Job Advice for Youngs: The Thank You Note

by Pearl Hawthorne


Okay, yes, I’m old. I don’t just like white wine-I like ice in my white wine. I collect cute cocktail napkins illustrated with flowers and farm implements. I only just discovered Lady Gaga. I really like BBC America. And I can genuinely list ‘travel’ as an ‘interest.’ I am, in other words, entering my later-30s.

I also like to write, and receive, thank you notes. No, not thank you emails-thank you notes. Those little folded cards or scraps of notebook paper that require stamps and the decrepit old machinations of the US Postal Service. And I am here to tell you: I am not alone. Other old people (like the ones who interview you for jobs) like thank you notes, too. In fact, they expect them. And when they don’t come, it can be a problem. For you. How? Keep reading.

While I appreciate personal thank you notes from family members for gifts, or friends for baby stuff (see, I’m old! My friends have babies!), or for wedding presents, etc., I’m really talking about the professionally-oriented thank you note here, the one you write after a boss of some kind, or really anyone more senior than you in your chosen profession, takes the time to interview you for a job that exists, or might potentially exist, or even just offers you some “career advice” or sits down with you for an “informational interview.” Especially in the latter situations-the one where there is no actual job, but could be somewhere in the future-the thank you note is crucial: you think all those other dopes making the rounds send thank you notes? No. If you do, you will be remembered.

Here’s a story: When I was much younger I was in charge of hiring interns at my then-job. A young woman came in and we talked; I had decided, ultimately, that she was over-qualified, and was not going to hire her for the unpaid position. She sent me a hand-written thank you note, and later, when I was hiring fact-checkers for actual money ($15/hr in the 90s-Eureka!) I remembered her, called her, and employed her steadily for a year.

Here’s another story: I was up for a job not so long ago at a magazine, and I sent thank you notes to everyone I met. I found out later I was the only one up for the job who did that, and that this had earned me a reputation for being “classy.” (So what happened? I pulled out of the running and decided to stay where I was….but still. I was the “classy” candidate!)

So now that I have you convinced that yes, you do have to write thank you notes, you might be craving instructions. What do I say? How do I write it? Etc. Here are the essentials to penning a job-oriented thank you note:

First, stationery: I recommend cards from Snow & Graham, or really anything letter pressed. However, your regular old Crane’s cards (they’re having a big sale right now) do just fine, too (and the company makes a number of selections with graphic designs and prints that aren’t too cute or loud).

If you want to go even higher-end, a graphic designer friend who also loves thank you notes recommends Fabriano Medioevalis.

Don’t pick anything that seems gender-specific (meaning: no pink, basically) or anything with a cartoon or doodle or ladybug on it.

Second, pen: Select a fine-point pen with black ink. Your penmanship is probably terrible after all those years of texting and computerizing. If you use a pen with a thick tip the ink will bleed too much and your note will look scary, like a monster wrote it. Print, unless your cursive is excellent.

Third, wording: You do not have to go fancy. If you called the person by their first name in emails, then use their first name. If not, stick with the formal: Mr. or Ms.

Do not use Mrs. or Miss. This is not elementary school.

For the body of the note, all you need to do is thank the person for taking time to meet with you. And if you want the job, if there is a job, say you are excited about the possibility of working with the aforementioned addressee. Do not use the note to re-promote yourself, or reiterate your accomplishments. That is obnoxious. We already talked to you. We have your resume.

Remember: Thank you notes are humble-they show you are taking the time to thank someone for taking their time out for you. This is what the email can’t accomplish: emails are a dime a million. We write them all day, we know they take five seconds (and the really good ones take about ten.) We also write thank you notes, so we know they take time
and focus and involve hand cramps. We know it’s a pain in the ass for you to write them, look up our addresses, track down a stamp that is actually of the correct value…. But that’s the entire point.

Thank you in email and thank you on paper means the same thing: Thank you. But the gesture of actually writing a note? Damn, it means you actually care.

Pearl Hawthorne is the pen name of an employed lady (hence the pen name) who frequently comes into contact with the young people.