The Interview Thank You Email vs. Letter vs. Note

The debate over an interview thank you email, versus a letter or note, probably started about a minute after the first email went out.

Well, maybe not. I just checked. The first email hit cyberspace in 1971.

Wow! Email is 46 years old, and we still wonder if it’s OK to use it to thank someone for an interview.

OK, to be fair, CompuServe didn’t get going until 1989, so commercial email is only 26 years old. Wow! Commercial email is 28 years old, and we still wonder if it’s OK to use it to thank someone for an interview.

Technology Adoption

Take a look at the technology adoption curve — I’ll be referencing it below:

The Interview Thank You Email — Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Lets you demonstrate good writing and follow up skills.
  • Provides enough space to express yourself.
  • Fast. Proves you can be responsive. Right now.
  • Can be spell and grammar checked.
  • Used by 65% of successful job seekers (innovators, early adopters, the early majority, and a big chunk of the late majority) in this study.

Cons:

  • Lets you demonstrate poor writing skills.
  • Laggards (look closely at the Innovation Adoption Curve; they’re out there on the end of the bell curve) might find your thank you email a tad informal.

Sample Interview Thank You Email:

You will find an awesome interview thank you email here.

The Interview Thank You Letter — Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Lets you demonstrate good writing and follow up skills.
  • Provides enough space to express yourself.
  • Can be spell and grammar checked.
  • It makes you feel all proper and formal.

Cons:

  • Lets you demonstrate poor writing skills.
  • Less likely to be read. Asks your reader to click an attachment to an email or open an envelope. You lose readers with every call to action you make.
  • Innovators, early adopters, the early majority, and much of the late majority think you’re a laggard.
  • You might have to find/buy nice paper and a matching envelope.
  • You might will almost certainly breach proper business letter protocol.
  • You might have to remember how, or learn, to address an envelope using your computer.
  • You might have to remember how, or learn, to feed the envelope into your printer. Flap facing up? Flap facing down? Who knows?
  • You might have to google the current rate for first-class mail. I have no idea what it is. If I did, I would tell you.
  • You might have to find or buy a postage stamp. Or you could FedEx it.
  • The competition will be engaged in productive job search activities while you’re doing all of this.
  • Used by fewer than 17% of successful job seekers laggards in the study referenced above.

Sample Interview Thank You Letter:

You will find the best interview thank you letter I ever received here. It was awhile ago.

The Interview Thank You Note — Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Lets you demonstrate good writing and follow up skills.
  • Makes you feel all personable and mannerly.

Cons:

  • Lets you demonstrate poor writing skills.
  • Slow. Will arrive a few dog years after the interview in the life of your interviewer.
  • Confirms your laggard status.
  • Can’t be spell and grammar checked.
  • Has to be proofread by a human.
  • Has to be discarded if there’s an error. Do-over(s).
  • Limited space to express yourself.
  • You have to strike the right tone (because a note is more personal than an email or a letter).
  • You have to find the “right” note card.
  • You have to find a pen – with black or blue ink.
  • People might have trouble reading your handwriting.
  • You have to find or buy a stamp.
  • The competition will be engaged in productive job search activities while you’re doing all of this.

Sample Interview Thank You Note:

I haven’t received a handwritten interview thank you note compelling enough to save. The limited space works against you in this regard.

How Extreme Will Your Laggard Status Be?

You know how career experts tell you to get rid of your AOL email address and get a Gmail account because an AOL address makes you look outdated (i.e., old)?

Well, AOL email has been around since 1992. Thus, when you insist on using a letter or note, you’re using technology that’s older than an AOL email address.

If you want a chronological reference point, Bill Clinton started his first term as U.S. President in January 1993.

As we move into a world of pervasive artificial intelligence, where the odds are high you will have to work with technology to even have a job, do you want to be a laggard?

Conclusion

Because very few people send any thank you to an interviewer, sending an email makes you stand out as a well-mannered person.

You don’t have to write a letter or note. You get manners cred just by showing up with a thank you in your interviewer’s email inbox.

Make it easy for everyone. Use email. Then get after the rest of your job search!

I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Get hired. Email me at donnasvei@gmail.com for more information.

Featured by: SmartBrief on Your Career.
Image: Fotolia/PhilipGordB
Updated June 2017

© 2015 – 2018, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

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Comments 19

  1. Donna, I like your pros and cons.
    What about the argument for sending both. An immediate brief email thank you and then a follow up hand written. Overkill?

  2. Aloha, Donna! I have to disagree. I really believe that writing a thank you note is a classy, necessary step, and that e-mail should be reserved for short turn-around decisions, or, as Hannah mentions, an immediate thank you while the snail mail makes its way to the interviewer. I especially think notes should be written when the interviewee is seeking a competitive position within an organization that has a brick-and-mortar place of work with a hiring manager that was part of the interview team.

    As a member of Generation X, I was both an early adopter to e-mail and remember the days of typewritten resumes. In my work with millenials, I am sometimes saddened by their unwillingness to handwrite anything, much less complete any type of follow up. In the class I teach, a handwritten thank you note to an informational interviewee is a requirement, and many students have received incredible “thank yous” to their thank you notes.

    Again, this may be market-driven, since we are located in Honolulu, Hawaii, and probably have a higher percentage of laggards than in other metropolitan areas. I do believe however, that the handwritten note is worth the time and if done well (for example, as the interviewee in your June 2013 post did), can make a favorable impression for the candidate. ~Angela

  3. Donna, you provide an interesting perspective. I think the main point is that a well thought out thank you of any form is appreciated and sets the candidate apart. I’m 60yo, was an early adopter and am a huge proponent and user of email. Even so, there’s nothing like the power of a gracious, hand-written note. It demonstrates the writer has at least some modicum of soft skills that candidates so often lack and that employers desire.

  4. Donna, your article was thought provoking but I’d have to disagree. This article, like many related to job search, are written from a broad occupation intent. Some occupations, such as mine (Graphic Design professional/professor) are print based and if the interview was with an art director, agency head etc., a printed piece would be appropriate. Heck, I letterpress print my thank you cards on a 1929 press. Talk about personal! Yes, an email will be faster but who really cares if it’s a day or two later? If speed is the most important thing, just drop a card off on the welcome mat on the way out. In job search, one size does NOT fit all and often is misleading if intended to fit all. And regarding you “laggard” comment, wouldn’t the applicant’s computer proficiency be covered in the resume or interview? Sincerely, David

  5. Donna,

    I always enjoy your column, and thank you for this thoughtful bit of advice which, although valuable, I probably seldom will follow. I tend to agree with Angela, but I view the correct answer to the question whether you should send e-mail or a note as situational. If the job is with Google, an e-mail from your G-mail (not Yahoo) account would be fine. I think e-mail is fine for lots of other employers as well, particularly if your interview is with the HR department. If the employer uses a computerized applicant system, that also sends a message that electronic communication is acceptable.

    Employers in traditional industries are unlikely to be offended by a letter or note. Personal correspondence cards engraved on hard stock are more expensive than off-the-shelf thank you cards, but give an impression of substance rather than informality. As an attorney, my interviewer may be the equivalent of a C-suite executive, owner of a business, a government agency director or a partner at a law firm. One can compose the message on computer, use the spell and grammar check, then print on the note cards (in a script font if you like) and sign the note in ink. This ensures the message is readable. And, I’ve never had trouble finding a way to make sure the note reaches the interviewer’s office the next day.

    I send similar notes to anybody who makes a personal recommendation or a telephone call on my behalf. Although e-mail surely would not offend in 2015, personal correspondence stands out because nobody else does it.

  6. Sorry – I completely disagree with the premise of this article. Working in an IT field and hiring many over the years, I can tell you that I, and all other hiring managers I posed this question to, absolutely prefer, and appreciate the time a candidate takes to personalize a brief hand-written thank you note following an interview.

    We MUCH prefer this over an e-mail. I also consider it wrong and inaccurate to label those that do send a hand-written note as a “tech-Laggard” or any similar such denigration. On the contrary, we already know all candidates are familiar with technology, certainly to the extent to exchange e-mails. Indeed, nearly every step of the application and subsequent communication process is done online and electronically through e-mails and digital files exchanged -yes, it is the most rapid, fool-proof method for conducting such business -which is why everybody does it.

    An e-mail thank you is viewed upon as the lazy, effortless, way to ‘show you care’. A hand-written note immediately conveys a sense of purpose, desire, perseverance -and a bit of class. It is much more personal than an e-mail -ANYONE can crank out a quick e-mail. It also gives a chance to see another side of the candidate – penmanship, composition, personality in their writing style, choice of stationery, etc. It also shows that they have some manners -probably taught well by good parenting, the candidates are already accustomed to thanking their teachers, grandparents, or others that did them a favor or gave them a gift. It is a personal way to show appreciation. Genuine appreciation. We LOVE hand-written thank you notes!

    You suggest candidates should not write a note because they have to “hunt” for stationary? They have to go through the ‘trouble’ of finding and buying an ‘expensive’ stamp? Your kidding, right? A potential job, perhaps a life-ling career, is not worth a piece of paper, envelope and a 50-cent stamp? And oh, the time and trouble that went into it…

    A job, and the often agonizing, time-consuming effort to find the right one, is a life-changing, milestone event. It deserves a little extra attention -to stand apart from the e-mail masses, if nothing else.

    Would you send an e-mail thanking your wedding guests for their gifts? Do you send an e-mail sympathy comment to a relative when a loved one passes away? These are also significant, life-defining events.

    Many things in life, perhaps most, can be handled with easy, fast, free, e-mail communications. – it’s a fantastic tool and huge time-saver. Thanking me for considering you for a career with my organization is not one of them.

  7. Hi Donna,
    I am a legal recruiter and I am very adamant that my candidates send a hand written thank you to everyone that they interview with…and I do mean everyone. To me it is laziness in the first degree to send an email, it conveys nothing about the candidates desire to get the job. With most Attorneys they receive hundreds of emails a day and a candidate who sends one is just one more in the pile. Think about it, a Partner gets 350 emails a day, he clicks on a candidate email…yeah, yeah and hits delete. My candidate sends a thank you card and wham that candidate is now back in the mind of the Partner. Where receiving a hand written note thanking the partner for taking the time to speak with them about the job at their firm sets my candidates apart. I have even had Partners comment on getting a thank you card. So, in some ways continue to push those emails and my candidates will continue to stand out from the crowd and have better success when it comes to the position.

  8. I think one aspect that went unmentioned was this: email thank you’s can easily get lost in the shuffle. Especially for those who are more ‘innovative/modernized’, they receive an immense amount of email daily, whereas they receive fewer items via mail. A handwritten thank you will certainly stand out!

  9. Thank you Amanda. This is true for people who read their mail. I tend to go through mine once a month. Thus, I likely wouldn’t see a snail mail thank you in a timely fashion. We have so many modes of communication now that it’s a little crazy making. Given that the average professional spends 28% of their time on email, an interviewer might be most likely to see an email.

  10. Laz,

    Thank you for this. So FEW people write any thank you at all that I’ll stand by my assertion that email is a fine medium to use. Nonetheless, I appreciate your passionate advocacy for the handwritten note.

    Regarding the loss of a loved one, Facebook seems to be the most common medium used now. It’s kind of sad, yet it also allows a conversation between people in remote locations that wasn’t possible before FB.

    Donna

  11. Such a beautifully written comment Steve, I’d love to read anything you wrote, even if you used a napkin!

    Donna

  12. David,

    It’s true. Career writers can’t address every vertical. In the end, you always have to use your judgment. In the case of thank you emails, letters, and notes I would consider the email the current standard and make sure I understand why I’m deviating from the standard.

    I appreciate your comment. One of the beauties of blogging is the opportunity to gather a variety of perspectives on a topic. That makes for a richer understanding.

    BTW, I bet your cards are gorgeous.

    Donna

  13. Hi Murphy,

    Thank you for this. You demonstrate so nicely that we should always think about our audience when writing anything. Certainly, if your sense of the interviewer is that s/he would like a handwritten note, then send a handwritten note.

    From my perspective, I liked Angela’s point about using a handwritten note for informational interviews. Those are personal favors that call for a personal thank you. On the other hand, a job interview is a business meeting. I find a handwritten note a little too familiar for a job interview thank you (which is I why I mentioned “tone” above).

    Kind regards,

    Donna

  14. Thank you for this Angela. I appreciate that you took the time to share your thoughts. I agree that it’s a nice touch following an informational interview or networking meeting. Those are more personal meetings. I don’t think it’s appropriate any more after a job interview. I’m curious to hear what other people think. Donna

  15. Most of the “cons” are actually “pros.” Since when did putting in a little effort to personalize a “thank you” become a negative? It takes little more time to handwrite “Dear Mr. So-and-so, Thank you for meeting with me last Thursday. I enjoyed our discussion and learning more about ______. I look forward to meeting your colleagues…” or whatever two lines are appropriate than sending an email. ESPECIALLY when everyone else is sending emails. I strongly recommend obtaining professional “correspondence cards” and using them for thank you notes (avoiding having to find the “right card” every time.

  16. Hi Michael,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. Multiple perspectives help people make decisions!

    Kind regards,

    Donna

  17. There isn’t one right answer to this question; it depends on the job, the situation, and what stage you’re at in the interview process. When applying for a job recently, I sent a thank you email after the phone interview and thank you emails to the eight people I met at the second round, in-person interview. (At this stage, eight handwritten cards felt ridiculous and overdone.) Once I got to the third interview, which was more personal – two people, including lunch afterwards – email felt a bit cold. So I sent handwritten notes to those two.

    While I agree that email is often perfectly fine as a way to thank people, a few of the premises here strike me as fairly absurd: that professionals do not open their physical mail in a timely fashion, that the bit of effort and slight expense involved in sending a handwritten thank you note is reason not to do it, that finding a pen requires effort (!), and that sending a handwritten note says anything at all about one’s technological savviness.

    When done well, in the right context, a handwritten note demonstrates sophistication and good judgment. (Of course, like any communication, they can also be done poorly and convey the opposite.)

    And in my experience, quality wins over quantity in the job application process. Better to invest the time it takes to execute each step of the process as well as you can for a few well-chosen jobs than to apply to a boatload of jobs and cut corners in order to do so.

  18. Hi E,

    Thank you for this. I like the way you describe evaluating each situation to sense what seems right.

    Donna

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