In this employer’s market for talent, job seekers need to pull out all the stops to impress hiring managers and distinguish themselves from the legions of other qualified candidates looking for jobs. That means sending thank you notes to hiring managers immediately after job interviews. It sounds like basic job search advice, but the practice of sending thank you notes is not as common as it should be, especially among younger workers, according to Tracy Cashman, partner and general manager of the information technology group at staffing firm Winter, Wyman & Company.
A prompt, sincere thank you note can make all the difference in your job search. When faced with two equally qualified candidates for a job, Cashman says she has seen her corporate clients pick the job seekers who sent thank you notes after job interviews over individuals who didn’t. She adds that she’s received calls from clients expressing surprise and delight upon getting a post-job interview thank you note from a candidate she sourced. (Her clients also let her know their disappointment when they don’t receive thank you notes from prospective employees.)
“Writing a good thank you note is never going to be a negative for a candidate,” says Cashman. “It’s one more way to sell yourself. It shows initiative and an interest in the position.”
It’s not just the display of courtesy and old-fashioned manners that employers like and look for from a thank you note. “A lot of my clients, even for technical positions, are more and more interested in a candidate’s writing skills,” says Cashman. “They have to write project plans, documentation and training manuals. The thank you note could be one of the ways a job seeker is judged, so you shouldn’t take it lightly, and you should make sure it’s properly written.”
Cashman shared six specific recommendations for writing thank you notes.
1. Do: Be prompt
Start drafting your thank you note immediately after your job interview, while it’s still fresh in your mind, and send it out ASAP—preferably within 24 hours of the interview.
Sending the thank you note via e-mail can give you an edge over job seekers who mail hand-written ones, says Cashman. If your e-mailed thank you note arrives before a mailed thank you note from another candidate, you could get the offer. Cashman has seen it happen. Just make sure that you treat the e-mail like a formal letter and not as though you’re dashing off a quick message to a friend, she adds. And if your hand-writing is hard to read, definitely go with e-mail.
2. Do: Make it specific and keep it succinct
Cashman says post-job interview thank you notes shouldn’t be much more than three paragraphs. If your thank you note is too long, the hiring manager might not read the whole thing, says Cashman. What’s more, she warns, “If you ramble, that will count against you in the communication category and show that you’re not able to succinctly frame your ideas.”
Even in the short amount of space of three paragraphs, you should strive to address specific points that you and the hiring manager discussed during the job interview. “There should be something in the thank you note that indicates you were at the interview and listening to what the hiring manager had to say,” says Cashman.
3. Do: Follow this structure
Here are the primary points Cashman recommends making in each section of the thank you note:
Paragraph 1: Express your gratitude by saying something like, ‘Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. I appreciated hearing your views on your company’s strategy, challenges and staffing needs.’
Paragraph 2: Reiterate why you’re a perfect candidate for the job: ‘I know you need a candidate with X, Y and Z skills or who can help the organization address A, B and C challenges and opportunities, and I’m confident my experience with X, Y and Z would be an asset to your organization.’
The goal in paragraph two is to communicate that you understand the hiring manager’s needs for the position, and you want to underscore how your experience makes you a perfect match. The second paragraph is also an appropriate place to make a point that you forgot to mention or didn’t have time to mention during the job interview.
Paragraph 3: Reinforce your interest in the position and the company, and let the hiring manager know you’d welcome further discussions.
4. Do: Avoid spelling and grammatical errors
A thank you note chock full of spelling and grammatical errors will completely undermine your job search efforts. Remember, the thank you note presents hiring managers with an opportunity to evaluate your written communication skills, so make sure all your grammatical i’s are dotted and t’s crossed before you send it.
5. Don’t: Come across as desperate
Another thing that could undermine the goal of your thank you note is if you sound desperate for a job. Then, says Cashman, hiring managers will tune you out.
In the excitement of a job interview, it’s easy to forget to ask the hiring manager for her contact information so that you can follow up with an e-mail or handwritten thank you note, says Cashman. She adds that it’s appropriate to ask the hiring manager for her business card at the end of the interview.
Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Project Management and Outsourcing for CIO.com. Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Meridith at firstname.lastname@example.org.