Thursday, July 9, 2009

Common Courtesy: The Post-Interview Thank-You Note

Everyone knows that the first thing you should do after a job interview is to write a thank-you note. You get points for doing it; you lose points for not doing it.

In today's difficult job market, where you have lots of competition, failing to write a thank-you note sets you apart as someone who is not serious and not interested in the job.

How can we explain this? Today Amy Rauch Neilson offers a good discussion of post-interview thank-you notes. Link here.

For many people, Neilson suggests, the injunction to write a thank-you note sounds like something their mothers told them to do-- or even, forced them to do-- when they were in the third grade.

Thus, the whole process was tainted. Writing the note still feels like giving in to pressure and being dispossessed of one's autonomy.

Thank-you notes fall within the category of common courtesy. And we live in a culture that looks down on people who are common and courteous.

The culture tells us that we should be uncommon, unique, independent individuals. How better to signify uncommon strengths than not to do what is expected.

People who fail to respect protocol often feel like they are distinguishing themselves from all of the lemmings who take orders and automatically write thank-you notes. They feel they are showing off their creativity.

As it happens, no corporate hiring officer will interpret bad manners as a sign of creativity. He will see it as a sign of bad attitude, the one thing he least wants in the workplace.

Some people refuse to write thank-you notes because they do not feel very much gratitude. If they have learned that they should express their feelings and that they should not express anything more or less than their true feelings, they will not be able to say thank-you when they are not feeling it.

They leave an interview with a complex set of emotions. If they rummage through said emotions, they will be unable to find gratitude in the mix. No feelings of gratitude; no thank-you note.

A thank-you note is a formality. It is a required ritual observance. It is not the place to show off your unique individuality or to express what is really in your heart.

It doesn't matter how it feels to write it; it matters how it feels to read it.

The note must sound sincere. It cannot sound glib and forced. It cannot sound perfunctory and should not be loaded down with excess verbiage.

Clear, concise, to the point... but not too clear, too concise, or too much to the point.

You can best accomplish this by following a formula I invented to help people write these notes. A good thank-you note should contain three and only three sentences.

This also applies to the note you send to express gratitude for a gift, but that is for another day.

Look at the three-sentence formula this way. One or two sentences feels dismissive; it says that you know that this is a formality and that you want to get it over with the minimum effort.

Hopefully, you do not want to be communicating this message to a potential employer.

If you write too much, as one executive explained to Neilson, you sound desperate and needy.

Desperate and needy does not inspire confidence. It tells your interviewer to question why you have suffered so many rejections.

Three sentences, but not just any three sentences.

The first sentence should thank the interviewer for giving his time and for providing you with new and exciting information about the company.

The second sentence should echo something specific from the interview. This will help the interviewer remember you. If you forgot to provide some information about something that was discussed, you can mention it in the second sentence.

The third sentence should be forward looking. You cannot presume that you are going to be hired, but you need to express how honored you are to be considered for the job and how willing you are to provide further information, as needed.

In addition to this, Neilson says that it is acceptable to email a thank-you note, but that you should do so within 24 hours of the interview.

Since a thank-you note is an important communication, one where you want to show yourself as conscientious and diligent, the kind of employee they are looking for.

Take some care with the note. Rewrite and edit it. Do not use any abbreviations that might be suitable for texting. And remember that you are not writing to your bff.

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