The season of graduations and weddings is about to start, so to my mind, that’s also thank you note season. But I have to say that it seems that the practice of writing thank you notes is becoming as rare as the practice of table manners, and I think that’s sad.
You should say thank you any time someone does something for you. You should put it in writing every time…
- You receive a gift
- You are a guest in someone’s home
- You interview for a job
- Someone goes out of their way to help you
It seems like most people eventually get around to writing thank you notes for graduation, wedding, and baby shower gifts, but fail to write them for most other gifts. Why is that? Are the birthday gifts less important? If the Diaper Genie arrived after the baby was born are you going to use it less often?
Thanking your host doesn’t seem to get much traction any more either. Maybe people feel bringing a hostess gift is sufficient for a party thank you, and perhaps it is. But a lot of time and money is spent putting most parties together, so why not tell your host how much fun you had and how much you appreciate everything he or she did?
And if you stayed in someone’s home…well, really there’s no excuse for not sending a note. Even people that love to have company are inconvenienced in some way by having a house guest, not to mention the very personal nature of having someone stay in your home. That surely deserves a few minutes of your time and a stamp.
Every career advisor will tell you to write a thank you letter after an interview. I agree. But in more than two decades in human resources, I’ve never seen a job offer hinge on whether or not someone wrote a thank you note. I could theoretically conceive of a situation in which the two finalists for the position were identically qualified with identically wonderful references, and the absence or presence of a thank you note could tip the balance, but rare indeed is the situation in which you could flip a coin and get a good candidate.
The job market is pretty tough right now, and you certainly don’t want to give up any possible advantage, but what about writing a thank you note just because it’s the right thing to do? Just because someone pulled your resume out of pile and thought you were well qualified. Just because someone took time out of their busy schedule to discuss your career. Isn’t that reason enough?
But those times when someone goes the extra mile to help you out are the times we’re least likely to write a note, and exactly the times when it would probably have the most impact. I keep a stack of note cards in my desk at work so that I can whip one out whenever a co-worker is supportive, when I’ve had a bad day, or someone goes above (or below) their pay grade to arrange something for me.
What about the neighbor that brought in your mail and your newspaper while you were out of town? Or the mom that gave your daughter rides to soccer practice? Or your geek friend that came over and saved the day when your computer crashed?
How to Write a Thank You Note
Here are the hallmarks of a good thank you note:
- It’s prompt. The only thank you situation in which late is better than never is the one written for a gift. In all other situations, being prompt is important. The person on the receiving end won’t believe your sincerity if you’re late, and if it’s for a job interview someone else may have been offered the job if you’re too slow.
TIP: Take thank you notes with you to job interview. When you’re done interviewing, go back to your car (or somewhere nearby), write the notes, then take them back to the receptionist to deliver. You’ll be seen as efficient and eager for the job, neither bad things to be when you’re looking for a new job.
- It’s handwritten. Obviously if you have illegible hand writing, a typed letter will be better, but for most thank yous, hand writing is best because it’s more personal and comes across as more sincere. If timing is critical, it’s okay to be informal because it’s someone you know well, or you want to cc someone’s supervisor, then an email may be acceptable.
- It’s specific. You should always specify what you’re thanking someone for…and then go one step further. How will you use the gift? What did you particularly enjoy about the experience? Why are you excited about the position? How did what they do impact you positively?
Put it in Writing
A verbal thank you is important and wonderful. I’ve been known to bake my thank yous, and those always seem well-received. But there’s something about seeing it in writing—especially if someone took the time to hand write it in a card—that makes it more special, especially if it’s unexpected. It’s worth the time and effort.