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The debate surrounding thank-you notes and cover letters

Changing norms relating to power dynamics cause some to question interview practices
The thank-you note is a powerful reminder of the applicant’s strengths and fit for the position. Shutterstock

By Brian Kreissl

There is a heated debate happening right now among workforce professionals and others regarding the merits of thank-you letters sent by candidates after an interview. To me, this is similar to the debate surrounding cover letters, which I will also explore.

Some commentators believe sending a thank-you note after an interview shows the candidate is interested in the job and the organization, and is a courtesy that should be shown to hiring managers and recruiters for taking time out of their busy schedules to interview the candidate.

However, others view such notes as unnecessary sucking up and a reflection of outdated attitudes that treat jobseekers as if they need to bow and scrape before employers in an attempt to get hired.

As I discussed last week, there is no doubt attitudes are rapidly shifting with respect to the power dynamics between candidates and employers. Prospective employers no longer hold all the cards and jobseekers are starting to realize they have a certain amount of power. In other words, it isn’t entirely one-sided in favour of the employer.

Some of that reflects real and perceived skills shortages and a tighter job market. Best practices regarding recruitment and selection are also shifting. For example, it is no longer considered to be a good idea to ask a job applicant for her salary history.

Rejecting candidates who don’t send a thank-you letter

Therefore, I can understand some of the controversy generated by a post on LinkedIn by a hiring manager saying she only hires candidates who send her a thank-you letter after their interview. Many people commented on that post, and while I understand being hostile to the idea of only hiring people who send a thank-you letter, some people were completely against the idea of sending the notes in the first place.

They believe sending a thank-you note is a contrived attempt to suck up, grovel and show submission to hiring managers. One of the arguments against thank-you letters is that rather than applicants thanking recruiters and hiring managers for their time, those folks should actually be thanking candidates for taking the time out of their busy schedules to attend the interview.

There are also arguments that the practice of sending the notes is specific to North America and not standard practice in other cultures.

While I would never advise a hiring manager to reject anyone who didn’t send a thank-you note after an interview, I believe these letters can be helpful to candidates. I see them as a way to stand out and show respect and interest in the company and the job.

The thank-you note is a powerful reminder of the applicant’s strengths and fit for the position and can also be a way of bringing up something the candidate forgot to mention during the interview. Behavioural interviewing in particular is difficult, and sometimes candidates aren’t able to think of specific examples at the time of the interview.

So, while I wouldn’t advise hiring managers to reject anyone who doesn’t send a thank-you letter, I personally would advise candidates to do so — particularly if they are really interested in the opportunity.

The debate surrounding cover letters

In many ways, this reminds me of the debate surrounding cover letters. Some hiring managers reject candidates who fail to include a cover letter with their resumés. They believe this shows a lack of genuine interest, courtesy and respect.

While I would advise applicants to submit a cover letter wherever possible, I wouldn’t recommend hiring managers or recruiters reject a candidate for failing to do so.

Applying for jobs these days is time-consuming. Because of the way applicant tracking systems are configured, people can spend up to about two hours applying for a job —never to hear back.

I have been a frustrated jobseeker who couldn’t get a phone call after submitting hundreds of job applications. I have also been a recruiter who had to screen hundreds of applicants for one position and often didn’t have time to read cover letters thoroughly, if at all.

Because of that, I view developments like the one-click job application on LinkedIn as a positive thing for candidates. Nevertheless, if the candidate’s fit isn’t immediately obvious from their profile a cover letter might be necessary.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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