviews, sending thank you notes, negotiating compensation, accepting an offer, and showing up on your first day. Your grammar, your dress, your attitude, your responsiveness all play a part in the overall impression you make on a potential employer. And this overall impression is what ultimately determines whether or not you get the offer and, often, what goes into the compensation package. The thank note is one of the easiest ways to affect how you are perceived as a candidate.
I hope this advice is helpful and, by the way… You Are Welcome!
– Michele WilsonBack to the Blog