But, because you can’t see the hiring manager’s reaction when she opens your email—or letter, or both—you might wonder if it really matters. Or is this another formality that everyone else has dropped besides you?
Believe it or not, sometimes it makes all the difference. Here a few instances when sending a thank you note could shift the balance in your favor:
1. When You’re Neck and Neck With Another Candidate
Sometimes there’s a candidate who clearly sticks out from the pack. But other times, it’s a tight race. Maybe two candidates have very similar qualifications. Or, maybe they have a totally different set of experiences, impressing the interviewer for different reasons, and leaving her baffled as to who would be the better choice.
Now, let’s say one candidate sends a note and the other doesn’t. Or maybe, one sends a great follow-up and the other sends one that is one-line, a week late, or too aggressive (all common faux pas). Well, in the first instance, the sender pulls ahead of the other applicant because she demonstrates she’s willing to follow the rules—even when other people might find them perfunctory. And in the second scenario, the person with the killer letter will also come out on top, because he demonstrated that he could be more thoughtful, prompt, and diplomatic than his competition.
2. When You Blew a Question
It happens: You prepare and prepare for an interview, but in the moment, you get flustered and say something you regret as soon as it comes out of your mouth. For example: I wrote once before about the first time I ever heard the question, “How would your friends describe you?” To which I answered, “nerdy and funny.”
In my note, I revisited that question and discussed those words in connection to my desire to learn new things and my communication skills, which would be assets in the job I was applying for.
Hiring managers are human, and they understand that you won’t answer every question perfectly on the spot. But your thank you note can be the perfect opportunity to build on a weak answer and make sure you shine across the board.
3. When Something Odd Happened During the Interview
Maybe there was miscommunication about the time or a poor connection during your phone call or video chat. In scenarios like these, a follow up can make the difference—so long as you word it appropriately.
To start, don’t apologize again for anything. If you were late, and you apologized when you arrived—but then composed yourself and got on with the interview—the last thing you want to do is mention, once more, how sorry you are and how out of character that is for you. Remember, being too effusive can just underscore what you did wrong.
However, if you can spin what happened into a positive, it can help you end on a high note. For example, by mentioning how much you appreciated the hiring manager’s willingness to answer all of your questions, you’re nodding to the fact that you know the meeting ran long (which is better than someone who just blows through allotted time). And by saying you’d love to send on additional ideas for a question the hiring manger posed—you’re addressing the fact that your conversation was cut short for an unforeseen reason, but that you can roll with it and still provide valuable insights.
Applying for jobs is a lot of work. So, it’s understandable that you’d wonder if sending a thank you note is a step that’s really worth taking. While it might not be a game changer in every situation, it will be in the scenarios above. So, hedge your bets and send a follow up: It just might help you get hired.