Will you get hired just because you sent a thank-you letter? No, likely not. Could it help your candidacy? Absolutely.
The strength of your candidacy is made up of many different data points. Your ability to do the job. Your professional background. Your education and credentials. Whether you were an applicant, headhunted, or referred to the search. How well you did in the interview. How much they see you fitting in the organization. Your references. Some, of course, are more important than others, but the more points you have on your side, the stronger your candidacy.
The best way to think of the follow-up or thank-you letter is as an opportunity for one more data point. And, the great thing is, while all candidates will be measured on most of the above criteria, sending a follow-up letter is not required. Therefore, if you do it, and do it well, you are seizing an opportunity to make an additional impression, an opportunity that other candidates may not utilize.
And, let’s not forget that a follow-up is the professional thing to do. More than anything, your letter is demonstrating that you are a polished professional. That can’t hurt.
A follow-up letter should thank the hiring manager for their time and the opportunity to meet. It should briefly reiterate your interest in the position (assuming, of course, you are still interested). These are the basics.
Taking it a step further, it can be smart to call attention to a shared point of interest or high point that occurred during the interview. “I was delighted to hear first-hand about your process improvement initiatives.” You could make a point or two reiterating the fit between your experience and their need. If, during the interview, you did not do well on a specific question, but strongly feel you have the relevant background and skills, you might consider mentioning it in the note. “I don’t feel I gave you a complete response to this question. In fact, my background is strong in this area, as evidenced by ______. I would be delighted to elaborate if you would like to discuss.”
However, in most cases, keep it short and sweet. The point is to demonstrate your professionalism, be polite, and remind them who you are.
A follow-up letter is also an important touch with search firms, in particular when they have agreed to meet you without reference to a specific opening. Putting it simply, search firms favour candidates they like. Recognizing their busy schedule and thanking them for their time and consideration, and perhaps advice, is polite, professional and a smart thing to do.
For informational interviews, and referred networking meetings where the other party is doing you a favour by speaking with you, it is doubly important to follow-up.
There are different opinions on whether you should send a hand-written thank-you card, a letter, or an email. For the record, I favour the hand-written note. To me, it is a classy and personal touch. However, there is nothing wrong with a letter. In some circumstances, like time constraint, or the work style of the people you are meeting, an email may suffice.
More important than how is when. Timing is everything! Ideally, you should sit down to write and mail your letter within 24 hours of the interview. 48 hours at the outside. (Which means to be sure to have stationary and a stamp on hand.) A neat trick, if you can, is to allow yourself some time immediately after the interview and before you return home or to your office to write and mail the note. The efficacy of the follow-up letter gesture diminishes rapidly the longer it takes for the hiring manager to receive it.
That’s it. Writing a follow-up letter or note is a smart job search practice.