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How (and Why) to Write a Thank You Letter for an Interview

In today’s competitive world, moving past the initial screening process to an interview can seem like an accomplishment unto itself. And it is! But making it to the interview is only half the battle; you have to dazzle your prospective employer once you get there. A thank you letter is a great (and relatively low prep!) way to make an impact for your future job prospects, setting you apart from the other candidates – if you do it right. Keep reading to find out some of the key components that make a thank you letter for interviews essential.

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Why write a thank you letter for an interview? Isn’t that so old school?

It’s easy to think that in the age of tweets and texts that old-school manners like thank you notes have gone the way of the finishing school. However, as modern publications like Slate and Refinery29 have made clear, manners matter. They might even matter more in a job setting, where communication skills are paramount.

Historically, manners communicated who was in and who was out. Being able to carry on polite and informed conversation was the stuff of middle and upper class life (see historian Richard Bushman’s work on gentility in America for a more detailed analysis).

With all of that historical baggage, in can be easy to see why people think thank you letters are passé.

But wait!

Think about what a thank you letter tells your future employer. You are saying, “I cared enough about the time you took out of your day to let you know how thankful I am for the opportunity.” A thank you letter for interviews is about building a relationship, and, as the TED talk below demonstrates, relationships are what make individuals happiest in the long run. When you think about it like that, why not write a thank you letter?

OK, if thank you letters are so great, how should I write one?

Yes, here we have come to the nuts and bolts. I am going to give you my advice for writing a thank you letter, based on anecdotes, personal experience, and informal interviews with managers across my time as an employee. These aren’t hard and fast rules; instead I hope that, in these rules, you see the spirit of the advice and are able to communicate that in your thank you letter after your interview.

It is important to note that I think of thank you letters as having been successful when they help me get the job, or help me establish a relationship that I can continue to cultivate for career enhancement. With that in mind, here are my top five tips for writing a successful thank you letter for interviews.

1. Prepare for the interview.

The work of writing a successful thank you letter begins before the interview. You want to communicate to a potential future employer that you care about the company and their role in it. So do your research beforehand to make sure that you have great questions to ask about the company. And, if you need to polish up your resume to help you get that interview, check out this Magoosh blog post on resume writing.

2. Be specific, but brief.

This is a key mistake I often see when an individual writes a thank you note. Their letter is vague and general; it could have been sent to anyone. That is exactly the opposite of the feeling you want to evoke in your potential boss. When you are asking your questions about the company, the job responsibilities, or your interviewer’s career trajectory, make sure you have a notepad to take notes. Don’t pretend like you’re Jane Goodall here; your job isn’t to document every single thing that’s said. Instead, if you ask, for example, about any advice your interviewer might have for someone starting out in the field, write down the main points of their response. This is exactly the specificity that people love to see in a thank you letter for interviews. You want your follow up note to keep the interviewer thinking about you and your qualities, so make sure that you address something that was said in the interview. But be brief! Five to seven sentences will do.

3. Don’t feel like you have to hand write the letter.

When I was first starting out, I felt like I always had to hand write letters, but that is cumbersome, and most people don’t check their physical mailbox at work. Send an email (from a professional email address!) instead.

4. Send the note within 48 hours.

There’s some controversy around this one. Some individuals think that waiting a little bit longer (say, four to five days) to send the note will allow the interviewer to think about you again (given that a lot of hiring decisions take about two weeks for you to hear back about). I am of the mindset that writing a short and specific note of gratitude within a day or two of the original interview is effective. However, this will be up to your professional discretion; there may be times where sending a note a few hours after the interview is what will work. Always be respectful of the interviewer’s time.

5. Be genuine.

A thank you note will only be great if you are genuine. These tips will help you convey a message that will help you convey your genuine interest, but you will have to make sure you are real. For example, a thank you note that’s effusive (lots of exclamation marks and smiley faces!!!) will read as hollow and self-serving if that wasn’t your personality in the interview. (Even if that was your personality in the interview, keep it professional, please; you’re not writing a thank you letter to your Great Aunt Marge for her birthday gift!)

Lightning Round: Thank You Letter for Interviews Edition

Those five tips are great, but there are some instances where there may be some more specific questions that you need answered. Here’s a lightning round of rapid fire questions that I’ve been confronted with around thank you notes; feel free to continue the conversation in the comments!

Do I send a thank you note to everyone I interacted with on the day of the interview?
In general, I say yes. There’s no harm in sending a nice ‘thank you!’ to everyone that you can. However, if that means trying to find something specific to say to everyone from the front desk administrative assistant to the CEO who poked their head in to say ‘hello!’, use your best judgement; write a thank you letter to the people with which you had a long enough conversation to be specific and genuine.

Who should I address the letter to?
I generally use the name that the interviewer told me to call them while the interview was happening. For example, when I interviewed for an academic position, one of my interviewers told me to call him by his first name. When I wrote my follow up thank you letter, I called him by that name. This is why it will be important to bring a notepad to write notes during the interview; you don’t want to guess later on!

I don’t really want the job. / The interview went terribly! / I don’t think I’m totally qualified. Should I still write a note?
In all of these cases, I would still write a note. Why? Think again about the purpose of the thank you letter for interviews: you want to communicate your gratitude for taking up someone else’s time. Even if you don’t want the job or think you bombed the interview, it’s still worth letting someone else know you appreciated the conversation. And if you think you’re not qualified, but you got the interview anyway, I say a thank you letter will at least convey that you are a professional communicator. What do you have to lose by writing a note?

I hope you found these tips helpful, and best of luck in those interviews!

P.S. Become a better writer. Find out more here.

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