Etiquette Update: The New Rules for Thank-You Notes

People often ask me if thank-you notes are still important. My answer is an unequivocal, absolute, unqualified, deeply passionate YES.

I’m astonished at how many people fail to send a thank-you note after a formal job interview, which has been the rule forever. And I bet I’m not alone when I say that nothing impresses me more than a quick, authentic thank-you note after any situation where a person has been helped in any way.

In case, for some reason, I’m not making myself clear: Thank-you notes are incredibly important to career success. Send one to any person who has conducted a formal interview, helped with your resume, referred you to a vendor or client or given you career advice in an informational interview.

But even though the need for a note hasn’t changed, I admit that some of the specifics have. Here are my four “new” dos and don’ts for thank-you notes:

Do: Email.

Bet you didn’t think I was going to say that, did you? And even though it breaks my heart just a little — I love choosing stationery and I love the personal touch of a handwritten note — I realize the world has moved on and it is now 100 percent appropriate to send that note by email.

When I first published Getting from College to Career in 2007, I said that a handwritten thank-you note was required after a formal interview. But, when I updated the book in 2012, one of the changes I made was adding that email is now totally acceptable. That’s how fast the etiquette has changed.

Do: Be prompt.

Here’s one of the reasons email is OK: The world moves fast, and 24 hours is almost too long to wait to say thank you, let alone the several days it takes snail mail to arrive. Showing your gratitude quickly shows eagerness, and hiring managers are making decisions lightning fast. If they don’t receive a thank-you note from you by email, they move on.

That’s why the new rule is 12 hours – so if you chatted in the morning, send it off in the afternoon. If you met in the afternoon, have it waiting when they check email the following morning.

Don’t: Follow up too fast.

However, please don’t sit in the parking lot after an interview and send a thank-you email from your phone. In fact don’t send the note from your phone at all; it’s too easy to make an inadvertent error. You want to sit at your laptop and really think about the words since this is your last opportunity to make a fantastic impression and reiterate why you’re the best person for the job.

Another reason not to dash it off on your phone: If you met with three people, you should send three different thank-you emails. Don’t just use a template that you copy and paste. Make sure each note contains a personal reference, something that only you could have written and only to that person. This demonstrates that you pay attention to details and will be a thoughtful colleague.

Do: Be brief.

A thank-you note has one purpose: to show gratitude for people’s time and expertise, and that will shine through if it’s authentic. Say thank you, mention a specific fact or detail that was particularly helpful or interesting and then sign off. Your note doesn’t have to be long; it just has to be meaningful.

What’s the best thank-you note you’ve ever sent or received? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, and the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

Share this post

hi, i'm lindsey!

Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


Learn 25 Practical Ways to Manage Across Generations