In today's changing interview process, the thank-you letter is the new cover letter. While they are considered mandatory for some people, many others don't find any value in receiving or sending them.
The reason why the humble cover letter is not seen as an integral part of the recruitment process is because some people simply do not know how to write one -- poorly written letters can seem insincere, be full of loaded words and fail to entice a hiring manager to engage in conversation.
In the day and age of emails, you need to find a way to stand out -- and the thank-you letter just might be your gateway to do so. If done poorly, however, it could also mark the end of your rat race. Here are some points on how to achieve the former.
1) Be Sincere
It's not a simple "Thank you for your time." It should read more along the lines of "Thank you for taking the time out of your hectic day to expose me to your company." Also, make sure you address the person properly -- writing "Dear Sir/Madame" is a sure way to scream "generic." Address the letter using the same terms with which they introduced themselves during the interview.
2) Show Compassion
"I thank you for explaining concept X to me. I look forward to learning more about the role, and I am really hoping that we can work together to accomplish goals A, B and C in the future."
This shows that you are grateful for the time the interviewer allocated to you. This would also be a great time to include future availabilities for the next interview: "I am actually available next Tuesday at 10 a.m. if it works for the team, please do let me know."
The thank-you letter is your chance to stand out, rehash something in the conversation and show how great you are... again!
3) Remember Them
Don't terminate the thank-you process immediately after you meet with someone. In addition to thanking them within a reasonable time frame after your first interview, a creative way might be to contact them again at a later date and to remind them of your profile. You can write something along the line "Hi Mr. X, it was great meeting you last week, I was wondering I you would be available to meet me for a business lunch or coffee next week."
4) Make It Personal
If a concept came up during the interview that you have experience with, it would be a great time to include it in the thank-you letter. Discussed a form of photography that you have experience with? Send a link to your portfolio. Mentioned a specific business case that you dissected? Send your analysis of it.
"As we had discussed during our meeting, I would love to send you my portfolio showcasing my experience in 3D design. Please let me know your thoughts."
See what was done here? You turned the thank-you letter into a follow-up with an action item, not just a broad thank you. You made the letter personal and interactive, and hopefully the interviewer is thinking of you and looking forward to seeing more of your work.
5) Snail Mail!
Yup, make the old new again! The fact of the matter is that no one is going old school with handwritten notes, as they think it seems too passé. Since no one is doing this, and if you were to take the effort to do so (get a card, hand write the note, get a stamp, address the envelope, put it in the mail...) you have made yourself unique and you have a reason to follow up.
People are intuitive and can assess when you are trying to "fake it to make it." The thank-you letter is your chance to stand out, rehash something in the conversation and show how great you are... again! By going above and beyond to show a strong interest in the company, you differentiate yourself from the other applicants who might not even remember to send a simple thank you.
As an added bonus: Just like the company took the time to interview you, you might want to go the extra mile and thank your recruiter. Coming from first hand experience, no one does.
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