It’s a corporate custom that might seem outdated, or even like a trivial formality. Yet anyone with a good deal of job hunting experience will tell you how important it is to send a thank-you note after an interview. That’s the conventional wisdom, at least. How much does it really matter?
Interview best practices dictate that thanking a hiring manager or HR person for their time is simply a baseline measure of professional etiquette. But why? No two job interview experiences are the same. Sometimes a prospective candidate speaks with multiple different interviewers over the course of months. Does every person who asked you a question deserve a missive expressing your appreciation for their time? Why isn’t it incumbent upon the interviewer to thank the candidate?
Owing to the subjectiveness of interviewing in corporate (and even non-corporate settings), it isn’t always obvious how and when you should thank a hiring manager for the courtesy of trying to convince them to hire you. Still, many consider it a standard part of the interview process, and because of the possibility the expectation is there, it’s something you should plan to do for the positions you really care about.
HR professionals really do take note of a thank-you
According to a 2017 survey from the HR consultancy Robert Half, 80 percent of HR managers think a follow-up email expressing thanks is either somewhat helpful or very helpful when they are combing through a deluge of candidates with equal qualifications. Absent a note expressing thanks, there’s a chance a hiring manager won’t be able to affirm your presumably strong interest in the job, beyond the 15 to 30 minutes or so you dedicated to a phone call or teleconference. In fact, they might presume you’ve been dissuaded from pursuing the job if you don’t express appreciation and your further interest.
Some organizations place a premium on thank-you notes that can seem excessive. In a 2019 post for Business Insider, the website’s global managing editor, Jessica Liebman, garnered a fair amount of online vitriol for writing that she only hires candidates who write thank-you emails post-interview. The idea that a failure to send a follow-up email should completely erode one’s chances of getting a job offer isn’t universal—and in fact, some HR experts take the opposite view, and feel the lack of a note should definitely not disqualify a candidate—but given it’s a debate that often descends into online shouting matches when discussed in public forums, you’re probably safer erring on the side of writing one.
Email is fine
Expressing thanks for a job interview is, in a sense, a holdover from earlier days of corporate etiquette. According to Robin Sommerstein, an HR consultant in Los Angeles, receiving a thank-you via snail mail was a truly laudable act prior to the advent of email.
She explains to Lifehacker how thank-you notes used to showcase a high level of effort and interest on the part of the interviewee, owing to the somewhat meticulous process of typing out and mailing a letter:
As I recall from yesteryear, thank you-notes via snail mail were always appreciated because of the time and effort to write the note. This showed the interviewer that the candidate was seriously interested, appreciative of the time spent meeting a group or single interviewer.
Even in the era of email, the necessity of expressing gratitude remains—and given that email requires less diligence on your part than would preparing a physical letter, addressing an envelope, paying for postage, and finding a mailbox, you can stick with a concise note—preferably sent within 24 hours of your interview, advises the job site Indeed.
As Sommerstein notes:
A really appreciated thank you note via email is thoughtful about what you learned about the company during the interview or through a website, or a statement that was unsaid during the interview. Write your thoughts about why you believe you would be an asset to the position and a good fit with the company.
It seems pretty straightforward, but don’t go overboard—brevity is admirable in this context, Sommerstein says, advising, “more than two sentences but not longer than two very brief paragraphs” should do the trick. With that in mind, you can get creative. She recommends including, “something clever, but not too clever, humorous but not too humorous, quoting something said by a manager if [it was] important to you.”
When it comes to thanking multiple interviewers, it might be prudent to ask for everyone’s business card during your interviews, or to ask for a specific person’s email address if you haven’t been supplied with it already. Of course, being a bit more enterprising and finding someone’s email address on your own shows a certain amount of industry that a hiring manager will notice. You might have to call someone’s assistant to get an email address, but it’s also OK to ask that your main contact at a company forward your note of thanks to everyone you’ve spoken to, Sommerstein says. It isn’t imperative that every person you’ve spoken to receives a note from you, especially considering it might be hard to track everyone down if the process has been especially stretched out, but the effort, if noticed by a hiring manager, is certainly admirable.
While neglecting to write a thank you notes won’t necessarily take you out of the running—Sommerstein notes she’s personally never failed to extend a job offer solely because a candidate didn’t write a thank-you note—it’s an act that requires minimal effort, and it could make all the difference.