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Sending a Thank You note following a job interview, an informational meeting, or a networking event is a simple way to stand out. I always thought this was a common courtesy, but I discovered last spring just how uncommon it really is. Then I recently attended a meeting where a panel of recruiters agreed that receiving a follow up Thank You note is so rare that it makes the candidate really stand out. One of the recruiters said:

I get so few Thank You notes that if you send one, you automatically stand out. And if it is handwritten, you really, really stand out.

This is both exciting and troubling to me. It seems incredible to me that I could “automatically stand out” just by doing something as simple as writing a Thank You note. Thus it is exciting because it seems almost like winning the lottery — getting so much return for such an easy investment.

And yet troubling because it is so uncommon. If writing a Thank You note is so easy and yields such a great return, why isn’t everybody doing it? Have our collective manners eroded to the point that we have we have forgotten how or (worse) don’t care to be gracious?

Why handwritten?

Sending a Thank You note by email may be better than no thanks at all, but there is great value to a handwritten note. In her recent excellent blog post on this topic, Ruth Sherman writes

A handwritten note rises above the clutter of email so effectively. Think about it: You may not respond to most of the hundreds of emails you get each day. But I’ll wager you immediately open a piece of mail with a handwritten address and that doesn’t come in a #10 envelope. I know I do. I love getting these thoughtful notes.The act communicates so much: The writer took time, she or he cares, the receiver is important. When was the last time an email made you feel that way?

Handwritten cards are better because they stand out. Not everyone will open and read your email, but you can almost guarantee that they will open a hand-addressed envelope received in the mail. And it communicates a thoughtfulness that can’t be captured in an email. Handwritten notes are more heartfelt.

True Gratefulness

And that leads to my final thought about Thank You notes. Sending a Thank You note simply because it is a good job-search or networking strategy seems disingenuous, so I hesitate to advocate it as such. I know I’m guilty of writing Thank You notes filled with empty platitudes simply because I know it is a good strategy. Or maybe because it’s what my mom taught me to do. And maybe I wasn’t even that grateful, but was just pretending to be (ouch!).

Instead of writing something bland and staid like “Thank you for taking time to visit with me yesterday blah blah blah,” perhaps we should try to express what we are truly grateful for. Did the person share some particularly useful information or wisdom with you? Did the person challenge you in a positive way? Did the person go out of the way to do something special for you? Was the person unusually patient in answering all your questions? If so, try to express that in your written note.

This requires a little more thought, and I suspect is not as natural for most of us. As Thanksgiving approaches, this seems like a perfect time to start practicing gratefulness and honing that mindset. And perhaps our future Thank You notes will be expressions of true gratefulness instead of just a strategy.