The thank-you note is in many ways a lost art. Once upon a time, the ritual of the physical letter subsumed a range of traditions that now persist mainly as preformatted, convenience-store-aisle cards - holiday cards, travel postcards, birthday cards, notes of condolence. While the overall art of the letter is well worth reviving on its own, the formal thank-you has a specific role to play in your professional life that bears special attention.
Why write a formal thank-you note?
A note of gratitude for a reference, letter of recommendation, or referral is more than a nicety. The simple acknowledgment of a good turn in the form of a genuine and customized thank-you note takes what could be seen as a one-off, transactional exchange and reframes it as part of an ongoing relationship. A thank-you that goes beyond a dashed off “Thanks!” makes your recommender or referrer not only more likely to refer you again, but makes them more likely to do so unprompted. It moves both of you just a bit closer to the center of each other’s social and professional graphs.
Should I send a physical letter?
An email, card, or traditional letter are all acceptable ways to thank someone. It is increasingly possible to get very far down the road of applying and interviewing for a new job without ever meeting a live human or exchanging an actual piece of paper, so pretending that a digital “thank you” is somehow deficient is a bit of an affectation.
At the same time, though, if someone has invested even an hour crafting a letter on your behalf, why not take half an hour crafting a thoughtful email, or picking up a card and mailing it? Getting you to the next stage of your career is your primary responsibility, whereas they’ve taken time from primary responsibilities of their own at work or after hours to do you a service.
Additionally, a handwritten thank-you note or a letter is a physical touchstone that the recipient may stumble upon again over time. While a letter or card can be thrown out as easily as an email can be deleted, it can also be filed away or tacked to a wall. A well-written letter or beautiful card offers more tangible avenues to communicate and connect than an email’s subject line and body.
If you do go the route of a physical letter, though, don’t skimp. Choose a professional, attractive card or print the letter out on high-quality paper. You don’t need expensive letterhead, but you do want good paper and a working printer.
What should I say?
That said, if you’re unsure what else to say hundreds of sample thank you notes are just a web search away. Here are some general tips to get you started.
- A thank-you note is a piece of writing. Craft a real first draft and edit it the way you would any other important piece of writing.
- Recapitulate the specifics of your interaction. Chances are you may not have seen their actual recommendation, but you do know what you asked for and under what circumstances. Specify that up front.
- Offer to reciprocate down the line. Make sure your referrer or recommender knows that you understand the value of what they’ve done for you.
- Give them an update, if any. Did you get the job? Are you heading into an interview? If so, they will want to celebrate and wish you good luck. Maybe you didn’t get the job at all. You’re still grateful for their effort and, moreover, they may have good ideas on next steps for you.
- Don’t forget to include your contact information (email, work phone number) so that you can continue to interact.