Career Audit

Thanks a Bunch

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Attorney Greg Harris found two qualified candidates for a position with his Maywood, Ill., law firm. After their interviews, both individuals wrote Harris a thank-you note. One applicant made a mistake; she didn’t proofread the note. The other person got the job.

“When I get a thank-you note, it is like a game,” says Harris. “I want to see if there is anything wrong with it. It helps in the case of a tie.”

Thank-you notes are an essential part of the job search. Yet many job seekers skip this step or don’t do it carefully.

“It’s a common courtesy,” says Sharon Meit Abrahams of Miami. She is director of professional development for the multinational law firm McDermott, Will & Emery and teaches etiquette to law students and lawyers.

“Everyone loves getting a thank-you note. I don’t think that is outdated,” says Shari R. Gregory, a lawyer with the Oregon Attorney Assis­tance Program in Portland. “We still recommend the handwritten thank-you note,” she says. “It has a personal touch.” Some, however, send thank-­you notes via e-mail because it is faster. They fear that another applicant whose letter arrives first will get the job.

“I don’t think someone will get a leg up by e-mailing a thank-you,” says Abrahams. “If you immediately send it when you haven’t even gotten in the cab,” she adds, “there is no sincerity in that. You need the time to think and reflect.”

Typed or handwritten notes show more thought and effort. Abrahams keeps all of the handwritten and typed notes she is sent in a file and deletes those sent via e-mail. “The paper you pick makes a difference. It shows more effort, more thought,” she adds. “It says a lot about your personality and who you are.”

High Marks For Presentation

High-quality paper with a watermark is best. use your initials if you like. “That is always classic,” says Abrahams.

E-mail is acceptable, but avoid the pitfalls, such as unacceptable signature lines or those that contain inappropriate materials, experts advise. “Is your sign-in name or TooHotForU?” asks Abrahams. If so, consider a new one, she recommends.

Often, e-mails contain quotes, sayings or pictures. All are inappropriate for thank-you notes, Abrahams says. One secretary received an e-mail note with a scratching cat. It “freaked her out,” she says.

Snail-mail letters are more likely to be read. “If you are sending an e-mail to a large law firm, it could be spammed. They don’t recognize the name and they may not open it,” says Abraham. She says 50 percent of the lawyers at her firm don’t read e-mails but do read letters.

Thank-you notes must be short and sweet—about four sentences, says Abrahams. Applicants should refer to something memorable that was discussed during the interview or something from an individual’s office. For example, “ ‘I enjoyed talking about my latest trip to Eu­rope or climb to Mount Everest’—something that identifies you,” says Abrahams.

Job seekers might add that they are looking forward to opportunities with a firm, but the note should not be another sales pitch. “It is not a rehashing of your job qualifications. It is not the time to do that,” says Abrahams. “A thank-you note is a thank-you.” Applicants should thank each interviewer and the administrative person or recruiting personnel who arranged the interviews. “A lot of people forget the administrative person,” Abrahams says. They shouldn’t. That person is often key. However, don’t go overboard.

“One time at one of my firms, a recruiter received flowers. That was really inappropriate,” she adds.

Even if an interview doesn’t go well, job seekers should send a note, experts say. “It is the proper thing to do,” Abrahams says.

“If two candidates are equal,” she adds, “and one has good manners and the other doesn’t, the one with the good manners has a leg up.”

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