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by Jayne Feld | March 10, 2009

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Are thank-you notes a relic of a bygone era when workers wore starched white shirts and neatly-pressed suits to work every day?

Many job hunters think so. But they're wrong, say employment experts.

Letters or emails of appreciation, especially after a job interview, are as necessary as ever in our increasingly casual culture. This is your chance to remind your potential boss of your qualifications, how you would fit in with company culture and to makeover any mistakes you made in the interview.

"You want to stay on their radar screen and out of the garbage can," says Bob Rosner, author of Working Wounded: Advice that Adds Insight to Injury, explaining why you should consider thank-you notes another chance to prove yourself.

If you really want an offer, send not only words of thanks but added-value attachments, including compelling news articles about the industry, the company or the competition, suggests Rosner, who is also a career columnist.

"Information is the ultimate currency because it helps people do their job," he says. ?The attitude you will be conveying is "I have my ear to the ground and am investing energy into [the job search] beyond what I did in the interview."

What? Me send a thank-you note?

We know. You don't do thank you notes. Only 35 percent of workers surveyed by Vault last year said they always send thank you notes following interviews. Nearly 15 percent of people never, or almost never, follow up with a letter or email even though 43 percent of them say such notes could be very important in getting a job.

Rosner's Working Wounded readers have similar habits. In his poll, 37 percent of his respondents say they always write thank you notes or letters. Twenty-two percent never do it and 41 percent say they do only when they really want to impress their interviewers.

Among Vault's thank-you note rejectionists, 63 percent agreed with the statement "There's no need. If they want me, they will hire me." (Keep in mind, the poll was done in November 2000, back in the days when the job market still favored workers.)

Most people don't exactly reject the concept of thank you notes. They simply were never taught the importance of them, says Barbara Pachter, author of When The Little Things Count...And They Always Count: 601 Essential Things That Everyone In Business Needs to Know.

"Once people realize how crucial it is, they do it," Pachter says.

A business-training consultant, Pachter advises employees to send notes for almost any occasion calling for an express of gratitude, even after a round of golf with a more senior partner.

"If you're ever in doubt, do it,?" says Pachter, of Cherry Hill, N.J.

She recalls telling this to a group of accountants during a training session, and getting groans from the crowd. The discussion ended however when one of the founding partners stood up and said he always hand writes thank-you notes.

"If the head of the company does it, there was no point in arguing," she says.

Perhaps more job hunters would send notes if they knew this: Thirty-six percent of hiring managers polled by Vault say thank you notes always help a candidate's job prospects while another 42 percent say it could help when deciding between two or more qualified candidates. Only 22 percent said, in so many words, not to bother.

~"It comes down to relationship building," one manager tells Vault. "The candidate who sends a thank you note extends a courtesy that encourages relationship building, in which it is ALWAYS appropriate to show gratitude. The best leaders are quick to say thank you."

Another manager sees notes as a sign of good "follow-up." "Someone who takes the time to send a thank-you note would probably use courtesy in other areas of their employment, i.e. co-workers, managers, etc," the manager wrote.

As helpful as thank you notes are, experts point out, a bad thank-you note could sink your chances of getting the job. Pachter recalls a story about a young man who was selected for the managerial fast-track program at a Fortune 100 company. The man sent a letter so filled with typos and misspellings that he was kicked out of the prestigious program.

Thank you notes for dummies

So obviously, it's not just the gesture. You have to get things right. Here are the basics, according to the experts.

Make sure you gather business cards during the interviews in order to spell everybody's name correctly and get their titles right. Email, in many cases, is as acceptable as a written letter. Then again, electronic messages can't replace the personal touch of a handwritten letter, says Pachter. You need to evaluate the situation to figure out what's appropriate.

Emails are appropriate and even preferred if you know the company needs to make a decision fast. And if you're going for a dot.com job, a letter may seem downright antiquated. Then again, if the person lets on in an interview that she never checks her email, buy stamps.

The best way to solve this conundrum is to ask during the interviews how best to follow up with them.

~Timeliness

Rosner suggest sending your notes within three or four days after the interview. Pachtner recommends writing the day after the interview. If you forget, she says, it's better to send a letter late than not at all.

The perfect thank you

Keep your writing crisp, businesslike and focused. Use titles such as Mr. or Ms. unless you have a prior relationship or feel it would introduce a false note of formality.

Worried about sounding like a suck up? Then remove anything that sounds like gush -- including statements like "I love your company."

Whom do you thank?

If you've met with six or so people during a whirlwind super Saturday-type interview, write to everyone. But save your best, most personalized follow-ups for the highest-ranking person in the room and the one who brought you in for the interview in the first place, Rosner says.

Among the points of writing, you want to prove to the bosses that you really listened to them during the interview. Therefore you should sum up the key aspects of the job.

"You really want to say to them that you've got the energy, that you listened attentively and that you connected [with them]," he says.

Be your own Mr. Fix-it

Did you screw up at any time during the job interview? It's rare to totally nail an interview, Rosner says. A thank-you note is the perfect vehicle for making first impressions all over again.

"The attempt to do revisionist history is an art," Rosner says. "If one of their concerns were that you're job hopping a lot, you might want to revise their memory by reinforcing the long-term relationships you've had with your past bosses or other people."

Making yourself memorable is where Rosner's value-added plan -- to send your potential employers compelling information along with the note -- comes into play.

This takes pre-planning. During the hours you'll already be spending researching the company before the interview, make sure to save compelling news articles or other sources of information about the company.

Then, during the meeting, ask your interviewer what publications and web sites he or she reads. This way you can gauge if this manager has already seen your research, if he or she knows of other sources of information about the industry and, this is important, to save yourself embarrassment if he or she disagrees violently with the article you were planning on sending.

"If there was a job I really wanted, I would have three or four possible things to send them before ever going in for the interview," he says. "If I really wanted the job, I would probably have a whole plan to stay on their radar for up to six weeks."

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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