The importance of thank you notes

This is a guest post by communication expert Lisa B. Marshall.  Lisa writes The Public Speaker column at Quick and Dirty Tips where she provides tips on how to be engaging and memorable every time you speak. This article is also available as a podcast.

Writing thank you notes has become a lost art form. Many people either don’t write them or don’t maximize their full potential. You can easily set yourself apart from the rest by spending a few moments to write a well-thought-out note. Writing thank you notes will help you to build strong relationships. Following this small step can easily put you ahead of the pack when applying for a job and can help open other unforeseen opportunities.

Why should I write a thank you note?

Although the most obvious reason to write a thank you note is to express appreciation, that is actually only a small aspect of why one should write them, especially when applying for a job. These notes allow you to stand out, form strong relationships, highlight important aspects of an interaction, supply your contact information, and suggest a call to action. When applying for a job, they further allow you to reiterate why you are the best candidate for a job, why you want to work there, and what you would uniquely provide to that position. Think of a thank you note as a way to accomplish these things without badgering the recipient and without sounding pushy, while also encouraging them to have a positive impression of you. Although there are many circumstances where writing thank you notes is socially expected, consider writing one whenever you have a high potential to gain from writing one, even if the situation generally doesn’t warrant it.

When should you write a thank you note?

You should write a thank you note whenever someone does something for you, especially if they go above and beyond to do so. Below are a few examples of when you should write them:

  • Letters of recommendation. Whenever someone writes you a letter of recommendation, always send them a thank you note, even if they are your advisor or boss. Neglecting to do so may make them less enthusiastic about writing future letters as they might not feel appreciated. Neglecting to write one could also hinder future collaborations. Writing a well-thought-out recommendation is time-consuming. Let your letter writers know that you appreciate their support and help.
  • After a job interview. Always write a thank you note to the person who interviewed you. This is actually expected by many interviewers in all fields and job types, including industry, government labs, and academia. Skipping this step can be detrimental and can cause you to be excluded as a candidate as some employers take omitting this step as an insult. Here’s an example:

Greetings Director Jane Doe,

Thank you for meeting with me on Tuesday. I enjoyed our conversation about what-jah-mah-call-it [Remind them of what you talked about as they likely spoke with many candidates]. I am excited about the opportunity to work on this project, as some-reason-why [Find a way to emphasize that you are excited to work there].

With my background on x-y-z, I will be able to contribute to this project by example-contribution [Describe how you will fit into the team and how they will benefit from having you work there. Illustrative examples are best and use team members names if possible]. My expertise on z-y-x will complement the goals of the team by adding an-example-of-what-you-will-add-to-the-team [What will or can you do for them].

Thank you for considering me for the blah-blah-blah position [Be sure to state somewhere in the note what position you applied to as they might be hiring for multiple positions]. I will call you next week to follow up [Call to action]. If you need to reach me before then, please call me at 555-555-5555 or email me at [Provide them with a way to contact you].

Sincerely, John Doe

  • After giving a talk. Send a thank you note to the organizer. This is true for science lunch talks, seminars, colloquia, and conference talks. Try to include something personal about your interaction with them, e.g., While visiting, I enjoyed learning your preliminary results on x-y-z and would be interested in reading a preprint when available.
  • Dissertation committee. Reading your thesis is time consuming and your reviewers want to know that they are appreciated. Also, you may later want one of your committee members to write you a letter of recommendation, to collaborate with you, or invite you back in a couple years to give a talk. They will be more receptive to help you in the future if you have a strong relationship and if they feel appreciated for their efforts.

This is not an exhaustive list and only highlights a few examples of when to write a thank you note.

Should I send an email or a letter ?

Whether you should send the note through email or snail mail depends on many factors, including how significant the favor was and how much you can potentially gain through the thank you note. There are even debates as to whether post-job-interview thank you notes have to be sent via snail mail or if they can be sent electronically. The more you have to gain, the better the chances are that the note should be hand written.

  • Email.  An email has the benefit of being quick and easy to send. In this age of technology, email thank you notes are gaining more acceptance as we live in an increasingly digitized world. However, note that, when applying for jobs, many conservative interviewers will appreciate the extra time and effort put into a hard copy note. Ultimately, writing any thank you note through any medium is far better than not writing one at all.
  • Snail mail. Sending a note through mail can often result in the recipient having a better impression of you as you had to exert more energy and effort to send that note. This will put a stronger emphasis on your appreciation and can send the message that you are committed to establishing or building upon a existing relationship. When applying for jobs, this tells your potential employer that you care about details and that you will be the candidate that will better represent their organization—both are sought after traits inside and outside of academic organizations. However, remember when applying for jobs that decisions and impressions are often made quickly. If you mail them your thank you note, be sure to send it out either the day of your interview or on the very next day to ensure they receive it before making their decision. An alternative is to send both: an email so they receive one right away and a paper note that they will receive within a few days. Just be sure that they aren’t identical!

Any other tips or advice?

Always make sure to personalize each thank you note. Sending out generic ones are a waste of your time and of the person reading them. Personalizing them will help to build and promote strong relationships.

Many companies sell box sets of generic cards with no inscription on either the inside or outside, but have an interesting cover design. These box sets are very affordable and versatile. Having a few of these sets on hand encourages active and regular writing of thank you notes.

Remember that even if you’re not offered a position when applying for a jobs, you want to maintain a cordial relationship with the interviewer. Although you weren’t offered the position, building and maintaining these relationships could still help to open future doors and opportunities.

When you receive thank you notes, does it change your opinion of the person? Do you think we should be writing more? What have your experiences been?

2 comments… add one
  • Benny Aug 20, 2013 @ 6:42

    nothing like some good American-artificial-and-hypocrite-optimization-of-something-that-was-once-human to help our community to be even more competitive and robotic

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