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The Thank-You Note: A Small Thing That Goes a Long Way

By Gerald Walsh ©

When looking for a job you need to find ways to stand out from the crowd. There is no sense in trying to blend in and be part of the scenery. You need to be different, hopefully in a positive way, so that employers will remember you.

One obvious way to give yourself a leg-up on your competition is to write a simple thank-you letter following the interview. I’ve never been able to figure this out but almost no one writes a thank-you letter. For some unknown reason, most people skip this really important part of the job-hunting process. Even Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute? says he thinks it is the “most overlooked step in the entire job-hunting process.”

So why is the thank-you letter so important?

Reason #1: It gives you an occasion to express gratitude for being given the opportunity to meet with the employer. In the business world, being polite and courteous still goes a long way. At the risk of sounding like my mother, it’s just good manners.

Reason #2: Sending a “thank you” also gives you the chance to highlight key points about your background that are relevant to the job and to summarize why you are a good candidate. Take a look at the example I have used below to see what I mean.

Reason #3: It also gives you the opportunity to point out any things that you may have forgotten to say during the interview. How many times does that happen? You leave an interview and say to yourself, “Darn, I forgot to tell them about …” By then it’s too late. You can’t walk back into the interview room. A well-written thank-you letter gives you another chance to mention that significant point to them.

Reason #4: It helps the employer remember who you are. Sometimes employers will interview six or seven candidates (or even more) in one day. If you’ve ever been on the other side of that table (as I have many times) and interviewed that many people at once, you will appreciate how difficult it is to remember whether you liked earlier candidates or not. By stating something in your letter that was discussed in the interview, you will help the employer recall who you are.

Reason #5: Even if you’ve decided you don’t want that job, it leaves the door open to future opportunities. It is good practice to maintain favourable relations with everybody you meet in the job search process. You never know when another (better) opportunity may arise with that company that might interest you or whether they could recommend you to another company.

When to write a thank-you letter?

I think it’s a good idea to wait a day or so before sending the thank-you note. You want to leave the employer with the impression that you have gone away and reflected on the discussion. You don’t want to come across as impulsive.

I remember early in my recruiting career, I finished an interview with a candidate. We shook hands, he said thank you and proceeded down the hall and exited the building. About five minutes later, I too walked down the hall to head out for lunch. As I was going past our front desk, our receptionist passed me an envelope. I asked what it was. She said the fellow who I had just interviewed left this thank-you note on his way out.

I presume what happened was that he had read somewhere that you should always submit a thank-you letter. So, he took this literally and had one prepared in advance. That said nothing more to me than he had “read the book.” The rest of his letter was entirely wasted.

What form should the letter take?

I keep saying “letter” throughout this blog – implying that it be a hand-written note. Actually, a traditional thank-you letter (or card) sent by regular mail is not such a bad idea. Here’s a lovely one that I received not long ago. I liked it so much I’ve left it on my desk and it is a constant reminder of the person who sent it.

Once you send the letter, plan a follow-up call about five to seven working days later. When making the call, you are not necessarily seeking a final decision. Rather, your call is an ongoing expression of interest, a demonstration of your willingness to initiate and one more chance to keep your name in front of the decision-makers.

Sample Thank-You Note

Here is a thank you email I received from a candidate the day after I interviewed her. I have edited it slightly to protect her identity and our client. Note how she links her experiences and skill set to our client’s needs.

Dear Mr. Walsh,

Thank you for the interview yesterday. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

I would like to restate my keen interest in the Executive Director position. I have had similar responsibilities as those mentioned in the job description – strategic planning, operations, team management, financial management, project management, event planning, logistics, etc. However, I wanted to elaborate on three areas which you indicated were of great importance:

Relationship building – The core responsibility of my current role is relationship building. Since we work with local partners, we must build relationships with our partners at all levels as well as coordinate with the other humanitarian organizations present in the country. We also accompany our local partners to remote communities in order to engage community leaders, participate in needs assessments and monitor activities with community members.

Human resources – I wanted to reinforce that I have had to manage small teams of people, both local staff and a team of international delegates. This includes being part of hiring process, doing performance reviews, and having to deal with difficult HR situations. I recognize a need for more experience in this area and am now taking an online course in leadership and management.

Fundraising – In addition to writing many successful funding proposals and documenting stories for the marketing department, I have supported our local partners in strengthening their capacities in resource mobilization, which is a broader concept that includes fundraising, accountability, and corporate partnerships. I have learned a lot on this topic that can be applied to the position in order to diversify the revenue sources for your client.

Finally, I would like to emphasize that I also offer motivation, dedication and creativity. I have many ideas of how I could apply my experience to innovate, market and diversify income for this organization. I would be very excited to have the opportunity to put these ideas into action.

Again, thank you for the opportunity and I look forward to a favourable reply with respect to being a part of the next step in this process.

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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn