How to Write a Thank-You Note When You Didn’t Get the Job

Test the letter you send after you didn’t get the job to make sure it’s gracious enough to build bridges.


Before you send a letter to the company that hired somebody else, run the content through this quick test.

1. The letter is addressed to…
A. the person who spent the most time interviewing you.
B. the entire team who interviewed you.

In most cases, experts advise passed-over job candidates to address the letter to the one person at the company with whom you spent the most time. If you’re working with an external recruiter, you should always check with him/her before sending this correspondence. Some job candidates have reported making employers and external recruiters uncomfortable by contacting the company directly.

2. The content…
A. grabs the reader from the first line.
B. says, “OK. Thanks anyway.”

Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a partner at career coaching firm SixFigureStart and a life coach, once had to select only 12 students from hundreds at a top university to interview for a full-time, entry-level program. One student, who made it to the top 25 but not to the final 12, wrote to Ceniza-Levine after the interviews were over. Her opening line: “I bid all of my points to interview with you.” The point system was set up to reflect students’ desire to work for a given employer. Each student had 1,000 points to spend however she chose: 50 points on 20 employers, 100 on 10 or 1,000 on 1, for example, as this letter writer had done.

“She spent all of her points on just our company, essentially signaling we were by far her favorite and diminishing her chances with everyone else,” Ceniza-Levine said. It was an impressive opener, and it paid off for the student when Ceniza-Levine referred her to another opening, where she aced the interview and nabbed the job.

3. The questions and opinions…
A. ask what you could do to make yourself a better fit for the company/position in the future.
B. state that no one could possibly have more experience in this area, then suggest they clearly didn’t do a thorough job reviewing your resume.

Julie Bauke, a former career strategist and now president of Congruity Career Consulting, has a colleague in human resources who received a letter with contents reflecting letter B above. “The person might as well have said, ‛You clearly don’t know how to do your job,’ ” Bauke said. “That response made my friend even more certain in her decision to pass on that candidate. And she will never forget that name.”

4. The content and tone…
A. reiterate a positive point from your interview that reflected well on the interviewer.
B. are angry or threatening.

Sandra Lamb, a career, lifestyle and etiquette expert and the author of several books about writing, advises a client to send a brief, positive letter that states that you were disappointed but that you wanted to congratulate the hiring person on having made a selection, and then wish him well for the future, she said.

Employers discard angry or threatening letters, according to Ceniza-Levine. Those companies with good candidate-tracking techniques will then put the candidate’s name on a do-not-interview list for future jobs, she said.

5. The subject matter…
A. is specific to the business.
B. rambles on and on with nonspecific platitudes rather than tangible comments.

After noting that she’d spent all her points on the company, the student who wrote to Ceniza-Levine went on to talk about the particular role in the specific line of business she wanted and where she saw that business headed. “She knew about our business,” Ceniza-Levine said. “Nothing confidential, but she clearly did her homework beyond just reading our Web site.”

Beyond that, the student documented specifically how her experience would translate to the business, giving examples of her past work and specific skills.


Give yourself 2 points for all A’s, 0 points for B’s.

10 Nice work. You’re modeling how you’ll be as an employee: gracious and mature.

6–10 Not too shabby. Work on tailoring this letter to the business, and avoid bitterness.

0–4 Something’s wrong. Check your letters for rudeness or disrespect, which displays poor judgment.