I'm quoted today in a WSJ Careerjournal article on writing thank you notes after an interview (subscription required...free trial offered). Speaking with Sarah about this a few weeks ago made me think about the practice and tips I could offer interviewees. First, let me say that I have never hired anyone because they sent me a thank you note. Writing one is akin to wearing a nice (not necessarily expensive) pair of shoes to the interview; nobody may notice, but if they do, that's good. Plus it makes you feel great. And the difference it makes is subtle. It shows you are professional and care about the interview opportunity. It's about presenting yourself in the best possible light.
So if you are going to write a note to the people that interviewed you, here are some tips:
1) Keep it brief...I think I've given these same words of advice on other topics (like cover letters). Get your point across (the point being: "I appreciate the time you spent with me", "I'm interested", etc.). You do not need to fill up a page with detailed elaboration about the depth and breadth of your interest. You have already had your opportunity to interview, so resist the temptation to use the note as an extension of the interview. It's alright to highlight a few of your key selling points, but a recap of your career progression is unnecessary.
2) In the letter, mention something about the conversation you had during the interview. You want to jog their memory since they may have met several applicants for the position. Something like "It's was so nice to meet someone that feels as strongly about the candidate experience as I do!" or "I am glad we were able to compare notes on the use of networking tools". Whatever. Specific is good ("Thanks for the tips on OneNote...I can't wait to use it in team meetings!"). They need to somehow tie the thank you note back to the person in the interview and unfortunately, names aren't always enough (they should have notes on the conversation though).
3) Try to be objective about your performance in the interview. I know, easier said than done. But if you are like me, you mentally review the questions and answers in your head post mortem. And you invariably come up with something that you wish you had said (or didn't say). Here's the hard part: if you feel you said something that will truly keep you from getting the position, address it in the follow-up letter. But you have to weigh the benefit of adding the additional information with the risk of appearing to second-guess or vacillate. And really, this tactic is only going to work if they are on the fence about you and by addressing the issue, you are pulling them over to your side. If you need to, talk to a trusted friend about it and get their take. When in doubt, leave it out.
4) Even if they said "no", write the letter, if you want to be considered at that company in the future. I have maintained relationships with people that I have declined in the past only to hire them later. You want to extend the relationship beyond that one interview experience. You should be able to pick up some hints from the recruiter as to whether this is worth your time and effort (if they encourage you to apply for other positions at the company, that is a good sign). The follow-up letter is the first step toward continuing the relationship and potentially exploring future opportunities.
5) I personally like the hand-written notes the best (on nice stationary, not a Ziggy greeting card, please). But using a business letter format or even an e-mail is fine. Here's a link to some MS Office templates if you are looking for some ideas on how to structure the letter.
The post-interview letter is a great tool to use if there are several contenders for the position as well. It could make you stand out. If the company decides to move forward with an offer for you, it could confirm that they made a great decision and get them excited about getting you on-board. It will never make up for a bad interview performance (come on...we've all had those). But the worst thing that could happen is you don't get the position. And at the very least, the small time expenditure on your part leaves the impression that the interviewing team met with a real professional. It's not necessary, but it certainly doesn't hurt.