Should I write a thank you letter after the interview?
Answer: This is a very common question.
Virtually every book on the job interview and job hunting advises that an
interviewee follow-up with a thank you letter.
One of the reasons I wrote Sweaty
was to give practical advice from a real life interviewer.
Unfortunately, the books that followed (Sweaty
Palmsâ was the first book ever devoted entirely to the job interview) were
obviously written by consultants who had little or no experience actually
conducting an interview. So the
advice of these consultants is naive, at best.
Sometimes it sounds good, like "write a thank you letter."
But, because the writers apparently have not actually been interviewers,
the advice is promulgated from an ivory tower and misses the essential, how the
interviewer actually feels and reacts to an interviewee.
What you get in Sweaty
Palmsâis how an interviewer actually does feel and react to an interviewee because
I've conducted untold thousands of interviews.
It's advice from the field. So
the best way to answer the question on thank you letters is to quote from
Chapter 14 in Sweaty
Probably the first decision you'll have to make after an interview is
whether or not to write a thank-you or follow-up letter to the interviewer (and
in this chapter, let's assume the interviewer is a man). One of the main points
you should have learned from Sweaty
is that the vast majority of selection
interviewers don't want to be conducting interviews because it interferes with
their job. So anything connected with filling the position is a royal pain, and
the biggest part of that pain is having to interview prospects. They want to
fill the job as quickly and easily as possible, while devoting the minimum
amount of time to the chore as possible. After the interview is over, the last
thing they want is to receive a letter from an interviewee.
Receiving a post-interview
letter can have a negative effect on an interviewer for several reasons:
1. It's a piece of paper
with which they must deal. What do they do? Answer it? File it? Throw it away?
If they answer it, they are probably not going to be thinking kindly of you, as
you've just imposed a further burden on their time.
2. If they're not
interested in you, receiving a letter from you is going to be even more of an
irritant. The standard and accepted protocol for rejection is for the
interviewer not to make another contact. Your letter may negate any possibility
for a change of heart.
3. It can look like you're
begging or more in need of a job than the interviewer might have believed before
receiving your letter.
4. Your letter might say
something that negates a positive feeling the interviewer may have formed.
5. It reduces the control
of the situation that the interviewer might feel he has. The interviewer has the
control of when and how to make further contact. If the interviewee oversteps
the bounds by making the first contact after the interview, it could make the
interviewer feel he has to reply and he might not feel he's in a position to
reply just at that time. So if he has to make a decision before he wants to, the
odds are that the decision will be negative.
An interviewer won't
contact you unless he's interested in you, regardless of whether or not you
write a letter, so, unless you know for certain that you've been rejected,
writing a letter subjects you to the risk of damaging your position. The
interviewer knows that you are grateful for the interview, so you don't need to
tell him that. He also knows that anything in a letter is probably insincere
with the ulterior motive of getting an offer or another interview. Because of
that very real fact, a follow-up letter is a very difficult document to draft.
There's not much you can say that doesn't sound hypocritical to the reader who
will be reading the letter with a far different perspective than the perspective
from which you wrote it.
Finally, there is no
question of courtesy involved here. You are in a business environment. The
interviewer didn't do you any favors by granting you an interview. He was acting
out of selfish motives because he has a position to fill, so you do not have an
obligation to "thank" him for the interview.
There are three exceptions
to this advice. The first is if the interviewer has asked you for additional
information. That gives you an opening to provide the information and write a
letter that could enhance your position. The second is when you know that you
have been rejected in the interview. If you've been told that you won't be
considered further, then you've got nothing to lose by making an additional
contact. The employer might change his mind or refer you to another firm. The
third exception is if the interview has been conducted over a meal. Then it
might be appropriate to write a very short, polite note of thanks for the meal
if the interviewer picked up the tab. It's not necessary to write a thank-you
note because the meal was part of the interview process, but this does give you
the flexibility of making contact without breaching protocol and without looking
insincere or hypocritical. If you do wish to write a note, limit it to a few
words of thanks. Don't grovel about how much you'd like the job or how much you
liked the interviewer's tie or what a terrific sense of humor the interviewer
has. Don't mention the job or include the lamentable "I look forward to
hearing from you." Just thank him for the meal and end it.
The effect of a follow up letter in employment interviews was extensively
researched for a 1996 Master's Thesis. This
is, to my knowledge, the most detailed and professional analysis of the effect
of a follow up letter in interviewing for a job.
The research was limited to professional recruiters whose main function
is to interview, as opposed to selection interviewers whose obligation to
interview to hire someone is something for which they are not trained and for
whom the interview is more often looked upon as a necessary, but unpleasant,
chore. Since recruiting is a
recruiter's occupation, one would anticipate that the professional recruiters'
reactions would be more inclined to support the concept of a follow up letter.
Why? Because the pitfalls of
a follow up letter that I set forth above don't apply to a professional
recruiter. A follow up letter would
not be something that interferes with his or her normal routine, since the
recruiter's normal routine is to recruit. However, the research supported my
position, even among professional recruiters!
The research indicates that even among professional recruiters, a follow
up letter will not help you if they have not otherwise decided that you will be
offered a job.
To make certain that I had not misinterpreted the writer's thesis, I
spoke with him and he reiterated to me that his research fully supported my
position. Reinforced by this
research, my advice remains unchanged from when I first wrote this revision in
Here's what a reader has to say on
the subject of thank you letters:
Dear Mr. Medley:
I would like to make some
comments regarding your book Sweaty Palms. I found your book a
refreshing drink of water from other job interview books I have
read...(W)hen things are quiet sometimes you tend to get down on
yourself, and your book was a good "picker-upper" for
What struck me the most was
some of the unconventional advice offered. Your book is the ONLY
place I've ever read that said not to follow up an interview
with any sort of follow-up letter or communication. Every other
book that has broached this subject has recommended follow-up
letters to interviews and even rejections, which I always
thought was odd. I've followed the conventional practices of
sending thank you letters after interviews and rejections, but
I've felt that they really didn't do anything to help me achieve
the goal of securing the job. Sending thank you letters just
seems to add an unnecessary irritation to harried interviewers
and most likely will leave a negative impression as being
desperate or pushy, and I believe coming off desperate or pushy
isn't the way to go. Even if you are desperate you shouldn't
make it obvious and portray yourself as such.
I want to commend you on
having the courage to buck the trend and affirm (at least for
me) that while being polite is good, you don't have to overdo it
and grovel with needless thank you letters.