thank-you notes: they’re not about thanking anyone

The job search advice industry has done a decent job of convincing job-seekers that they should send a thank-you note after a job interview, but a really bad job of explaining why and what the note should include.

Here are the five most important things to know about how a post-interview thank-you note can increase your chances of getting the job:

1. What does sending a thank-you note achieve? Thank-you notes contribute to the overall picture of a candidate. They serve two functions: First, they signal that you pay attention to the little things and care about presenting the best possible face to your candidacy. And second, they signal interest by showing that you went home, digested everything you learned in the interview, and concluded that you’re still enthusiastic about the position.

Now, if you’re not the best candidate, a thank-you note isn’t going to change that. No one is going to hire the lower-tier candidate just because of a thank-you note. And if you’re the undisputed top candidate, the lack of a thank-you note probably isn’t going to stop you from being hired. However, when the decision is close between you and another candidate, a thoughtful note can tilt the scales in your direction—especially if the note isn’t just a perfunctory “Thank you for your time,” but contains substance that builds on the conversation you had during the interview. Speaking of which…

2. What should the note say? The job search advice industry has done candidates a disservice by calling these “thank-you notes.” It’s better to think of them as follow-up notes. After all, most interviewers don’t really care if you thank them; they’re not interviewing you to be charitable but rather because they might want to enter into a business arrangement with you—one that they’ll benefit from. So, despite the term “thank-you note,” your note shouldn’t be as much as thanking them as about providing follow-upon the interview that demonstrates your enthusiasm for the job. That means it should build on the conversation from the interview. Talk about specific topics that were covered, and use the note to strengthen your candidacy, not just to express thanks.

3. Is it okay to send it through email? It’s perfectly fine to send your note through email—and sometimes it’s even better than postal mail, because it will arrive quickly. If an employer is moving quickly, a letter sent through the mail may arrive after a decision has already been made.

4. How soon after your interview should you send the note? Send it within a few days of the interview—but wait until at least a few hours have passed. If you send a thank-you email just minutes after leaving the interviewer’s office, it comes across as a bit perfunctory and less genuine. After all, you wouldn’t have had time to reflect yet, so the interviewer will know that you’re just checking off an item on your to-do list.

Keep in mind that employers want to know that you went home, thought about what was discussed, digested it all, and concluded that you’re still enthusiastic about the position. If the email is sent on your way out their door, that won’t be realistic.

However, any thank-you note is better than no thank-you note, regardless of timing.

5. Do employers really care about thank-you notes? There are certainly hiring managers who don’t. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from sending them, because there are also plenty of hiring managers who will tell you that a thank-you note has swayed their hiring decisions. And as the candidate, you have no idea which type you’re dealing with … so it makes sense to err on the side of sending them. Why not spend five minutes on something that could impact your chances?

{ 64 comments… read them below }

  1. Anna

    Not to nitpick, but in the second paragraph, I think you missed a word in “using the ‘thank-you notes.'” Happens to all of us.

  2. kac

    I recently went on a second interview and met with 11 people during the process. Immediately after the interview I sat down and these hand-wrote the thank you/follow up notes described here, which included at least one line referring specifically to the conversation we had.

    Unfortunately, the company wound up in a hiring freeze about two days before they were going to extend me an offer, but the team is still lobbying to hire me, and they specifically told me how impressed they were with the thank you notes. It’s a really easy way to demonstrate that you are an attentive, thorough employee.

  3. Anonymous

    Related question. I recently had a day of interviews with a company that had me meet over 15 people, some in groups, others one-on-one. In many cases, these were not necessarily folks on the team that was hiring, but employees from related teams who apparently give input during the process.

    Any tips for writing out all these thank you emails and trying to make them slightly unique? Unfortunately, the group interviews were on the short side, so I didn’t have much of an opportunity to ask direct, specific questions. Typically, I’d reference those specific tidbits in the notes, but in many cases, different sets of interviewers all asked me about the same things.

    1. AX

      I sometimes include a relevant news or industry publication article that I can either use to illustrate why I’m interested in the company or that is on topic with something mentioned in the interview. It has to be a fairly natural extension of your conversation or it comes off as stilted, but maybe it’s something you could try?

      1. Anonymous

        Thanks for the idea, hadn’t thought of that. I’ll look around and think if there’s anything that might make sense.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Keep in mind if you do this that you really want the article to be worth sending. Otherwise it can kind of backfire — you don’t want them puzzling over why you thought it was worth passing along!

    2. Catherine

      I did something similar at a university I worked at, where I met with several dept heads and sometimes got to meet their employees. I sent emails to the dept heads, as I didn’t really get to talk to the other employees. I think it would suffice to send it to the main person in each group you talked with, unless you spoke at length with everyone. I would think that just saying “hi, how are you” doesn’t really warrant an individual note.

      1. Anonymous

        That’s what I’m wrestling with. I know that people do not compare/contrast thank you notes, but my paranoia has convinced me otherwise, so I feel like I need to send one to everyone. In this case, it was often group meetings with several different department heads–as I said, it was a bit of a strange process–so they should probably all get one, no?

        1. Kimberley

          We do team interviews here. Personally, I feel it is unecessary to send a note to everyone. I would stick to the managers. That’s not to say that your notes wouldn’t be appreciated, but I don’t really feel like they would be necessary.

        2. Catherine

          Yes, it sounds like they do need to get one. Lest they do compare notes, you can always rephrase the same sentiment, such as “I enjoyed talking to you about X dept,” and then for another, “It was inspiring to hear about X dept and what you are doing,” etc.

        3. kac

          While it may not be required to send everyone a note, that very fact will make it all the more impressive if you do. As I noted above, I had a similar marathon-interview process, and sent everyone notes, and they told me specifically how impressive that was. For a few individuals in he group interviews, I did have to write somewhat generic notes and a few people did receive essentially the same note. Even so, it was very well received, and, if you do get the job/start working there you’ve made a very thoughtful first impression.

          1. kac

            I guess what I’m trying to say is: what is the downside/what have you got to lose, other than a bit of postage?

            1. Anonymous

              It’s true! I always send something, but was not thrilled at having to make a few of these more generic, but honestly we just didn’t get into the nitty-gritty in all of the conversations.

              And for the record, I’m going with email for all of these. :)

  4. Frustrated Job Seeker

    I always send a follow up/thank you note or email soon after an interview to keep my name fresh in the mind of the interviewer and to reinforce my qualifications for the position. Unfortunately, these are not even enough to warrant a response in most cases.

    1. Anon

      I’ve seen the comments you’ve left in the last hour. I’m sorry that your job search isn’t going well, mine isn’t either, but being bitter isn’t going to help your cause and that’s how you’re coming across. It’s a long, frustrating process for everyone, you’re not alone.

      1. Frustrated Job Seeker

        Instead of taking out my frustrations on potential employers, I put on my big girl panties and go into each interview with a positive attitude and never speak about my frustrations or badly about previous employers. That’s what professionals do. I thought I could use this as a forum to vent my frustrations and maybe even receive some useful advice. Can you honestly say that you never get bitter about your job search? If you don’t, you’re a better person than me. If you have any hints on staying sane during my job search, I’d love to know.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I think what Anon was reacting to was that all the comments you’ve left in the last hour or two have had a pretty pronounced negative and bitter tone, which is jarring for people to read in a community that’s typically not a negative one. Of course it’s okay to be frustrated; that’s completely understandable. It’s more about not inflicting bitterness on others as a result.

        2. Anonymous

          I can understand your feelings about being frustrated looking for a job. I think so many people are right now. I have decided to get a plan going. This is something I use to do and it seemed to help me focus more. I think many of us have our stories about how hard it seems. I believe this website is a good source of information and hearing from others helps. We will find something. I believe that. You cannot get so discouraged that you drop the ball. It may be harder to find jobs right now but I choose to work my seat off trying.

    2. AD

      See AAM’s response below, but why would you expect a thank you for a thank you? That would go on forever!

  5. COT

    When I started college I got an on-campus job. I later found out that my supervisor had been unsure about offering me the job but did anyway. She told me that she felt much more confident about me after receiving my thank-you note. (I went on to become one of the top-ranked student employees.) I do my best to send them after interviews, informational interviews, or any other time someone extends a professional courtesy. It’s good to show gratitude and it offers such a great opportunity, as you said, to further the conversation about the role.

  6. Anonymous

    I’m a recruiter and always appreciate a thank you or follow-up note. However, when I am interviewing multiple candidates for multiple positions, I can’t respond to every thank you that I receive. I also prefer shorter thank yous rather than long letters that basically reiterate what was written in the cover letter and resume.

    1. fposte

      I don’t actually respond to thank-you notes at all (another reason not to ask a question in one). Not that I mind getting them, but I don’t see them as a forth that needs a back.

      1. Anonymous

        Oh, I hope not either – I don’t think that’s how it came across. I only said that because I have seen so many thank you letters/emails that have included paragraphs that give a laundry list of the candidate’s skills and experience.
        I recently read a very sincere and thoughtful thank you email, which included something to the effect of: “Whether or not I am the right candidate for the job, I am sure we all agree requires a few more levels of inquiry from both sides. I am writing now to say that I am interested in pursuing the conversation if you are.” This was written after the first interview for a very senior level position (and was appropriate in this situation). I appreciated that the candidate didn’t just say, “I am the right person for the job,” and instead recognized that there would be more steps in the process to figure that out, both for him and for us.
        Alison, I work in talent and recruiting at a nonprofit, and my team and I are huge fans of your blog. Thank you for providing such a great (and fun!) resource.

  7. AD

    When I don’t get a thank you note, I really think the candidate isn’t interested, because I assume that even terrible college career services offices tell candidates to follow up with a thank you note. I wouldn’t take someone totally out of contention over it, but it’s really puzzling.

    1. Kelly O

      That’s a pretty big assumption to make, at least in my opinion.

      There is a lot of career advice out there, some good and some not so good. I’ve seen “experts” say that a formal thank you note isn’t necessary. I’ve seen some say it can be an email, some who say it must be a handwritten on personal stationery, some who say a printed letter is fine… you get the idea.

      I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t know if I’d be that hard on people. (But I mean, if it’s between me and someone who didn’t send a note, then please, pick me…)

      1. AD

        FWIW, I think that e-mail is always the best way to go. In larger companies, it’s been my experience that snail mail can take a while to work its way through the system, like when an admin goes on vacation and that department’s stuff sits on his/her desk unsorted for a week.

        As I said, I don’t take people out of contention, but it does make me think twice. It’s no different from a candidate underdressing for an interview or showing up five minutes late. Are they genuinely clueless/ran into unusual circumstances, or do they not care that much about this job?

    2. Charles

      “When I don’t get a thank you note, I really think the candidate isn’t interested . . . ”

      Jeez, no wonder some job seekers are getting frustrated.

      Someone took the time to go to your interview, paid for the trip there, and YOU think they aren’t interested because they did not THANK you?

      Now, THAT is really puzzling.

      1. AD

        Your bitterness is showing.

        Thank you notes are normal business protocol. If I don’t receive one, it is perfectly normal to wonder why.

        1. Anon

          I’ve read a lot of articles that say most candidates do not send a thank you note, so I don’t know that is is normal business protocol. I know personally when hiring my replacement that only a couple out of about 15-20 interviewees sent thank you notes. To me it didn’t disqualify those who didn’t send them, but it did make the already good candidates who did, stand out.
          And I’m not sure Charles’ bitterness is showing. Applying, showing up and (thoughtfully) participating in an interview is the ultimate way of expressing interest. Thank you notes are more the icing on the cake, but not the cake.
          Just my opinion though!

          1. Charles

            Yea, exactly, it is icing on the cake.

            But, since my “bitterness is showing” the icing on my cake must be made with lard and salt instead of butter and sugar!

        2. Rana

          In *some* businesses, they are. They’re not at all common in academia when it comes to faculty hires, for example, and candidates who send them tend to be viewed with a bit of puzzlement.

          I honestly had no clue that people did this until a couple of years ago – I thought my sister-in-law who wrote them and my mother-in-law who suggested them were both being excessively punctilious – and I’d assumed that they were the sort of thank-yous you write after a dinner party or something.

          So it’s not such a no-brainer as some people here are assuming.

      2. Tami M

        Charles,
        I echo your sentiments. It’s easy to understand where you’re coming from, and I have to say I am puzzled as well. I am unable to verbalize other thoughts in this forum, but I *can* say that to be automatically deemed uninterested by the omission of a Thank You note seems, IMPO, harsh and unjustified, based, in part, on key points you’ve already mentioned.

        Thank you for at least being honest.

  8. ChristineH

    One suggestion I’ve read in the past (don’t remember where exactly) is that the follow-up note may also include a clarification regarding a specific topic from the interview that you think might not have been clear during the interview itself. I recognize that this should be used VERY carefully, but I was just curious as to your thoughts about that.

    1. ARM2008

      After a phone interview last week I realized that I only answered part A of a 2 part question. Made it a lot easier to write a follow-up email since I didn’t have to struggle to come up with something non-trivial.

  9. Anonymous

    I had 2 job interviews in one day. The first ,I was convinced, went terrible. The woman interviewing me even yawned. HOW RUDE! I thought, “I don’t even want to work there! Who cares!” and didn’t bother to write any follow up. The second interview went fantastic. I thought I clicked with the 3 people interviewing me. I sent a thoughtful follow-up note to each person.
    The next week HR from the first company calls and says they thought I was a great fit and wanted to bring me in for a second interview. From the second company, I hear nothing. The next week after the second interview the first company is calling my references. The director of the second company who I interviewed with is kind enough to reply to my follow up note with a personalized rejection email. BURN.
    Turns out the first company hasn’t hired anyone in a long time and the person I’m set to replace (all signs lead to a go and I should be hearing from them by the end of this week) is retiring so they just don’t know how to interview.

  10. AB

    Just reiterating the point that has been made–you never know when it WILL make a difference to send a thank you note, so why not take the 5-10 minutes and stamp per note and take a chance?! I just landed what is turning out to be a dream job for me after what felt like a long and grueling search (but proved that it was worth turning down some non-fits to get there) and my interview consisted of my direct supervisor, the person I was replacing (a retirement, so was there to talk about specifics), a more senior member of the team (who I now work directly alongside), and a HR rep. I sent individual thank yous to everyone…hand written and mailed. My first week on the job, the more senior coworker commented on my thank you note and actually pulled it out of her drawer to show me! To her, it made a HUGE difference that I took what she considered a big extra step, despite the fact that it was second nature in my mind to do it. You never know the impact it could have if you don’t at least try…

  11. Tami M

    It has always been my habit to send a gracious Thank-You note to interviewers. I’ve done it for the last 20+ years. And maybe I’m just old skool, but shouldn’t it be enough for someone to take the time and effort to say they enjoyed meeting you, discussing the position, and reiterate their excitement about the job? (or merely thanking them for their time if they aren’t interested)

    I know these are tough times, and we all have to make that extra effort to stand out and prove our worthiness, but why must things be so overly complicated??? I just don’t get it.

    Regardless of whether someone sends a hand written or typed note, a card, or email, shouldn’t our desire to show sincerity and gratitude be sufficient?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Sure, that’s absolutely fine to do and no one will fault you for it; they’ll appreciate it, in fact. But you can make them more effective by also building on the conversation that you had in the interview — potentially strengthening your candidacy

  12. Tater B.

    I have a question that has not been addressed (at least in this post):

    Do you send a follow-up after the first or second interview? Or both? I had a very positive first interview this morning *fingers crossed* and I’d like to hear what others are doing.

  13. TheAssistant

    Thanks for this, Allison! When I initially graduated from college, all I had heard about “thank you” notes was that they needed to happen. No details. One of my best interviews was a surprise panel interview – I had been told I would be meeting with the two supervisors I had previously spoken with, but surprise! Four coworkers wanted to interview me. I followed up with all six, somehow keeping them all straight enough to write personalized notes.

    Three months after I started, one coworker pulled me into her office to show me her bulletin board. There, right in the middle, was my thank you note. “Nobody else even tried,” she said. It really can make a difference.

  14. Jessica

    I have never written a follow-up note for an interview before, nor had any idea that it was something that people did until now! I was thinking I should write one for a phone interview I had this week. Should I wait for an in-person interview instead? And what do you do if you don’t have the email address of the person you talked to? I just was contacted by the person who scheduled it.

      1. Jessica

        I had my in-person interview a couple weeks ago and it went pretty well =) I also sent a follow-up email the next day. The hiring manager was away on vacation all last week, and I am hoping to hear from her this week. She mentioned that there might be a possibility that the “finalists” would have another round of interviews to go through with their VP (eep!).

        I haven’t heard anything so far. Should I send another follow-up or “nudge” email Friday, or wait until next week, or just wait for them to contact me again?

          1. Jessica

            Another update =)

            So I waited last week and sent another followup (short and sweet) to the Recruitment Coordinator. I have not heard anything back yet (now a week later) and am not sure what I should do. I am thinking I should send another followup, but perhaps to a different person because I talked with 3 different people throughout the whole process.

            The initial person I had the first phone interview with is the HR Recruiter. The second person, who I haven’t interviewed with but has acted as the middle-person between me and the Hiring Manager, is the Recruitment Coordinator. The third is the Hiring Manager who conducted my second phone interview and was also in charge of my 3rd interview which was in-person.

            The day after my in-person interview I sent followup emails to the Hiring Manager and Recruitment Coordinator. The next followup just went to the Recruitment Coordinator (the one last week) since I didn’t want to nag too many people. Do you think I should send a second followup to the Hiring Manager? Or should I make a first follow-up with the HR Recruiter?

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Nope. Sit tight at this point and be patient. You’ve followed up, and at this point you’ve just got to wait. They’re not going to forget you were a candidate :)

  15. Jessica

    Ok, I’ll wait =) It’s so frustrating though! Especially since I’ve gone through this before, unsuccessfully. Jobhunting can really wear your spirit down after a while!

    Thank you so much for your feedback!

    1. Jessica

      Finally heard a reply today. They decided to go with another candidate. Back to the drawing board……

  16. ademirok

    Hi,

    I’m writing from Turkey and I’d like to ask you if I should send thank you notes after my interviews in Turkey. I’ve had several jobs but I’ve never heard anyone write thank you notes. It’s a very foreign concept but I think it’s really nice to show your appreciation after the interview. I feel uncertain because it’s not really a tradition nor a new concept yet. What do you think?

  17. Elizabeth

    I’m hoping to interview for a better (to me) job at the company I currently work for–would thank you/follow-up notes make sense in this situation?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes, but it should be a very informal email, with the same tone you’d use in emailing a coworker about something else. You don’t want stiff or formal here. (You never do, but especially not here.)

  18. Lo

    Great advice!

    I had an on-site interview recently and I don’t think it went very well so I really wanted to write a thank you note to help amend that. I asked them for business cards or emails right after the interview but they said to redirected any requests to the HR manager. I emailed him (and thanked him for the initial phone interview), but haven’t heard anything since. And he was pretty prompt before (even emailed me on the weekend). Is it safe to assume that this is pretty much a lost cause?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Hard to say with certainty, but if the interview didn’t go well, it’s unlikely that a follow-up note will change that. That said, employers often go silent after an interview while they’re dealing with other things.

  19. Andy

    I had an interview with the hiring manager 2 weeks ago. Everything went really well and he said will contact me in a week. Few days after the interview I sent him a Thank you letter and addressed my intersets with his firm. Within a day he replied back to me and offered to arrange a 2nd meeting. Quickly, I replied him with the schedule that would work for me. It has been over a week and I haven’t heard anything back from him. Should I send a follow up email? Or should I wait?

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