Gone are the days when your mother would say you can’t open your presents until you sent hand-written thank you notes to everyone, including your Aunt Joan who gave you that scratchy wool sweater you’ll never wear.
You would think that the digital age would make it easier for people to follow up with those who should hear or read the words “thank you.” But those two words are far too infrequently written to prospective employers, helpful faculty and mentors. Properly saying “thank you” is becoming a lost art and the career implications can be significant.
“Millennials, in particular, really don’t know how to say thank you. Unless they think a trite verbal note of gratitude is enough, which it may well be in some cases,” said Gary Slack, CEO of b2b marketing agency Slack and Company. “Saying thank you in a meaningful, heartfelt way often never happens.
“Expressions of thanks don’t just fail to arrive after taking people to events, but after far bigger favors, too,” Gary added. “We once took a flyer on a directionless young man, gave him a purpose, skill sets and a promising career,” Gary explained. “Two years in, nary a thank you from him vs. many hundreds of kudos from us. Even then, we think he often felt unappreciated.” Gary added, however, that the former employee’s problems went beyond being unable to say thank you.
Personalized, hand-written notes that go beyond happy words and actually say something are the best way to show appreciation, Slack noted, although he added that “key-boarded missives” work well, too. “Email or Snapchat thank-yous may be enough for other millennials but not for boomers, although video voicemails would hit home for me and adequately substitute for the ‘massive’ logistical undertaking involved in writing and mailing a snail-mail note card.”
Other agency heads, recruiters and colleagues also are concerned. “I can count on one hand how many thank you notes I’ve received in the past two years,” said a colleague who has helped propel many young careers. “Fortunately, most family members and professors don’t expect notes since that’s not why they help. But prospective employers do notice.”
Cynthia McCafferty, president of Hawthorne Strategy Group, is a huge fan of thank you notes, especially handwritten ones. She keeps a box on her desk so it is easy to dash one off and drop it in the mail.
“For me, a thank you note is about much more than the words,” Cynthia says. “It shows intention, thought and follow through. The words certainly matter — the more specific the better — as does the format, but the bottom-line is that the act of sending a note makes a huge impact.”
While writing unforgettable thank-you notes is definitely a lost art, those who do put in the extra effort often are rewarded with jobs and other forms of help.
Timely thank-you notes landed Maureen Ray her job at Ketchum just hours after her in-person interview. Knowing that a decision would be made quickly, Maureen sat in the agency’s Aon Center lobby and hand wrote notes to each person she had just met. She gave the notes to the receptionist, who hand-delivered them to impressed staffers who voted unanimously to extend a job offer. (She also was a terrific candidate, but the notes made the decision a slam dunk).
One major agency recruiter pins thank-you notes to his bulletin board, predicting that most senders will have successful careers. “They demonstrate their sincere interest in the job, not a half-hearted generic follow-up. Going the extra mile is one of the ‘little things’ we always notice.”
P.S. There is nothing wrong with an email “thank you” note for certain things. But if you sincerely appreciate the favor — or really want the job — invest in some note cards and stamps.