Gratitude goes a long way, and you can never show too much of it in the workplace. Writing — or emailing — a thank-you note is a small but meaningful way to acknowledge an employee’s work or a colleague’s dedication.
This small gesture of writing a note leaves a lasting impression. I know that I still keep certain thank-you notes that make me smile to look at long after I was sent them.
But they don’t just make you feel warm and fuzzy, they’re also a smart, tactical way to network — and in some cases, they can make all the difference in getting the job or getting promoted.
Harvard Business Review uses the case study of Tim, an employee at a sales organization who didn’t get a management promotion, partly due to not saying “thank you” in a CEO’s email about his good performance. Some may say this is an overblown reaction, but knowing how to acknowledge other people is a key part of becoming a manager.
“It doesn’t take long to say ‘thank you,’ but it does take caring,” the HBR author Peter Bregman said in his defense of the CEO not promoting Tim to a management job. “Not answering someone’s communication — text or email or phone call — is not an accepted norm, it represents a fundamental breakdown in communication about which I often hear people complain. Tim might be good at certain aspects of his job but he’s not ‘doing his work well,’ if he’s not acknowledging the people around him.”
And more than helping you in your career, thanking and acknowledging the people around you is part of the job of being a good human.
How to write a thank-you note
You can dash off a “I-received-your-email” brief thanks of acknowledgment for administrative tasks, but longer notes around gratitude deserve more than two words.
The Washington Post‘s Miss Manners recommends not starting out a thank-you note with an actual “thank you,” because it makes the personal gesture sound as generic as a Hallmark card.
Instead, she recommends starting with an emotional connection between you and the recipient: “Start with a statement of emotion — that you were delighted that they came to your party, or thrilled when you opened their present,” she wrote. “Then a friendly line about the donors (such as that you remember something they told you, or that you hope to see them soon). A line about your own plans — summer, college or work — is optional.”
Most thank-you notes for job interviews are an easy formula of four sentences: The first one to say you were happy to meet them, the second to thank them for interviewing you, and the third and fourth to share some personal connection or refer to a non-work topic you discussed at the interview, so they can remember you as an individual.
So a good thank-you note would sound something like this: “Dear Thomas, I really enjoyed meeting you and the rest of the team and sharing ideas on the future of the sales operation. Thanks for having me in, and it’s always great to meet another Wisconsin fan. I’ll be at the game on Sunday and hope we get to see them win! All my best.”
It doesn’t need to be longer than a few sentences, but taking the time to write a thoughtful thank-you makes a difference. There is always a scenario where thanks can be given, but it’s particularly polite and needed in situations where someone is doing you a favor.
Someone took you out for coffee and gave you free career advice? Even if you never take their advice, thank them in person and thank them again in a follow-up note. And regardless of whether or not you got the job, always thank your references and let them know about the final status of your application.
Sending a note is not only good manners, it also shows that you’re grateful for the investment and time people have put into your continued success. That thoughtfulness is what separates self-involved employees from future leaders.
Think like a screenwriter when creating your interview thank you email
Think of your interview as a great film without a conclusion. Once you’ve presented the basic story during an initial meeting, your thank you note or email will take a few lines to provide an elegant finale, reminding the HR team of your accomplishments and fitness for the role, as well as underscoring stand-out moments where a specific insight or experience wowed the room.
According to recent research, your email’s subject line and the content will have just seconds to catch your interviewer’s eye and get them to click. Your handwritten note, though less common, still needs to earn their attention from the first line. That means those first 11 seconds should:
- Provide a unique, descriptive, and memorable detail of your conversation.
- Draw the interviewer’s thoughts back to the strongest aspects of your candidacy.
- Succinctly communicate specific business development or customer relationship management objectives that you would work towards if
you are hired.
- Deal with any low notes from the interview direct and reframe them in
a positive context.
Sound like a tall order? Whittling down your career highlights, skillset, and unique value to an organization down to a few lines (all within the confines of a sincere “thank you”) is certainly a challenge, but it shouldn’t intimidate.
Here are five simple rules to follow when writing your thank-you note and follow-up email.
Your interview thank you letter should be brutally honest
Did I inadvertently communicate or respond to my interviewer in a way that may have compromised my candidacy?
Address the issue in a forthright manner without surrendering the overall value of your candidate “story” to a minor mistake. Follow John Lennon’s example and own your error even as you pivot the tone of the note or email towards gratitude for the opportunity to interact.
Eight years of marketing organic veggie burgers taught me how to introduce unfamiliar foods to new audiences (I am highly experienced and my skills are relevant for this position) and in doing so I learned to open my mind and palate to new food concepts (I understand that this job involves a product mission vastly different from my earlier position, but as a professional I am committed to mastering the required skills and thriving in a new company culture). My scream when you produced the XXL Turducken on a Stick from behind your back was an exclamation of sheer marvel (I won’t pretend I didn’t do something out of the ordinary, but these actions don’t diminish my professionalism or fitness for the opportunity). Thank you for introducing me to a fascinating new product that will be exciting to present to the 97% of New Yorkers who, according to Meat Monthly, are unaware that a turducken exists in any form. Opportunities abound for turducken education on social media where your most passionate fans are likely to be found (I took the time to research your market challenges and have some ideas on how to address them). Looking forward to your feedback!
- Address your error briefly.
- Highlight your qualifications within the context of the error without minimizing your mistake or diminishing your achievements that counterbalance any awkward behavior.
- Reference your potential employer’s product or service in a positive manner.
- Use language which implicitly links your unique skillset to your intimate knowledge of the company’s business needs.
Your interview thank you email should show, tell, and show again
Draw a map from your intentions to your capabilities
Your interviewer already read your resume and spoke with you, so you don’t remind them of the obvious unless (as above) you need to counterbalance a mistake that could distract from your candidacy. Your post-interview communications should underscore how your previous work experience helped your skillset evolve as you challenged yourself by setting higher professional goals. Use your thank-you note to draw an unmistakable line from your more general career ambitions (becoming a marketing director) to what you want to do for the company.
Ask yourself: Have I made it clear that my skillset represents my ability to create demonstrable value for my employer
Thanks for sharing what Widget Startup has planned for the next year. During our discussion, you told me that that Widget Startup’s 70% growth rate can be maintained by an aggressive social media campaign that focuses on in-app outreach opportunities. Research from Insights Inc. released this week indicates that in-app advertising will remain the best strategy to reach your target market, Gen Z gamers, for the next three years (I paid attention to details during the interview and added value to your insights by looking at forward-looking projections). At Acme Research, I developed a passion for uncovering granular insights on new audience segments. Widget Startup’s most valuable customers are a diverse group, with many of your most vocal brand ambassadors on social media now coming from Gen X (I researched your company’s audience long before our interview and want to put my analytical capabilities to work for your firm). That’s a demographic with an abundance of market penetration opportunities for Widget Startup’s new retro product line (I have been looking at ways to hit the ground running even before you hire me). Looking forward to our next discussion!
All the Best,
- Make it clear that your skillset represents an enduring passion for professional achievement that has been expressed as tangible business development results for previous employers.
- Illustrate how your commitment to excellence guides all your professional interactions by presenting evidence of your earlier due diligence research, attention to detail during the interview, and interest in company goals or strategy in your email.
- Ensure that your email contains a unique takeaway from the interview that you found meaningful as further proof that you are an active
- Present a reason for further discussion based on your knowledge of the company’s market challenges or priorities.
Rule 3: Your thank you email should build a narrative around the company’s mission, not your job search
Identify Those Nagging Interview “Sticking Points”
Even in a robust economy, determining which job offers the financial security that you need and the career advancement that you want can be a challenge. When you’ve finally found a position that seems like a good fit, it is easy to become focused on how perfectly the company matches your career goals. While showing enthusiasm for the position during the interview is great, focusing on your personal career ambitions—rather than how your unique employment journey makes you an asset to the company—can make even the most outstanding candidate blend into the crowd of sound-alike potential hires. That will leave you stuck trying to stand out based on qualifications that hundreds of other applicants might also possess—such as education or years of experience. If your interview didn’t give you a chance an opportunity to truly shine, use your thank-you letter to connect your personal brand with your potential employer’s articulated brand values.
Did I present myself as an asset to the company’s pursuit of specific goals, or as just another potential employee?
Thanks so much for taking the time to introduce me to the Fresh Veggies- to-Go team. I was impressed by the passion that each member of the quality assurance team expressed for creating customer-facing improvements to the delivery and order processing platforms (I understand your brand’s core values and they resonate with me). During the five years that I spent years working with local distributors across the Northeast I saw how much a time-saving tool sh Foods Delivery Whiz could improve the bottom-line for a local contractor (I am have experience with the challenges facing the company’s potential customers and can communicate the brand’s unique value to them easily). As you mentioned that Fresh Veggies-to-Go plans to expand to the Northwest, I was pleased to discover that more than 78%of rural grocery delivery customers in a recent survey by Insights Inc. stated that they would subscribe to a delivery service that gave them access to fresh local vegetables (I am aware of market opportunities and qualified to help lead outreach). I look forward to speaking with you and the team again.
- Emphasize the authenticity of your personal brand’s connection to company mission in your thank-you note or email with a specific example of a values-driven achievement or a professional milestone.
- Reinforce the idea that your employment experience has practical applications for the company’s current business development objectives.
- Provide an example of an on-going commitment to understanding your former employer’s consumer base, business model, and mission.
- Use language that signifies an understanding of the company ethos: the customer service goals that matter most to the brand should resonate (or at least be compatible) with the professional values that you have demonstrated throughout your career.
Handwritten vs. Email: The Great Debate
Let’s end that debate right here: use both. Place a short, handwritten thank- you note in the mail within two days of your interview. It should be detail- rich, original, but not glib. This helps underscore your ability to add a personal touch to client or customer relationship management. A simple fold-over card made of high-quality paper found at any office supply store will do.
Thanks again for the great stories about your first days on the job. It got me thinking. As your social marketing campaign launches, opportunities abound to repurpose Toy Co’s video series from ’08 (currently trending) to reach your most challenging audience, Gen Z, with an in-app offer. Let’s keep this conversation going.
Thanks for sharing Amazing Robot Group’s vision for the robotics industry. As a 10-year veteran in AI, I know many of us in the industry have dreamt of these innovations since AI Slam Conference in 2010. I see so many opportunities on the horizon for ARG to open new markets in Asia and Europe. These are exciting times. Looking forward to another discussion with the team.
All the best,
Top 5 Rules for the perfect handwritten note
- Keep it short and unique. X An overly long handwritten note may seem more like a gimmick than a sincere expression of gratitude. No need to write more than a few lines.
- Allude to a detail that identifies you clearly. Be it a reference to a conference that you both attended or a personal story, make sure your note reminds them of the relevant detail of your conversation.
- Make sure your handwriting is legible. Do we even need to say this? A sloppily written note can do more harm than good, showing carelessness and poor judgment. Praise the company and interviewer—within reason. Flattery will not only make you sound desperate but also disingenuous. Offer an honest positive review of your experience that reflects the tone of the interview and communicates your continued interest in the position, referencing the interviewer’s presentation of the company’s attributes (not just your need for a new job).
- Make it clear that your note isn’t just an effort to be polite.
- Reward your reader with a new, relevant idea or detail that shows your reader that you understand the company’s goals, challenges, and strategy and that you would be an enthusiastic contributor if hired.
Why thank you notes matter
Your thank-you note is an opportunity to reflect your personality while showcasing your short-form communication skills. Unlike your cover letter, your thank-you note and email will illustrate how you might interact with an important client or leave a lasting impression on a customer who needs to be coaxed into a decision. After your interview it’s your last chance to make your personal brand story memorable and relevant to your interviewer’s hiring mandate.
While it may be your final opportunity to have a final say on your candidature, don’t obsess over it. The totality of your presentation—from your resume to the cover letter to your references to your interview—will be taken into account as HR makes their decision. Your thank-you note can help your application, but an imperfect interview follow-up won’t erase the value of everything that came before.
Want more post-interview tips? Read Ladders 2019 Interviews Guide: Bonus interview tips and questions.