The moments after a crucial job interview may feel like a sigh of relief or a pang of anxiety. But, no matter how you feel, there's an important next step: writing a thank you note.
Whether over email or by hand, a thank you note after a job interview is expected nowadays as a basic sign of appreciation. So how do you both stand out and effectively show your gratitude?
Never — never — use your thank you note as an opportunity to ask for a favor.
“It should stand on its own without asking for something. Just pure appreciation,” says Peter Bregman of Bregman Partners, a management consultancy company where he works with CEOs and business leaders. “You can ask for something later.”
Adding a request of any kind could detract from a thank you note’s sincerity and make it seem less authentic. “It just paints you in a bad light if you’re putting them in an awkward position,” adds Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert.
A thank you note on its own with no requests for follow-ups or favors could go a long way. Recent research published in Psychology Science shows that people consistently underestimate the power of a thank you note for both the sender and the recipient.
“People are writing these gratitude letters because they actually feel grateful and not because they’re trying to impress somebody,” says Amit Kumar, the study’s co-author and assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “These kinds of exchanges tend to be more positive than people expect.”
There’s no way to feign authenticity. But experts say there are a few things you should keep in mind when writing a thank you note.
Be specific about what you learned and how it helped
If your thank you note has the sincerity and specificity of that of a 13-year-old boy’s after his Bar Mitzvah, Bregman warns, you should rethink your approach. That is, don't just say thank you because you have to.
“If you can thank someone in a way that shows you appreciate something specific about them,” he says, “then it lands much more powerfully.”
Bregman says that goes far beyond thanking someone for their time. Point out specific things he or she said or did and how it impacted you and your career. After a job interview, for example, you can explain how the interview stood out to you. Or after a networking event, Whitmore suggests, you can include a personal anecdote from your interaction with the recipient to jog their memory.
But don’t stress about the exact language you use
Stressing over which specific details to include, sentence structure or other components of your letter may inhibit you from sending it at all, Kumar, the researcher, says.
“People are inordinately concerned with getting the words exactly right, being articulate, and how competently they can express attitude,” he says. “Those kinds of concerns can often be barriers that stand in the way of expressing gratitude in the first place.”
“When you’re a recipient," he adds, "you tend to focus on warmth rather than competence.”
...And be sure to spell names correctly
Now, that doesn't mean you should throw the basics out the window.
“I’ve seen a lot of thank you notes go out with the wrong name or wrong title,” Whitmore says. “If you’re going to make a lasting first impression, get the name correct and check for spelling.”