Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Thank You Note Can Help Kill A Job Offer

I am a big proponent of sending thank you notes after an interview.  However, sometimes it is better not to write a thank you note at all than to send a badly worded, misspelled or poorly thought out one.  Those things can kill an offer.

Many people misunderstand the purpose of a thank you note.  It is a polite way to communicate interest in a job.  It should thank the interviewer for his or her time and it should ask for the job.  But it should not be a selling document, per se.

The interview itself was for selling.
I believe that a note should be short and sweet, “Dear So And So, I really enjoyed meeting you and thought we could work together well.  I would very much like this job and look forward to next steps.”  Period.  Nothing more.

The only time more should be written is if the writer feels something was either left out of the interview or if more information has been uncovered (e.g. I just came across this article in the New York Times over the weekend and wanted to pass it on to you in case you missed it.).  

The one thing which a thank you note must be is short. As William Shakespeare   wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

That is why a hand written note is still appropriate.  And today they are so rare that a hand written note may well be remembered.

I recently had a candidate who literally over-wrote his notes to the several people he had met while interviewing.  His thank you notes to each were long and redundant.  He sent me copies and I cringed because each note was five or six long paragraphs, possibly longer than a normal 8.5” x 11” page. I knew without reading that they were way too long.  As another recruiter put it, it wasn’t so much a thank you note, but, rather, a thank you essay.  He explained in detail why he thought he would work well with the person to whom it was sent; then he went on to sell himself - for several paragraphs.  Unfortunately, these notes just reconfirmed the agency’s thoughts about the candidate - he talked too much. (I subsequently learned that most of the people he sent them to did not bother to read the entire email.).  While his candidacy was already pretty much dead, these notes put the nails in the coffin, so to speak.

Over the years I have had many candidates who were doing well on interviews and then the interviewing simply stopped and the process came to a screeching halt with no explanation.  Subsequently, I learned that he or she sent a bad thank you note with typos or misspellings or badly constructed sentences. (For unknown reasons, some HR people and hiring managers are reluctant to tell me about this. I have never quite understood why they did not want to share this information with a recruiter – I, too, would reject them.  Knowing this is important feedback.)

People have a tendency to get wrapped up in the message and forget about the form.  A thank you note, not unlike a résumé, is also an ad for the sender. The form has to be neat and smart. The message is a total reflection of the sender.


  1. The same is true of cover letters and resumes - when they are too lengthy it makes me wonder how concise they are in their communications, and I am reluctant to interview them at all.

    1. Really good point. I have written extensively about resumes, but not about cover letters. Truth is, I don't believe people read cover letters, especially long ones. They just go right to the resume to see if they are interested in the person.

  2. Good advice, Paul. Thank you for sharing.

  3. First ... Sending a "Thank you" note isn't an option. It's required as a simple matter of business etiquette and personal good manners!

    Next ... I wouldn't hire anyone I interviewed without having received a brief follow-up note from them. A big "red flag" for me if they miss that beat.

    Last ... Here's the "Thank you" note I personally use after most interviews or introductory new business meetings:

    "Dear Paul ... Thanks so much for the courtesy and consideration you extended to me (us) yesterday. It was a genuine pleasure meeting with you and I look forward to seeing you again if you share my (our)interest in continuing our discussion. Regards, BC"

    You can never go wrong with a note like this!

    That's it! Because sometimes, "less is more".

  4. Hmmm...great piece. Wondering what you might recommend as a follow up to a telephone interview with a recruiter?

    My inclination is to succinctly reiterate key points made during course of conversation, the idea being that if anything were missed during the course of the conversation in note taking, it would help the recruiter help sell the candidate.

    1. @Anon: I don't have enough information to give you a good answer.

      Is the recruiter out of town? Did you talk about a specific opportunity? Have you worked with this person before?

      In general, your note should not be a reiteration of the conversation at all. It should be a brief thank you, that is all. If you tell me the context, I may be able to give you better information.

    2. The recruiter is in another state. Yes, we did speak about a specific opportunity. No, I have not worked with this person before.

    3. Well, I might suggest that if there was something appropriate you did not discuss, but would like to tell the recruiter now, it should be in the note. But keep it short and simple. Most people won't read more than a paragraph or two in a thank you.

  5. Thank you.

    How's that? ;)

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