Monday, December 03, 2007

E-Mail or Paper Thank You Notes?

If I had to write a list of my favorite things in the world, thank you notes would probably rank pretty high. I love receiving them and writing them, saving the thank you notes others have written me and collecting different types of stationery and then deciding which design best matches the person I'm writing to. Nothing beats opening your mailbox and finding a beautiful, thoughtfully hand-written note on top of your bills and junk mail. It's a simple gesture that can really brighten a day.

But in a world where high-speed internet sets the pace of things, sometimes it's hard to decide whether to send an e-mail or paper thank you note. If I'm thanking a friend or family member for a gift or their help with something, I'll always go with the paper note, since receiving it a few days later isn't a big deal. Recently though I've been in a few situations where I thought it was more important that the recipient receive the thank you ASAP, and sent an e-mail instead.

Two events in the last week stand out, and I was hoping you guys could offer some advice as to how you'd handle these situations. A few days ago I spoke on the phone with a very successful alumna from my college who I'd contacted to discuss careers. She was generous enough to take an hour out of her very busy day to talk about her experiences and give me advice. Up until our phone call, we'd communicated through e-mail, and I was afraid that if I didn't send a thank you note to her within the next day, she'd assume I wasn't going to write her one, and may be less inclined to pass along my resume or talk to me more in the future, even if she did receive a physical card in 3-5 days.

Then yesterday I had a job interview and decided to e-mail my interviewers thank you notes that night. I figured that they were probably going to decide on my application in the next day or two and that I should take advantage of any extra boost a thank you note would get me.

In both cases, I considered sending physical cards in addition to the e-mails, but since my e-mail thank yous were fairly long and encompassed just about everything I wanted to say, I thought it would be superfluous to follow up with a card.

What do you usually do to thank someone? What about in professional situations?


judyo423 said...

I think an e-mail follow up to a job interview is fine because that is the way business is done these days.

When an individual has done you a professional courtesy I would send a short e-mail to be followed by a paper note.

For personal gifts a paper card is always preferable in my opinion.

guinevere23 said...

I am so excited to find another person who enjoys thank you's as much as I! :) For professional situations, I would definitely follow up with an e-mailed thank you, and then mail/drop off a "real" thank you card as well. If at all possible, I would bring them down the next day or two the receptionist, so she can pass them along. It shows gratitude, attitude, and a passion for the job you want.
For personal, it depends on how close you are to the person. My gramma, for instance. I always call her to thank her for something, and then I also mail a card out. She always loves that. Otherwise, I think what you did was just great!!

Email is sometimes better as it gives more room, but the art of a short and sweet thank you is special too. short and to the point when others are busy.
(also they will have free deskart.) :)

rachelh said...

For me, at least, a lot of it is subjective. I've written e-mails to coworkers who have gone out of their way to help me, or taken time to work on a project of mine. However the times when something has really stood out to me (having a member of management publically support and recognize my efforts, completing a very difficult project with fellow team members) I usually write a paper thank you - I think it conveys a more serious and weighted message, particularly since they are so rare these days.

As for interviewers... if most of the correspondence has been by e-mail, I would think that responding with thanks in an e-mail would be OK. Considering that it takes a day or two in the mail, plus another day or two in interoffice mail to get to a person (unless you have a direct address just for them), the lag may not fit the timeframe you need to respond in.

Cate said...

I think you handled this perfectly, Meg! Had you written a less-thoughtful email to the alumna you spoke to, I would say drop off a card as well. However, if you feel as though you successfully communicated your thoughts then a card would be unnecessary--even borderline cloying.
However, the holiday season is coming up, so you might want to send the alumna a greeting card, and note there how grateful you remain for all the help she's given you, email and phone wise.
I personally think that paper thank yous to interviewers smack of desperation (I might be alone in this). A quick email thanking them for taking the time to speak with you is more than sufficient, and having been close with the HR person at my last job, I know for a fact that even those are few and far between.
I think the best way to thank a coworker is to alert their/your shared boss to how helpful they were, and CCing the boss on an email is a great way of doing so. It documents it for the person's review and gives them a hand up on the career ladder.

Anonymous said...

When I first read the intro to your post, I thought paper always! Although my mindset is still similar after reading your post, I can see where an email thank you may be beneficial.

Even though you may exhaust your thoughts in an email, I would still suggest following up with a paper card. This could have its benefits because although it is a little repetitive, it will come afterwards when you may or may not still be on your interviewer's mind.

Most people you will interview with will be older in age, and maybe more traditional and look down upon a quick email thank you. Plus, don't forget that every interviewer has networks of their own that they could forward you to so putting your best foot forward and covering all the bases is always a good idea.

Good luck with your interviewing!

Elizabeth said...

I love thank you notes, but I think the line between paper and e-mail should be whether there was any personal undertone. If what they did for you was nice, but purely professional, it makes sense for the thank you note to be in their regular business e-mail inbox. For things that blur the line, like an alum giving you professional help (which doubles as a personal favor), you can send both-- but try to have something new to say. I would actually wait until something had come from the meeting; such as an offer or an upcoming interview, so now on top of being grateful you can give the person who helped you an example of what they did for you. A plain old "three days later, still grateful!" note is still a nice gesture, but it's a little lame.

My limited experience as an office manager is that you should *always* send your interviewer a thank you note, and being creative doesn't hurt. One girl (who we eventually hired) upped the ante dramatically by sending some nice chocolates with her thank you card. We joked about it around the office, but since she was qualified and personable, the 'bribe' made her stand out. Since it was a small office, even the people who weren't part of the search process knew about her and the thoughtful gesture.

lisa ( said...

I'm all for the email thank-you because it reaches interviewers in a timely manner. I also think the preference for paper vs. email thank you's can have something to do with the industry you want to work in. For instance, I work at a software company and most things are done online, so email is appropriate and even expected.

Anonymous said...

Doing both can't hurt.

Sarah said...

I think emailing was the right move in both situations, but that neither email precludes a follow-up note. The note to the alum, especially, would be nice to receive once you've had more thoughts/progress about your career. Speaking on behalf of alums, most of us are incredibly eager to reach out and honestly, it's hard to overthank someone!

EthidiumBromide said...

Looks like I am in the minority here, but I would have to say that I would definitely have gone the paper thank you note in both cases, particularly the job interview.
I tend to find that e-mails are so generally read and disregarded that half the time, people fail to open or thoroughly read them unless it is an urgent e-mail or something directly work related. Paper notes are always the way to go.
When I was applying to graduate school, I sent a hand-written thank you to each and every individual that interviewed me, at every school to which I applied. It equated something like 50 notes, but I felt it was the right thing to do.
Now that I'm in the position where I often meet with applicants and discuss the program with them, those who send paper thank you notes stand out. It's not that I would recommend an underqualified individual or turn down a very qualified one, but for those in the middle who could be give-or-take, the handwritten note reflects positively. I've received a few e-mail thank yous, and truthfully I am so busy during the day with my own labwork, that I read them and delete, and push it to the back of my mind. Actually opening a note really makes me think back to the person, which is beneficial to them.
That said, it doesn't work if the person to whom you are sending the handwritten note has a secretary which filters through everything, but at least in my field, everyone deals with their own mail individually and all the thank you notes I sent were actually opened by the individuals to whom they were intended.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, but through several years of executive and midlevel recruiting, a handwritten thank you note was *always* sort of just tossed aside by the recruiters. I've never seen a candidate benefit from a handwritten note. In business, email really is just fine.

HOWEVER, with personal relationships, I am a huge proponent of handwritten thank you notes - and I think the time, effort, and thought that you put into it is simply delightful - and is a sign of GENUINE good breeding.

Anonymous said...

stationery. with an E.

Meg said...

Good catch on the spelling, thanks!

Kelly said...

This actually happened to me just today...I interviewed for a job at my college and since they had only corresponded with me via email, I sent a thank you in that manner as well.

I think in this day and age, it is becoming more appropriate to use email, depending on the situation.

Ally said...

As an interviewer (for a law firm), I can say that a thank you note/email didn't play into my decision at all to recommend whether or not someone should be hired. Most interviewers are too busy to keep up with who writes an e-mail or card or doesn't. And one upside of email is that they pop in throughout the day; actual mail is delivered all at the same time, so it's easy to just let that pile up and never get to it (once you see it's just a personal thank you card and not business related).

With that being said, I love writing thank you cards to people.

Meg W. said...

Curious. I was just puzzling over this myself. I was just nominated for an art award at my college, and right in the award notice it said "please write a thank-you note to the foundation upon receipt of your award." I was already planning on making my own card (a kind of tribute to the artist in which the award is in honor of) but the fact that they wrote that is a little insulting...and kind of defeats the purpose of the thank-you note to begin with!

Oxanna said...

I haven't had much occasion to write thank-yous for professional things, but in the case of a job interview, I suspect e-mailing would be fine, unless it's a long interview process. My fear is that if they hired me, a mailed thank-you would arrive the day I showed up for work. :D

Personal relationships, I say handwritten card or note.