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Feeling like a Stranger in a Strange IT Land

In today’s tough economic times, new blog posts with career advice seem to be a daily delivery in my email inbox. While browsing another tech web site, I happened to run across an older post with tips for those interviewing for jobs. I thought the tips were all sensible and  helpful, especially for anyone new to the job market or out of practice after a long tenure on their most recent job. What amazed me was the discussion of the last suggestion, which was to remember to send thank-you notes after the interview.

To say that the comments shocked me would be an understatement. The responses to that suggestion ranged from dismissals of thank-you notes as unnecessary, silly, and irrelevant. One poster even opined that thank-you notes for job interviews are creepy and border on stalking.

As some readers know, I have lived my adult life south of the Mason-Dixon line, a region of the US where children are still raised to say “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Sir” to their elders, drop-in visitors are welcomed in for a glass of sweet tea and admonished “Now don’t be such a stranger!” when they depart. In this perhaps quaint land of hospitality, my observation is that thank you notes are still commonplace and expected, at least in the circles in which I travel.

So I asked some of my work colleagues what they thought about sending thank-you notes after job interviews. The responses I got were varied:

It’s a “girl thing”; sons may need extra reminding to send notes of appreciation, but daughters tend to remember their mother’s advice.

It’s a generational thing; younger people tend to put less emphasis on what they see as old-fashioned social niceties.

It’s an IT thing; geeks value logic and direct payoffs, and they do not see the logic in thanking someone for a mutually beneficial transaction which has not even yet paid off.

All I can say to all of that is that demonstrating courtesy may be the one thing that differentiates one prospective employee from another, and while interviewing for an IT position, it is not unheard of that people from the business side may also participate in the interviews. Maybe this is another one of those geeks-versus-suits things, but I think that the advice to follow up with hand-written notes is still good, even for IT professionals who spend the majority of the day in virtual worlds.

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  • “Am I hopelessly old-fashioned, showing my business-side roots, a hold-over from long-gone days of the genteel South?”

    I say yes (Ma’m). Though someone using more than three phrases in one sentence to describe oneself is not one to be trifled with.

    • Yes – to which? All of the above? Perhaps so. “Not one to be trifled with?” Goodness, Ajay, I’ll take that as a compliment of the highest order!
      Thanks for getting the discussion going. I hope to see a lively debate, but perhaps I am a lone holdout. Let’s see what follows.


      • Hi Gretchen,

        Thanks you notes I think are a nice touch and I am one of the culprits that doesn’t write them as often as I should.

        It has old school, but good old school written all over it. Especially if the hiring is for a position where very thorough work is needed, the person with the thank-you card proofs that he/she is dotting the is and crossing the ts.

        All the best, Mark.

  • When I am the interviewer, I do not expect a thankyou note, and I have not been consistent in sending thank you notes in all my past jobs – I have emailed a quick thanks couple of times, and not at other times. This has not prevented me in any way from getting the jobs I applied for.

    This is not to say that I am rude – quite the opposite, I do say please and thanks all the time, and hold the door for the guy (or gal) behind me. However, I don’t take offense when some one doesn’t return that favor to me.

    I don’t consider thank you notes as stalking at all – but unless they are short and to the point, they might make it look as if you are trying too hard.

    As long as you are pleasant and polite in the interview itself, I personally don’t think thank you notes matter much.

  • Hi Gretchen,
    After a good first contact (be it a job interview in person or even a serious phone interview with a headhunter), a brief e-mail note saying thank you for the good conversation is in place. Other follow-up notes after subsequent contacts are also appropriate. These are not only polite and friendly, but also useful because you can confirm anything that was agreed upon in the conversation.
    However, I would consider a hand-written note too private for a business environment unless the contact is very good, or the interview took place in a semi-private setting (say, a relaxed dinner) or unless you’re expecting a very intense work relationship as equals (e.g. if you might become a partner in an enterprise).
    In most other scenarios, I would feel a bit awkward receiving a hand-written thank-you note. It would feel to me as if the sender were trying to extend to the relationship to a level where it doesn’t belong.
    By the way, I think the polite follow-up depends strongly on the cultural background of the interview partners. If I applied for a job and my interview partner or their company had a different cultural background from mine (I’m from Germany), I would try to find out what is appropriate in their culture, and choose an approach that is distinctly polite, but not trying too hard.
  • I am really enjoying the comments and the various perspectives of yes, no, maybe, sometimes, and why. The subject of interviewing came up on NPR’s Morning Edition program today; they reported on a survey of employers and what was considered to be interview gaffes. The 1 minute 14 second recording is posted:
    Readers who have not yet weighed in, please do share your views. Thanks!