Q&A  

Question:  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 Palms was to give practical advice from a real life interviewer.  Unfortunately, the books that followed (Sweaty Palms 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 Palmsis 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 Palms:

 

Follow-up letters

     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 Palms 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 1992.

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 me.

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.

Anthol Kelly
Stratford, Ontario
Canada

 

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