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3 Tips for Writing Great Thank-You Notes

image for FlamingoImages / Getty Images
FlamingoImages / Getty Images

How do you continue to stand out after a successful job interview? Send a professional thank-you note or a thank-you letter to the hiring manager and interviewer via snail mail first and foremost, or email when snail mail does not make sense. No matter the person, gratitude leaves a lasting impression.

"It is a common courtesy to thank busy people for taking the time to give you an opportunity to display your talents," said Laura Kerekes, a human resources and people risk management consultant. "In today's job market, anything you can do to differentiate yourself from the competition is good. Sending [thank-you] notes may seem outdated, but everyone appreciates hearing that the time they spent was considered valuable."

Let's face it, writing a business thank-you note can be hard work. They are written differently from a personal thank-you card because they need to be professional. Many professionals have a lot of questions about writing a heartfelt thank-you note. It can be difficult to know how to thank someone or what to include in your letter. For advice on where to begin writing a thank-you note, how to say "thank you," and some of your other questions, read on.

Writing a great thank-you note is as easy as following these four simple steps.

The preparation for writing a thank-you note starts at the job interview. When you are in the interview, be sure to pick up business cards from all the people you meet with to ensure you have the correct contact information. Double-check the spelling of names and the mailing addresses.

During your interview, take notes about key points the interviewers discuss, along with what stood out to you and how you would fit in with the company. Just a few notes will serve as a helpful guide for your thank-you note. Being able to reference exactly what the interviewer spoke about will help you craft a heartfelt message.

Before you sit down to write your thank-you note, list all the relevant skills you spoke to the hiring manager about and how they fit in with the job you interviewed for. Then, once you start recapping your skills, remind the interviewer of how your skills tie into their hiring needs. Refer to your notes from the interview.

"There are [probably] multiple candidates interviewing for the position, and many of those candidates may have skills similar to yours," Kerekes said. "Taking the time to let them know of your interest after the meeting and telling them you're already thinking about what you could do to create value for their company could set you apart from the competition."

When writing your thank-you note, you don't want to come off as desperate, but you don't want to be too cavalier about your interview experience either.

"By simply saying 'thank you,' the impression you make is that you're confident but not desperate, skilled but not selfish," said author S. Chris Edmonds, founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. "You're not demanding they hire you or demanding they let you know by Friday, at latest. You're being nice and emphasizing your talents."

Many experts advise sending a thank-you email within a day of the interview to ensure timely delivery. However, handwritten thank-you notes mailed the night of your interview to also ensure timely delivery make more of an impression. And yes, you can certainly send both an email and snail mail. 

According to a Harvard Business Review article by John Coleman, handwritten notes are unusual, but they can be effective when sent in conjunction with an emailed thank-you. They take time to draft, each word carefully chosen with no undo button or autocorrect to fall back on. A handwritten thank-you involves selecting stationery, paying for stamps and visiting a mailbox. The note indicates investment, and that costliness indicates value, according to Coleman.

"While saying 'thank you' is important, the beauty of a well-crafted handwritten note is that it can show deeper investment and appreciation than a simple thank-you can," he wrote.

Some experts recommend looking up sample cover letters or email templates as a guide. When I graduated college, I met with a career transition coach who advised me to ignore everything about the cover letter approach and instead use an old-fashioned blank card and simply write a few heartfelt lines, thanking the hiring manager. Keep in mind that hiring managers are busy with clients, other staff and vendors, so you can't expect them to read a note that's more than a few lines long.

Timing is an important aspect of sending a thank-you note. Regardless of the actual schedule of the hiring process, the time between the interview and the note is important.

"Send a quick email [thanking them] within 24 hours," Edmonds said. "Mail your handwritten thank-you within 24 hours as well. That way, it'll arrive a day or two following your email note, adding gravitas to your thoughtfulness."

The timing of the hiring process itself should be discussed during the actual interview, so it shouldn't be part of the actual thank-you note. Kerekes advised waiting until the agreed-upon "hear back" date to follow up again. 

"Respect the process that the company has set," she said. "It looks desperate when applicants follow up even when they know the company is still working through the process. The only exception to this would be when you have another job offer and you need to get back to the other employer with a decision."

Between recapping your skill set, brainstorming, buying stationery, writing your note, rewriting it if you didn't like how it sounded the first time around, addressing the envelope and mailing your note, you've spent a lot of time on this interview follow-up piece.

Don't take it personally if the interviewer does not respond to your note or email. This does not mean they don't appreciate your note. Keep yourself busy by applying for other jobs and interviewing with other companies.

Just like timing is everything with your note, it's everything when it comes to filling jobs. A hiring manager may decide they don't need someone with your skill set at the time of your interview. Regardless, you sent a heartfelt thank-you note that did not go unnoticed, so months or even years down the line, the company could remember it and call you back for an even better position.

Need a sample thank-you note to follow? Check out our template here.

Shannon Gausepohl contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Marisa Sanfilippo

Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional who has more than six years experience developing and executing marketing campaigns for small and medium sized businesses with a focus on digital marketing. After graduating Stockton University with a B.A. in Communications and minor in writing, Marisa worked as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, ultimately earning a position as an e-marketing specialist for a credit union. While in that position, she earned HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Certification and helped build the organization’s digital marketing strategy from the ground up. Her efforts helped lead the credit union to success on and offline including: a 200%+ organic increase in Facebook followers, a sales generating blog, and much more. Later on, she worked on a social media campaign that gained recognition by The Huffington Post.