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The Real Reason For “Thank You” Letters Isn’t To Say, “Thank You”

After an interview, sending a ‘Thank You’ letter is common etiquette and a nice thing to do, but saying ‘thank you’ should not be the main reason for sending it. Most candidates send one after interviewing with a company, but as a recruiter, I rarely receive one. I personally don’t need one, but on the occasions when I have received one, I think the candidate misses a great opportunity by just saying, ‘Thank you for the interview.’

I believe a good ‘Thank You’ letter should be used to reinforce your ability to do the job and/or address any potential issues that came up during the interview. It can be another marketing document. It is important not to over do it, but a tactful letter, that does some subtle marketing can have a big impact on the person reading it.

For example, a few years ago a candidate called me after an interview and said, ‘I think I blew the interview.’ The CEO asked me, ‘What my career plan is for taking this position?’ I answered how over the next few years I would impact my department and how that would impact the company. The CEO responded, ‘That is fine, but we really want people that want to grow and maybe some day have my job.’ The candidate asked me what would be the best way to recover from this or if there was a way to recover. The answer was the, ‘Thank You’ letter.

A carefully worded, ‘Thank You’ letter explained to the CEO that the candidate interpreted the question as asking for the short term impact he would have once on board. He went on to explain, in the ‘Thank You’ letter, that certainly in the long-term his desire was definitely to advance, but he realized that was dependent upon him doing an exceptional job in the role he was being hired to fill, hence the reason for answering the question as he did.

The candidate had the opportunity to address a miscommunication during the interview, which is a common problem with interviews. Ultimately, the candidate did get the job. Would he have gotten it anyway? Hard to tell. One thing is certain, the candidate didn’t think he would have.

Some other basic issues regarding a ‘Thank You’ letter:

One page maximum
Send shortly after the interview
Not an email (with the possible exception of IT professionals)
Addressed to a specific person, not ‘Dear Interviewer’ or salutation left blank
Individualized to the particular interview, personalized to the specific topic
Do not use a generic one-size-fits-all thank you letter

Consider using this as one more chance to market yourself. Don’t over do it. This is not the time for a hard sell. It must be subtle and tactful. It won’t work all the time, but hopefully as in the example, it will work the one time you really need it.