(Un)Common Courtesy – Death of the Thank You Note

Anne Buchanan recently wrote a thought-provoking article , Why You Will Never Get Hired at Our PR Firm, that should be required reading for every job hunter out there. Several of the responses should also be required reading – particularly those on the doing the hiring.

Anne’s blog post detailed the complete lack of manners and courtesy shown by a college student who had the opportunity to have an informational interview at Anne’s firm, a courtesy extended to this young lady who was the niece of “a friend of a friend.”

As Anne puts it, “We’re nice people. We try to help almost anyone who asks in the right way.” After several weeks, the student emailed several questions, and two of Anne’s employees wrote “lengthy and thoughtful” replies to the student – and heard nothing in reply. Not a thank you, not a that was really interesting and helpful – nothing. Silence. Then after a period of silence, the student wrote again with a long list of questions she needed answers to – in order to fulfill a class assignment.


Why on earth would this student think that this is acceptable professional behavior? I agree with Anne that this student’s “lack of common courtesy has doomed her permanently to the black list in our very detailed memory bank.”

All it would have taken was five minutes to send a simple “that you” email message. It takes the same amount of time to write a “real” thank you note and drop it in the mail. Anne is right in saying you can never be too courteous, and to thank everyone whose path you cross during your job search,  for their time and their willingness to meet with you. Anne says you never know when that person might be on the other side of a hiring decision or be in a position to recommend you. That is true.

She says PR people tend to have long memories. That is also true. And if you happen to be one of those doing the hiring, you should also keep that in mind. Because professionalism is a two way street, and prospective employers can’t demand it if they aren’t willing to extend it to their candidates.

I have to wonder if this general lack of courtesy exhibited by the student in Anne’s tale is  just the way things are (not) done today, like the way thank you notes in general are disappearing. It’s at the point now when I get a thank you note for a wedding present or a job interview, I’m surprised to receive it. Or perhaps it’s a byproduct of parents not teaching common courtesy and the value of thanking someone, or the fact that the preferred method of communicating today is via email or text. Perhaps it’s the lack of follow through from the hiring professionals, who now often don’t even send letters to unsuccessful candidates who were interviewed in person. I honestly don’t know. You would think that in a social media world, where personal connection is paramount, job candidates and HR professionals would recognize the importance of the thank you letter – from both sides.

From the war stories swapped by job seekers, it’s common knowledge that employers today treat prospects–experienced and entry-level – much differently than they did even just a few years ago. It’s been an employers’ market for three years now, but that’s no excuse for treating job applicants like dirt just because they can get away with it. What is the job hunters’ recourse? Nothing at all. They can’t even vent to fellow job seekers on their social media networks, because prospective employers sniff around online looking for any hint of dirt on employees that could disqualify them. It’s a no-win situation for the job seeker. Responses to Anne’s post – including mine – shared horror tales of day-long interviews, multiple interviews, that ended in dead silence, with no response from the prospective employer.

Many of the responses agreed that while most students today have a long way to go in developing their professional interpersonal and social skills, employers need to remember that’s a door that swings both ways. Several of us mentioned firms that we will never allow to do business with us, because of the way we were treated as candidates by those firms. And don’t think it’s just the firms – we still remember the names of the hiring managers and it won’t matter where they go – we WILL remember.

I suspect the current crop of college students have grown up without the grounding in common courtesy that many of us received as children. Even so, it should not be that difficult to say “thank you” to the person who interviewed. By the same logic, it should not be that difficult for the hiring manager to send a follow up letter to the unsuccessful candidates to at least let them know that the hiring process has been completed. As Anne pointed out, at the end of the day, those who demonstrate courtesy and graciousness – employees and employers alike – will stand out.

Clearly, thank you /acknowledgments are in order on both sides. So which has the greater impact: an e-mailed thank you note or the traditional mailed one? Or should the job seeker / hiring manager do both? Anne plans to write a follow up post on her blog – I can’t wait to read it.  E-mails are quicker and easier for the recipient to find, search, and file with previous correspondence, particularly if the hiring manager is heavily reliant on the Internet. Traditional mailed thank you notes are thought to be more personal. But is this still true? Which is the most appropriate?

What do you think?


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