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Why, Thank You! Or, Why Thank You Notes?

The phrase "time is money" is never more true than when you contract/are an hourly worker. You often have to look at your days in terms of can I afford to do X? So when you take the time to give help, professional advice, or an interview – whether for a job for which you’re hiring, or as a vendor — I don’t just think a thank you note is nice, it’s crucial.

Of course I have a thank you note with a dog
My collection of thank you notes

Back in my former life, when I would hire for an open position, whether or not someone wrote a thank you note factored into my decision to hire them. Some of my colleagues thought that I was being needlessly picky. But I didn’t think so: In this case, it wasn't just the gesture: Because I was hiring for communications positions, which both relied on people’s writing ability and relationship-building ability, it demonstrated their aptitude for the position.

These days, I’m afraid that the thank you note is a nicety that is neither taught, nor commonly practiced. But it is such a valuable communication that I am lobbying for it to be brought back in fashion.

I think you know it makes you stand out. It makes you more memorable. It’s also offering somebody grace – maybe somebody who lost money in exchange for doing something for you. So it’s truly the least that you can do.

In college, my friend's family took me to lunch when they were visiting him. I wrote his mom a thank you note, which I mailed along with an article from our college paper about his band. About a week later, when she received it, he said to me that he was amazed that I wrote a thank you note; he would have never thought of it. But that’s how my mom raised me. Not only was I grateful for them getting me a good meal – a break from oodles of noodles – but I also gave them a keepsake of their sons college existence, about which they likely new very little. And if that moment is memorable to me, I imagine it’s memorable and probably meaningful to his parents, too.

When To Send a Thank You Note

I should more aptly list when NOT to. Because there really isn't a wrong time to send one. When it's definitely warranted:

- Job interview

- Informational interview

- College interview

- So, any interview basically

- Someone acting as a job reference

- A gift of time or a present. ONE exception: a kid's birthday party. I can never keep track of who gave us what and writing 20 thank you notes isn't a great expenditure of time since most parents are on the same page. One thank you note via paperless post or evite thanking people for coming and possibly posting pictures is a great way to share gratitude without giving yourself a one-hour -- or more -- chore. (Plus, most of the gifts my daughter gets are a PITA with tiny pieces or stickers that end up on my walls. But I'll stop there for now ... )

I also send thank you notes when someone goes above-and-beyond, or I want to emphasize something/summarize next steps, such as from: a parent/teacher conference; a referral for a client; a media opportunity/interview.

If it's really a big gift, you can consider a small token of appreciation with the note, too, like a gift card to a local coffee house.

Plus sharing gratitude is helpful -- and healthful -- to both the recipient and you.

Here are some suggestions to help you write your next thank you note:

  • Subject can simply say “Thank you”

  • First line: Thank you for x. (Be specific)

  • Second sentence: Explain why are you thankful. "I truly appreciate you taking the time to tell me about/for giving me/connecting me to …"

  • Third sentence: Why was it helpful? "It taught me about… it will help me …"

  • Optional fourth sentence if you have more to say that's meaningful, relevant, and important. If an interview, reiterate why you’re the best candidate/how the conversation reinforced your interest in the position

  • Last sentence: Thank you again

Harvard Business Review has some tips, though they do not believe in eThank you notes. Ditto the Times though it's behind a paywall. Bottom line: Writing a thank you note might take ten minutes. But if time is money, this is money well-spent.

Do you still write thank you notes? Any tips or suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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