Q: I have two children in college, and they are entering the stage where they will have job fairs, job interviews, informational interviews, networking meetings, etc. I thought it would be nice to give them some appropriate blank cards for thank-you notes. I distinctly remember being advised to send handwritten thank-you notes when I was interviewing many years ago, but now I am questioning if I am a dinosaur relic and if young candidates should just do it all electronically.
A: If your kids call you a “dinosaur relic,” you might point out that they may well be interviewing with hiring managers from your same geologic era. But as technology evolves, so do our communication goals and expectations.
Think about the purpose of a thank-you note: It discharges a social debt. It ties off a transaction. It ends an exchange.
For that reason, Alison Green, founder of Askamanager.org and the “Ask a Boss” columnist for New York Magazine’s The Cut, has said for years that job hunters should be taught to write not “thank-you notes,” but “follow-up notes”: “The purpose is to build on the conversation, reiterate your interest, and hopefully make yourself a stronger candidate.” And when you’re following up in today’s job market, email beats snail mail for several reasons:
It’s faster. By the time a paper letter passes through an employer’s mailroom, the hiring decision may already be made. If you’re interested in the position, make sure the hiring manager hears from you 24 to 48 hours after the interview.
It facilitates feedback. If your message includes or inspires a follow-up question, the hiring manager is more likely—though not guaranteed—to respond if he or she just has to hit “Reply.”
It makes you more accessible (for better and worse). Following up with a recruiter via email makes it easy for him or her to store your contact information and pass it along to a potential employer. Just be selective about which recruiters you follow up with, and specific about what you’re looking for, to avoid being bombarded with wild pitches.
More important than the choice between analog and digital, though, is the content of the follow-up. Jeremy Tolley, an HR executive with Tennessee-based health-care provider CareHere, says that his opinion has been swayed in a candidate’s favor by “an original, concise, compelling follow-up note” with specific details about how the candidate intends to help the company overcome specific challenges.
But, from one fossil to another, you should still encourage your kids to use those blank notecards to express gratitude for professional favors already granted, such as informational interviews and letters of recommendation—and, of course, for graduation gifts.