Handwritten Thank You Notes Will Be Outdated Over My Cold, Dead Body

I fall firmly into the thank you note camp, because I was not raised by wolves.
Publish date:
August 21, 2014
shoppables, interview, job interviews, thank you notes

Over at Refinery 29, the apparently eternal question of whether handwritten thank you notes after a job interview are still necessary has come up again. The consensus is quite mixed -- some argue passionately in defense of the handwritten note, while others don't, and suggest that they're actually outdated.

I, perhaps not surprisingly, fall firmly into the thank you note camp, because I was not raised by wolves. Thank you notes are automatic for me, and, it turns out, a lot of my fellow xoJane editors, as I discovered when we had a conversation about the subject over email. Daisy even sends thank you notes on behalf of her dog (I can testify that she's not lying, because I've received one).

Those who argue against the handwritten thank-you note post-interview say that the practice is outdated because of the rapid speed of hiring practices and job interviews. Email, they say, is the only way. If you want to set yourself apart and keep your face in the memory of a recruiter or interviewer, a handwritten note will arrive way too late. Others pointed out that in a era of email, hiring decisions may be made before your card even arrives, and that some employers may consider you to be out-of-date or old-fashioned.

Others interviewed argued that a thank-you card might be appropriate for a more traditional job or interviewer. Some industries might expect a thank-you card as a good sign of a cultural fit. The nonprofit industry was referenced, but banking and other very conservative industries also tend to want to see signs of traditionalism and conservatism from applicants for job openings.

I actually think that the answer to the card/email debate lies in the middle ground, especially in a competitive job market like this one: Send both.

Start with emails sent on the same day you had your interview. You'll need to send those to everyone you interacted with (collect business cards, my friend, and if you can do so discreetly, add some notes on the back about the person -- personal touches like whether they have pets are good, because then you can reference them in your note). Make your notes brief, heartfelt, and warm, but not sycophantic. Less "please give me this job because I am desperate" and more "I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with you about this position and was delighted to hear that we both enjoy old-fashioned roses."

Don't just send thank-yous to the people you think are important. Send them to everyone, including the secretary who brought you some water or the person who greeted you at the door. The way you interact with people at the lower end of the pay scale can matter to hiring personnel, especially when they're making decisions between highly competitive applicants. Do they want the employee who will treat support staff with respect and courtesy, or the person who acts patronizingly? (Use a staff directory to track down emails for people -- you can use company business cards to figure out the format for company email addresses if you only know someone's name and don't have contact information.)

More cravenly, you never know who's important. Are you doing an initial interview at a small company? The CEO, owner, or another high-level executive might happen to be the one who opened the door for you on the way in or who helped you find the mini-fridge with the goodies for office visitors. I walked into a startup in San Francisco the other day to meet a friend and the first person to greet me, dressed more casually than many of his employees and offering me a glass of whiskey (I declined), was the CEO of the company -- so I know this happens.

Once you've sent out your emails, sit down to write a thank you card to anyone directly involved in your interview. As Marianne reminds readers, this is the time to bust out your nice stationery and pens (which you should keep on hand for just such occasions, as you never know when you need to write a thank you card). I favor letterpressed cards on heavy stock, but you don't have to be as snobby as I am. Hit up a stationery store and look around. Ask yourself which cards look impressive. Fake it 'til you make it, friends.

Remember the old adage that you should dress to get the job you want when you head for an interview? The same holds true for thank-you cards. If you want to be taken seriously, use serious stationery. Now is not the time for a flimsy photo card with kittens on the front, although that doesn't mean you can't be whimsical. If you're applying to a company with a sense of fun, you can use cards with a little more spunk to them -- like this cute tandem bicycle card for a firm that specializes in bicycles, messaging services, or related things. It's okay to be imaginative, just not cutesy or sloppy.

Write a polite note, and get it out in that day's mail. Time's a wastin', people, and you want to make sure that email is followed with a hard-copy that will arrive the next day, or the day after at the latest. Most postal deliveries within the same general geographic area will happen within one to two days, especially if you put a little effort into it and hit up the closest branch office. You can also hand-deliver a card if you feel so inclined, but judge the office environment carefully first. Some companies don't appreciate droppers-in.

Your initial email keeps you on the radar and politely reminds the recruiter that you're interested in the job and committed to moving forward. Your followup card makes you stand out from the pack, and that's why I argue that handwritten notes will be outdated over my cold, dead body.