The Post-Interview Thank You Letter: Getting It Right

Liz Ryan
 


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It’s amazing how many job-seekers don’t know about the essential post-interview thank you letter. When companies have interviewed several talented candidates, the thank-you letter is an easy way to separate wheat from chaff. In other words, failing to send a thank-you letter can, all by itself, knock you out of the running for a job you want, and are qualified for! So don’t overlook this important step.

Send a thank-you letter to EVERYONE you met in your interviews. This is why it’s essential to get a business card from everyone you meet with. If you miss one or two of the business cards, take a guess at the person’s email address (for instance, if everyone else you met with uses the covention cjones@apex.com or cindy_jones@apex.com, then take a chance with that convention for the folks whose email addresses you didn’t get) or call your HR contact and ask for the ones you missed.

Send your thank-you letters by email. Not long ago, the standard wisdom was that a hand-written note is best. I’d say that’s no longer the way to go. For one thing, unless your handwriting is unusually readable and elegant, these handwritten notes often look cramped and amateurish. It’s hard to be able to write enough to convey any cogent thinking without using up more than one notecard. And, it’s harder for the reader to make out your handwritten notecard than an email message. So use email.

Here’s what you say in the thank-you note: something smart! Don’t waste space saying “thanks for meeting with me about the Marketing Director job, it was interesting to talk with you. ” Duh! Use the thank-you letter to do these three things:

a) convey to the reader that you really understood the company’s challenges in the area of his or her individual focus;

b) also convey that you are well-equipped, by background, talents and temperament, to surmount these challenges; and

c) add one pithy, insightful thought that DIDN’T come out at the interview, to show that you’re still thinking through the company’s opportunities and challenges.

Let’s say you are interviewing for an internal recruiter position. Among other things, the company is paying too much money per new hire, because of its heavy reliance on search firms. They need to start an employee referral program, and take other steps to reduce hiring costs. So, in your letter, you’ll say:

Dear Ms. Jones,

Thanks for meeting with me on Tuesday to speak about your Internal Recruiter opportunity. I was especially intrigued by our discussion of alternatives to search firm recruiting - as I view my experiences implementing successful Employee Referral and Customer Referral recruiting programs at Motorola and John Deere Inc. to be among my most significant accomplishments. (Not only did we reduce recruiting costs and cycle time, but delighted a large number of employees and customers, to boot!)

Since our meeting, I’ve been mulling over the internal communication issues we discussed, particularly the challenges of getting the word out to current employees about openings throughout the company. I have some ideas for using mass voicemail blasts, departmental Recruiting liaison/evangelists, and the companywide Administrators Network to make sure the employees are aware of what’s open in departments other than their own. I think we could have fun getting everyone on board to bring talent into the company (and make some money at the same time).

I look forward to further conversations -

yours,

Tracy Beeler

The Thank-You letter is not a tidy bit of paperwork to show your good breeding. It's an essential follow-on marketing piece that shows how you processed what you heard in the interview, the quality of your thinking, and the brilliance and insight you'll bring the job if you are hired. It's as important to get the letter right as it is to shine at the interview.

But wait a second, you're thinking - as far as I can tell, no one even reads these follow-up letters. Why should I waste my problem-solving neurons on reading a letter that might not ever be read? It's a good question. But you have to do it, anyway. As a 25-year corporate HR person, I can tell you what happens. The company interviews a few good candidates, and then everyone (everyone in the set of new-hire decision-makers, that is) gets busy with other things. A week later, they can't really remember Candidate A from Candidate B. That's just when your pithy and articulate letter arrives, and - presto! your resume can vault to the top of the heap.

In some cases, it's true, no one in the company takes the time to read thank-you letters, and so your Pulitzer-prize-worthy letter doesn't do you any good. But it doesn't do you any harm, either. And failing to send it in the first place is a mistake that could make the difference between getting a second interview - or an offer - and getting to spend next week trolling Monster.com. Your choice!

Liz Ryan is the CEO and founder of WorldWIT (http://www.worldwit.org ), the world's largest online community for professional women with over 80 chapters in 26 countries. Liz is a 25-year corporate HR leader and workplace expert. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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