I’m revisiting this topic in light of a lively discussion during which a fellow career expert had the audacity to actually disagree with me. Envision an e-mail smiley face here.
My standard thank you note advice is two-fold. First, keep it short and simple. Second, send it via e-mail within hours of the interview. Click here for the 2009 column that I so confidently thought would put all best practices questions on thank you notes to rest.
Yet, there I was a few weeks ago, on a local Association of Corporate Counsel careers panel, and the first question from the audience was about thank you notes. More specifically, it was the common question of whether to use e-mail or send a handwritten note. I jumped in immediately with my completely confident answer and pretty much implied that we should move along to more interesting topics. That’s when Laura Sterkel said, “I’ve got to disagree with you on that one.”
Laura is the Program and Coaching Director at Career Transitions Center, and she works with executives across multiple disciplines who are engaged in job searches. She strongly believes in personalizing thank you correspondence and using quaint tools like pens and nice stationery. The more I listened to Laura’s comments, the more I realized that my advice failed to account for what I will term the “crowded field” factor.
When candidates interview via a search consultant, they already stand out and, if they are competing with others, it’s usually a very small number. As the recruiter with access to the client, I know when a candidate is leading the pack and likely to get an offer. And I don’t like to see such a candidate take risks. Poor penmanship, spelling errors, long-winded restatements of qualifications… I’ve seen every variation of a bad thank you note, and I’ve actually seen them do more harm than good. So I “protect” my candidates by adamantly advising the short and sweet approach.
But if you are not in a “lead dog” position via a recruiter, and if you need to stand out from the pack, then Laura is right and I am wrong. The thank you note is another opportunity to make an impression. Laura and I will never agree on the mechanism. I think e-mail is the right mode of communication 100 percent of the time, because companies value responsiveness so highly, and you don’t mess around with penmanship issues. But you can do much more than just say thank you.
You can personalize the note to follow-up on specific moments from your interview. If you discussed a new development in securities law, for example, you can attach an article or link to a blog that furthers that subject matter conversation. If your interviewer had Beatles memorabilia on his bookshelf and Ringo Starr came up in conversation, send a schedule of Ringo’s tour dates. Go beyond a standard thank you note in an effort to stand out. The key to doing this successfully is focusing on a matter of interest to your interviewer. Resist the temptation to restate your qualifications.
Indeed, you can use a thank you note to help advance your cause. I say “thank you” to Laura for reminding me of that. So called experts like me may sound confident in our opinions, but my very enjoyable debate with Laura proves that there is no set-in-stone best practice on this topic. Consider your unique situation and trust your own judgment on form and content for your thank you notes.