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Is it necessary to send a thank you note after I have had an interview?
I am often asked this question by candidates with whom I am working and my response is typically met with some surprise. I tell my candidates that - contrary to traditional thought - it is not always necessary to send a thank you note, especially if you have nothing more to say than a generic, "thank you for talking with me; it was good to meet you". Rest assured that not sending a thank you note will certainly not hurt your chances of getting a job. Know, however, that sending one with a typo or other error, or one that sounds entirely too generic or communicates poorly, could very well hurt your candidacy.
If you feel strongly about sending a thank you note after having made a positive connection in an interview, you should do so but make sure you take the time to have another set of eyes review your draft. Think of the note as evidence of your work product and the detailed care you put into creating and editing it. If you send a thank you note, it becomes a part of your application and an additional means by which a firm evaluates you.
Consider what information you learned during the interview, or what personal connections might have been made. Remember that interviewers compare notes and the various impressions made are shared in recruitment committee meetings, in the hall or over email. If you thank each interviewer whom you met in the same manner, using the same words, chances are that not only will the initial impression by the recipient be that the note is a sort of form letter, but that this notion may very well be confirmed once the interviewers gather to discuss your candidacy. Whether you go through several rounds of interviews with a firm or only one, think of each round, and each interview within the round as a separate communication. As such, your thank you note should be tailored uniquely to each interview and interviewer.
Think critically about what issues were raised during the course of your interviews. Did you learn about a new type of work into which the group is potentially branching, or a new client or industry the firm is targeting? Did you connect with your interviewer over a particular sports team or player, a former shared career or your hometown? Think also about what came across as important to the interviewer individually and to the firm as a whole. Were particular business initiatives raised? Is the interviewer seeking additional resources and, if so, can you be one? Specific information discussed during the interview that goes beyond the very basics of the typical interview questions and answers are good pieces to refer to in a thank you note. These kinds of references make you stand out and could make you memorable in the interviewer's mind, especially if a practice group is talking to a number of candidates.
Think as well about what you didn't say during an interview. A thank you note can be a good opportunity to sort of continue the interview dialogue. If there is something you wish you had mentioned during the interview, here's your chance to address it. Recently, I worked with a candidate who learned about an area into which the practice group with whom he was interviewing is considering venturing. While he did not bring up the fact that he had done work in this area during the interview, post-interview he went back through his files and found an excellent writing sample that spoke to his substantive knowledge of the issues involved in the area and that also displayed his great writing skills. He used the thank you note as the vehicle by which to get the sample into the hands of the interviewer who, in this case, was the hiring partner, and it worked well for him. This candidate had now distinguished himself from the other interviewees by exhibiting expertise in an area for which he - and the other candidates interviewing for the position - had not come in prepared to address. Indeed, perhaps the other candidates still do not even know that the firm was considering delving into this new area and, therefore, did not have the opportunity to communicate their potential knowledge of the practice.
Regardless of how much you said in an interview, if you do write a thank you note, take the opportunity to state (or reiterate, as the case may be) what value you can bring to the potential employer that is specifically in response to the needs you learned of in the interview. Use specific examples of how your past work and performance make you a great candidate for the position. Speak to how you can be the answer to whatever is currently precipitating the firm's hiring need. Along these lines, consider the thank you note as an opportunity to address what it is you would do if hired. In other words, act like you have already gotten the job, and start working before you are even hired. You can send a sort of mini proposal of what you will accomplish and how. Your goal is to stand out and be unique while showing your value. What better way to do that than to explain to the hiring partner exactly how you will do your job and do it well?
In terms of timing, if you are sending thank you notes, you should do so the same day as your interview if that's reasonably possible, or the next day. You want to capitalize on any momentum gained in the interview and seal your impression close enough to the time you were speaking with the interviewer.
Summary: I am often asked this question by candidates with whom I am working and my response is typically met with some surprise. I tell my candidates the following.