Feb. 28, 2019
If you were to come into my office, you would notice a board on my wall where I've pinned thank-you notes from students, alumni and colleagues. Since most of what comes in my mail constitutes junk or bills, when a handwritten note is delivered, it makes my day. According to the Emily Post Institute, writing thank-you notes is a sign of good manners in your personal life, but you can certainly transfer the practice into your professional life. In fact, here are five reasons to start sending handwritten thank-you notes as part of your career development process.
When I first mention handwritten thank-you cards to job seekers, a common response is, “But that's too much work!" Exactly. A handwritten thank-you note takes time to write and deliver, which shows that you care about the relationship. Not to mention that people who help you along your career journey take time out of their busy schedules to meet with you, share insights and speak on your behalf. Expressing gratitude beyond sending a quick email is the least you can do to show how much you appreciate what they did. As a college student looking for internships or jobs, highlight your professionalism, commitment and dedication by sending handwritten thank-you notes. The practice shows you as someone who acknowledges those who made an effort to help.
“The number of students who attended US colleges and universities in 2018 was approximately 20 million," says Katy Montgomery, associate dean of degree programmes at INSEAD. “I would guess that very few of those 20 million wrote thank-you notes to their interviewers, references or mentors." Sending handwritten thank-you notes immediately differentiates you from the sea of job candidates desperate to secure their first positions. Many job seekers are so consumed by how to secure informational or job interviews that they forget to think about what happens afterward. They want to know how to stand out during the interview when the simple act of sending a handwritten thank-you note can make a bigger impression than any of the application materials they've submitted. You likely already encounter a lot of people who teach, inspire and impact you. In some cases, it may seem obvious that you need to send a thank-you card, but what truly sets you apart is sending thank-you cards when people don't expect them.
“A thank-you note is memorable; it's a diamond in the rough of advertisements and utility bills," says Montgomery. “And that one small note may solidify a relationship that will last beyond the initial interview." Montgomery further elaborates that while an interview may not result in a job offer, it's important to build and maintain a strong network as you establish yourself as a professional in a certain field. Networks are made up of relationships and relationships matter. “Your interviewer may never be in a position to offer you employment in the future, but remember that the world is small," Montgomery adds. “Even smaller if you are in a niche field or a small geographic market." The people you talk to may not be able to offer you a position, but they probably know others in the field who may be looking to hire in the future. Making a good impression is key to being recommended.
Although they need to pay close attention during interviews, candidates are sometimes in their heads -- wondering what to say next so they can impress the interviewer -- and forget that there is a person in front of them sharing valuable information. Knowing that you'd like to send a handwritten thank-you note, you are more likely to pay attention to what people say and write it down during or shortly after the interview. The physical act of expressing gratitude on paper helps you remember more information. Likewise, a handwritten thank-you card serves to remind people who you are and what brings you to them. And if people remember you and you remember them, your network can only grow.
In a study on gratitude, Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley found that although people underestimate the value of being thankful, “expressing gratitude is a powerful act of civility benefiting both expressers and recipients." People care to know that they have made an impact, and a handwritten thank-you note shows them that. In the US, practicing thankfulnessbecomes a topic of conversation only around Thanksgiving, but it doesn't have to be that way. “Gratitude, or giving thanks, has been correlated with happiness," says Montgomery, and you may want to integrate it in your daily life. As this infographic shows, among its many benefits, gratitude impacts both your mental and physical health. So why not boost your career and your health with one simple gesture?
Writing thank-you notes is a good practice for any professional, and you want to make sure you do it the right way. As you consider the practice, keep these three key points in mind:
1. Get the cards. It goes without saying, but if you want to send handwritten thank-you cards, you need to first have the cards. As a career coach, I always have a stack of thank-you cards in my desk -- for personal use and to share with students who may be in need of one. I encourage you to get your own and have them handy when needed. Visit the local stationery store or order some online. A simple and clean design is best, although choosing a format that hints at your personality is an option, too.
2. Be brief but specific. “A thank-you note should generally be no more than eight sentences, following a reverse pyramid format," says Montgomery. A generic thank-you will not do, so think about your message. Don't write one for the sake of writing one because your career coach mentioned it will help your chances. Montgomery shares a sample structure: “Your first sentence thanks the person for taking the time. The next two sentences go into more detail about a specific aspect of your conversation. The final two sentences can be more personal. Did you connect on the fact that you both play tennis? Did your interviewer mention her favorite professor at your university? If you are interested in the position, you can also add a sentence mentioning your excitement about the company or role."
3. Take time to write them -- but mail them within 24 hours. Practice writing your content before transferring it to the card. I recommend using a piece of paper the size of the card so you can see how the text will fit. Write slowly and legibly, and remember that you are writing to a person. Write as if you are speaking to that person and avoid unnecessary formality. Lastly, mailing handwritten notes takes longer than sending out emails, so be sure to work on them soon after the interview. The goal is to mail or personally deliver them within 24 hours.
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