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Friday, October 14, 2005

Thank you notes - - - in a different context

Many of you will be going on your job interviews soon.  And it is reasonable for you to ask whether thank-you notes are appropriate.  Putting the Harriet-related and Dave Hoffman- related perspectives on thank-you notes to one side, I will just note here that I would find it vaguely rude for a candidate not to send me a quick thank-you note after an interview (3-4 sentences at most).  It is exceptionally easy to do in a world of e-mail--and I was just raised to say thank you in these contexts.  I admit that others might feel differently (particularly people that get hundreds of e-mails a day).  More, I do think I would find hand-written notes (or annoyingly gushy ones) obsequieous.  So, in short, there is probably a fair bit of disagreement among interviewers about whether they want thanks and how they want that thanks to look.  But I still think there is a right and effective way to do it--and candidates should try to strike the right balance.

If you disagree, feel free to enlighten candidates on your views in the comments.

Posted by Ethan Leib on October 14, 2005 at 04:46 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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After reading this debate on the nature and the utility of thank you notes, I bring forward my own thoughts on the matter. I am no lawyer, not even a student. I am merely a man.

Forgive me if my mastery of the English language is riddled in mistakes, but I don't hide behind a spell-check. I am Human and proud.

The whole concept of thank you notes and the disgusting rituals behind the very act of a job search, only belies the egotistical nature of employers, and the middle-men who have made a market of off an artificial climate; The whole "job-search" industry.

We are all reduced at doing efforts towards the act of gaining employement, and yet, here we are putting more effort than it is worth. In the end, we are all numbers to them.

I laugh when I hear "Employers do read them". Really? Name one. Think about it, on what do they base themselves to tell us that? All I ever heard from it, is anecdoctal evidence.

In other words, no proof. Next time you hear some career agency jockey tosses you that line, ask them to provide evidence. Watch how fast they sputter. They don't know!! They are just fed the propaganda and believe it as gospel.

It's a freaking joke. Already having to put up with the stresses of modern life is a pain, must they make it worse by ripping to shreds what may be left of Human dignity?

And before one of you uses that line "If I were an employer I wouldn't hire you..." Remember this one...

...Maybe I don't want to work for someone like that!!


Posted by: Th3_W01F | Apr 14, 2008 8:58:47 PM

Of COURSE you should write a thank you letter! I can't believe this is even being debated. First of all, as mentioned above, it is the POLITE and PROFESSIONAL thing to do. In our profession, your reputation is your primary asset and you should take any opportunity you have to strengthen your reputation. Inside, everyone wants to be appreciated and writing a thank you letter communicates to the interviewer (who you will no doubt encounter again in your career, whether or not you are hired) that you appreciate him or her taking the time to meet with you and for considering you for a position. Plus, a thank you letter is the perfect opportunity to tell the interviewer anything you may have forgot to tell him or her during the interview and to reiterate your excitement about the position. Employers want to know that you are excited to work for them! A thank you letter will never hurt your chances of getting a job unless you have poor grammar and/or spelling in it, which proves you really do not want the job if you are not willing to take the time to have others go over the letter with you. Plus, if you are not hired, at least you will be able to look back and know that you did everything you could to get the job. So everyone, PLEASE WRITE THANK YOU LETTERS. We need more kind and considerate attorneys in this world!

Posted by: Nicole | Nov 9, 2006 3:09:53 AM

What idiot would not write a thank you note ("Note")?

First, the Note shows that the candidate is aware of basic corporate decorum and civility.

Second, the employer is usually in a position of strength, therefore, must be cuddled.

Last, qualified candidates are often a dime a dozen or at least out number the available positions. Consequently, a candiate owes the organization/interviewer some expression of gratitude simply for the interview.



Posted by: Wisdom | Feb 27, 2006 3:55:46 PM

Please don't send me a thank you note.

At the conference, a teaching candidate (who is in the "hirable" range) will have 10-25 interviews, meeting somewhere between 20 and 80 professors. On a call-back, a candidate meets 20-40 professors at each school. That's too much writing, too much paper, too much insubstantial e-mail in this spam-filled world.

Sending a thank you note to only the head of the hiring committee would reduce the workload, but it may not have been the chair's decision to get you an interview (so you may be thanking someone who opposed interviewing you!).

I would only write notes to people who you vibed with on a substative, scholarly level. E.g., if you're a "antitrust in China" scholar and you meet the leading "antitrust in China" scholar at an interview, and want to start to build a relationship not to get a job but to have a mentor down the line, sending a thoughtful, detailed note making references to particular substantive aspects of your conversation with that person might make sense (and be appreciated).

Posted by: Geoff Rapp | Oct 17, 2005 10:58:34 AM

I second Christine's comment. If you have genuine reason to feel gratitude to a particular person (she gave you extra time, lent you her sweater, whatever) then by all means send a personal note. But sending form thank-yous to people who did not go out of their way just makes you look obsequious.

As for rejection letters FROM committees: that's a different story. I agree, lack of even a polite form rejection letter is outrageously rude. I accepted a job offer from the school I'm at now because they were thoughtful and transparent every step of the way, unlike many other schools. I correctly deduced that this considerateness to a lowly job candidate reflected a faculty with a lot of nice, community-minded people. I withdrew at several "better" schools where committees seemed discourteous: not letting me know what was going on, inviting me for job talks then being completely silent for two months, etc. At one school, when I emailed to withdraw, I got a stunned reaction from the committee chair, who said he'd been about to call me to convey an offer. I said it was too late, as I'd accepted another offer already. I doubt he ever realized how much his generally rude attitude throughout the process contributed to my lack of interest in sticking it out-- from day one, he acted like he was doing me a big favor to even consider me. I'd almost certainly have taken the offer from his school over the offer I did take had he been less rude.

Moral of the story, hiring committees? Be considerate to all job candidates. Put yourself in their shoes and don't play games or string them along. Some won't notice-- but others will, and you risk losing people you may not want to lose. Concretely, this means, at a bare minimum, that communicating every month or so is necessary, even if just to say, "I apologize, but I can't give you any new information yet."

Posted by: lawprof | Oct 16, 2005 7:05:04 PM

I don't think thank you notes are necessary. They are typically nonsubstantive and a waste of everyone's time ("Thank you for meeting with me last Monday. I enjoyed very much seeing the campus and meeting the faculty. Everyone was very engaging, and the comments on my paper were very helpful. Again, thanks for the opportunity to know more about your school.") If you genuinely wanted to follow-up on a conversation, then follow-up through email or phone. Written notes are just a pain for everyone, and cause me the psychological pain of throwing something so personal away (Should I keep this nice note? Where would I keep it?)
But, above all, do not type out one thank-you email and then cut and paste it to every person you saw at a school. These emails are generally forwarded, and then everyone sees your expedient nature!

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Oct 16, 2005 4:43:00 PM

When I interviewed for administrative jobs at universities, I was initially amazed that I never, ever got a rejection letter. I would just drop off their radar - or so it seemed, as months passed and I never heard a word.

If thank you letters are polite, why aren't rejection letters considered at least a considerate last step? How hard is it to say "sorry, but thanks"?

My academic friends tell me it's too much of a chore to write rejection letters to all applicants. But why not at least to those who interview on campus?

If Our Society is right, I think civility should be, at least, a two-way street.

Posted by: savitri | Oct 16, 2005 4:32:43 PM

Our Society, I have some sympathy for your point of view, but the problem with norms of civility is that they are constantly in flux. Does this mean people now are "ruder" than they used to be? Only in the sense that people have been getting more rude for the past several hundred years. It's also worth remembering that our intuitions about how civility norms have changed tend to draw on historical examples based on the experiences of the upper social strata of society; I don't think too many average Americans were sending thank-you notes a hundred years ago, either, even if it was commonplace among 1905 lawyers. That's not to refute the importance of civility norms, however, since they have always been somewhat more aspirational than descriptive. See Karen Haltunnen, Confidence-Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1982). In any event, I certainly see nothing wrong with debating the issue.

Posted by: Bruce | Oct 16, 2005 1:24:29 PM

The fact that very smart people are debating whether to write thank you
notes seems to support the recent study about the lack of civility in our society. See "Are Americans Ruder Than They Used To Be?" at

It's also interesting to see most of the discussion focusing on what a
"thank you" letter can do FOR THE WRITER. This only seems to reaffirm the self-centered nature of our society. Please remember folks -- some deeds are done without any expectation of personal reward. Everything is not about us, individually. We should not write thank you letters because it might benefit us in some way. Thank you letters are not designed to benefit THE WRITER. This whole thread is so, so sad!


Posted by: Our Society | Oct 15, 2005 9:01:33 PM

I used to interview interns for my judge. One candidate, whom we were strongly considering for a summer internship, sent a thank you email that was riddled with spelling errors -- and it was only 3 lines. It left a poor impression -- and cost the candidate the internship. When my judge saw the note he said that it was a sign of poor judgment.

On the other hand, I am interviewing for law teaching jobs and always send a brief, error-free, typed note thanking the committee for taking the time to see me.

Posted by: Meh | Oct 15, 2005 6:51:40 PM

Back when I was a student at law school, they held an event where they had interviewers from a few major firms come in and answer questions. The thank you note question came up, and the *universal* answer was, no, don't send one.

Each said that a thank you note can only harm a student's chances of landing a job. If the interviewer didn't like the candidate, a note won't change their mind. But several times they've received a thank you note taht seemed unprofessional (e.g., because it had a smiley face at the bottom), and decided not to give a callback on that basis alone.

On the flipside, most people don't send thank you notes. So if the interviewer liked the student, and he/she didn't send a thank you note, no real harm would be done.

Posted by: Cyrus | Oct 15, 2005 3:41:17 PM

Back when I was at a firm, I got a lot of thank-you notes from interviewees, although not everyone sent them and I did not keep track of who sent them and who didn't. It never directly entered into my assessment of the candidate, but on the other hand, I did view them somewhat favorably. I basically agree with Tim's comment -- if you don't feel like sending them, don't force yourself.

Posted by: Bruce | Oct 15, 2005 12:12:07 PM

There's another aspect to the dynamic. I tend to send thank you notes as a matter of course, typically by e-mail. I do it because it seems like the right thing to do; I've never had my conclusions about a candidate changed by a thank you note, and I don't expect that I'm going to further my candidacy by sending one. But I've noticed as well that if you get a response to your thank you, it's a pretty good (though hardly infallible) sign that you're "in the running" for whatever it is you're applying for. People just aren't inclined to get into a dialogue with someone they know they're about to reject.

Posted by: That One Guy | Oct 15, 2005 12:02:58 PM

I'm the chair of our school's appointments committee, and I wouldn't be the least bit troubled by not getting a thank you note. Such notes, it seems to me, are more appropriate when the thankee has gone out of his/her way to do some favor to the thanker, and I don't see job interviews that way.

Perhaps sometimes a post-interview note might be used to indicate that the candidate was truly enthused about the potential employer in the sense that this could signal that the candidate would accept if given an offer. That could be an "at the margins" plus for some candidates at some schools (or firms) in some situations. But it would be improper to signal that if you didn't mean it. And I suppose the "gee, lots of other potential employers are looking at me too ..." impression could work too.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Oct 15, 2005 11:49:11 AM

I'd say to students, if it makes you feel good, or it corresponds with your ideas of proper behavior, go for it.

But to say it is necessary or the etiquette is just wrong.

Posted by: Tim Wu | Oct 15, 2005 12:19:46 AM

As a student in the midst of interviews and a person who was raised to send thank you notes any time I received a gift or a nice deed, I don't think there should be any question about sending thank you letters. True, it probably won't help you get an instant job, but it may help you out in the future.
Case in point, a student at my law school wrote a thank you letter after his interview, but did not get a call-back. Months later, when the firm's first choice fell through, the firm went back through their files to look for a replacement and the student who got the job got his call-back because he was the only person to write a thank you note after his initial interview.
I suppose a badly worded letter could be detrimental, but I don't know anyone who is actually getting interviews who can't write.
Furthermore, so what if a thank you note doesn't change the interviewer's mind about you- it's just a matter of professionalism and common courtesy.
Also, speaking as a former college recruiter and interviewer, a thank you note from a student I interviewed ALWAYS went into their file and went a long way in boosting my impression of them.

Posted by: Alison | Oct 14, 2005 9:50:51 PM

No no no no no no no! Look, as a law professor I don't know what kind of interviews you give in that capacity, but I can almost categorically state that thank you notes, whether via email or regular mail, are both absolutely unnecessary and can only do a candidate harm for firm interviews.

First of all they are not likely to reach an interviewer before he/she sends in an evaluation (obviously this is more applicable to regular mail than email). From my experience evaluations of candidates are done the same day as an interview, sometimes right after, and any thank you note will come after the evaluation has been submitted.

Second, is someone who got a bad impression of you in an interview really going to change his/her mind because you sent a thank you note? Conversely, I doubt someone who didn't get a thank you note will take the time to call up the recruiting coordinator to bad mouth you for it.

OTOH, you can only harm yourself by sending a poorly worded or inappropriate thank you note after the fact.

Finally, practicing attorneys are very busy as a general rule, and it's best not to annoy them with an additional piece of correspondence.

The only caveat I would add is that if someone clearly bent over backward in getting you an interview (or advocating for you in some way), then a thank you would be appropriate.

Posted by: Ugh | Oct 14, 2005 6:24:39 PM

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