Sending a Post-Interview Thank You? Don't Make These 5 Mistakes

Don't just go through the motions with this note.

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Alison Green
Sending a thank-you note after a job interview is a good way to signal your interest in the role and solidify the interviewer's positive impressions. But thank-yous need to be handled well, or they lose their effectiveness.

Make sure you're not making these five mistakes when you send a post-interview note of thanks.

1. Treating it as a perfunctory exercise. Too many job candidates view thank-you notes as just one more box to check off in their job-searching steps. They send generic, perfunctory notes that signal "I'm just sending this because I heard I was supposed to." These aren't especially useful or impressive to an employer; they really just convey that you read somewhere that you should send a note, and you're dutifully doing it. Instead, your note should be truly personalized and should build on the conversation that you had in the interview. If it just conveys thanks for an interviewer's time and reiterates that you're interested in the job, it won't add much to your candidacy.

2. Thinking of the note as merely a thank you. The job search advice industry has done job seekers a disservice by using the term "thank-you notes" to describe what they should send after an interview. The reality is, most interviewers don't really care if you thank them for the interview; they're not interviewing you to be charitable but rather because they might want to enter into a business arrangement with you—one that they'll benefit from. So, despite the term "thank-you note," your correspondence shouldn't be as much about giving thanks as about following up on the interview in a way that demonstrates your enthusiasm for the job. It should build on the conversation from the interview and explain why you'd be a good fit for the job.

3. Sending a thank-you gift. Believe it or not, some people send fruit baskets or other gifts after an interview. Do not do this. You will unsettle your interviewer and create awkwardness—and it won't help you. If you're not qualified, a gift isn't going to change that. And if you are qualified, you've now made your interviewer uncomfortable by implying that you think your qualifications aren't enough on their own, but that he or she might be swayed by a basket of apples. It's tacky and ineffective.

4. Writing your note ahead of time. Some job seekers write their notes in advance, figuring they can then just hit "send" on the email after the interview. But this means that the note will truly just be a thank you; it won't be able to reference anything from the interview conversation, and thus it squanders the most important method for making these notes effective—showing that you can build on that conversation.

5. Handing your thank-you note to the receptionist as you leave the interview. Not only does this suffer from the same weakness as the previous item—denying you the chance to reference specifics from your interview—but it also makes it clear to the interviewer that you did so. When it's obvious that you wrote the note ahead of time and planned to drop it off as you left, it drains much of the significance of the gesture and turns it into one that conveys only "I'm checking a thank you off my list."

Remember that from the interviewer's perspective, a thank-you note doesn't just signal manners; more importantly, it signals interest. Interviewers want to know that you went home, thought about the discussion, digested it all, and concluded that you're still enthusiastic about the position. If you hand a note to the receptionist as you leave, enough time hasn't passed for that to be realistic.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.