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Is the Handwritten Thank-You Note Dead?

By: Shari Lifland
Last updated 9/30/2014

Twenty-first century job seekers may want to trade in their monogrammed letterhead for smartphones to thank potential employers for meeting with them, according to a survey conducted by job search service Accountemps. The survey showed that 87% of managers interviewed said email is an appropriate way to express thanks after meeting with a hiring manager, and 81% said that phone calls are OK. But most agreed on one thing: save the text messages for your friends. Only 10% of survey respondents said they take a positive view of texts as a way to follow up.

For those job seekers raised in the pre-Internet era, when handwritten thank-you notes were the norm, consensus is hard to find. In his 2012 book Cracking the New Job Market (AMACOM), career management expert R. William Holland writes, “Handwritten notes are generally not recommended, but it is up to you. Sometimes a handwritten note to a ‘behind-the-scenes’ coordinator is a nice touch and contributes to the overall positive impression.”

Holland does recommend following up every interview with written correspondence, but admits, “Differences of opinion exist on the way to do this, varying from formal written letters to emails and even handwritten notes. If the company’s culture accepts emails as formal communications (many do), then an email response will suffice. If you are unsure, however, a formal typewritten letter is the safest approach.”

Not all experts agree that the handwritten expression of thanks is doomed to extinction. Business etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey, author of Manners That Sell: Adding the Polish That Builds Profits, tells AMA: “I advise job seekers to say thank you three times. The first time is in person at the conclusion of the interview. The second time is via an email sent a few hours later. (Don’t send it from a smart phone or iPad the minute the interview is over). The third thank you should be a handwritten note as a follow up. I have talked to any number of recruiters who say they value a handwritten note the most. Some say they save the notes either on their desk or in the applicant’s file. I’m convinced the handwritten note definitely makes job seekers stand out from the crowd."

In reality, according to the Accountemps survey, today, few interviewees send a handwritten note. When HR managers were asked, “Which one of the following is the most common way you receive a thank you from job applicants following an interview?” They responded:
 
                  Email     62%
                  Phone call      23%
                  Handwritten note       13%
                  Don't know/no answer    2%
 
Whatever communication method they choose, job applicants who skip the post-interview thank-you do so at their peril. An overwhelming majority (91%) of HR managers said it is either “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful” for a promising job candidate to send a thank-you following an interview.

“When it comes to delivering a thank-you, the message is typically more important than the medium,” says Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Job Hunting For Dummies® (Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). “Following up with hiring managers after the interview shows your enthusiasm for the position and allows you to reiterate the case for why you are the best person for the job.”

Accountemps offers five tips for crafting a professional post-interview thank-you:
1. Don't delay. Follow up with a thank-you within 24 hours of the interview so you are still in the mind of the hiring manager.

2. Restate your value. Recap the qualities that make you a strong fit for the role and convey your enthusiasm for the opportunity. Clarify any unanswered questions and address concerns expressed by the interviewer.

3. Be specific. Reference particular points from the conversation. For example, if the employer mentioned the position calls for strong knowledge of Excel, highlight the advanced training you took on the program.

4. Don't ramble. Keep your message to a paragraph or two, or a few minutes on the phone. Anything longer could make you seem unfocused.

5. Ask for a second opinion. A trusted friend or colleague should read over your written thank-you note to help spot any typos or unclear language before you hit send or mail it.

The Accountemps survey was conducted by an independent research firm and was based on telephone interviews with more than 500 human resources managers at companies with 20 or more employees. For more information on the survey, visit www.accountemps.com

After your interview, sending a thank you via written note or email is vital to your success. Learn how to write a great email with this AMA webinar.

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.