Professional Development

‘We’ve got to get over ourselves’: Debating the post-job interview thank you note

What could be controversial about saying thanks? Members of Technical.ly's Slack community talk about the power imbalances, gatekeeping and unpaid labor tied to the "unwritten rule" of job interviews.

Post-job interview thank you notes are nice, but should they be expected?

(Photo by Cottonbro on Pexels)

Thank you notes may still be a thing, but should they be?

Recently, Technical.ly offered some tips for jobseekers about sending a thank you note after an interview. We pondered whether sending one is truly still a necessary part of the job interview process, and essentially landed on “better safe than sorry.”

Then we posed a question to the Technical.ly public Slack: After a tech job interview, do you send a thank you email? If you’re involved with tech hiring, do you expect interviewees to send one?

Not surprisingly for a time where more than 80% of hiring managers say applicant thank you notes are obsolete, there were a lot of opinions.

Thank who?

First of all, sending a thank you email can be a challenge for tech interviews, in particular, where the interviewer may not tell the applicant their full name, let alone email address, one Slack user noted. They also suggested that if interviewers want a thank you note, the hiring manager should give applicants that information outright.

There’s always the option to send post-interview emails to the recruiting contact you do have, though it’s not a given the actual interviewer will see it.

“I’ve generally kept all communication directly with the HR/recruiting point of contact (but do send followup emails),” product manager Barry Wright said. “From the hiring manager side of things, those never get passed on to me from recruiting, so I’ve stopped caring/looking for it.”

Tempering expectations

Generally, our Slack commenters on the hiring end saw thank you emails as not compulsory, but potentially a good thing. Receiving such notes do sometimes color the manger’s view of an applicant, especially in communications-related roles.

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But few felt that there should be a full-on expectation of a thank you after an interview.

“As hiring managers, we’ve really got to get over ourselves,” technologist Len Damico said. “Expecting a thank you note is absolutely wild to me, given that we’re asking candidates to take time out of their busy schedules, possibly burning precious PTO or disrupting their current gigs in the process … with no real guarantee of return on investment. And let’s face it, we’re hiring because we believe their time is worth more to us than their salary/benefits, so … shouldn’t hiring managers be the ones to send thank you notes, if anyone?”

Expecting a thank you note may also give an advantage to applicants who have had more exposure to corporate culture.

“[There are] potential biases and gatekeeping aspects of disqualifying those who are early in their careers and/or don’t have appropriate mentors to advise them to send a note,” Damico added.

Addressing the power imbalance

Product designer Sujan Khadgi echoed a concern over hiring managers expecting thank you emails from applicants.

“It paints a picture that there is a power dynamic at play at this stage that they are not willing to acknowledge and more likely than not, is going to be the foundation of their relationship with their reports which to me, is a huge red flag,” Khadgi said. “An applicant is equally interviewing at as many places as applicants you are interviewing for a role you have open. Their time is equally valuable and if you don’t see that, perhaps it’s time to dismantle this practice.”

Senior frontend engineer MaiAda Carpano knows the game, and has also noticed an imbalance between what’s expected from an applicant and hiring manager. When applying for roles in the past and putting lots of effort into a personalized cover letter, she noted, sometimes she still wouldn’t receive even a reply letting her known she’d been rejected.

“It really blows my mind how often the hiring process totally disregards the amount of unpaid labor applicants are putting in,” Carpano wrote. “If those on the hiring side (who are getting PAID for that work) aren’t expected to put in the bare minimum of a form-letter rejection, I don’t see why the applicant should be held to a higher standard.”

Outdated or not, it’s still a thing

The once-mandatory post-interview thank you may, in fact, be antiquated — at least in the sometimes time-consuming way it’s done now, with personalized touches (so they know it’s not a cut and paste) and reiterating specific things you feel you can bring to this specific company.

“Painting with a broad brush, but these ‘unwritten rules’ are not strong signals and bias towards things which aren’t directly useful in the workplace,” Wright said. “See also cover letters, LinkedIn headlines, interview questions that are secretly meant to see if the candidate knows how to sell themselves, etc.”

Still, even some of the commenters critical of thank you notes admit that they send them themselves (“because there is a severe power imbalance and I need the damn job!”). There are always going to be other candidates that go all-out, and that extra touch will be noticed, even if it isn’t the deciding factor.

“I have sent handwritten thank-yous after every interview I’ve truly been interested in, and let me tell you, hiring managers notice it,” said a commenter named. “Better to do more than everyone else than less.”

“I think getting a thank you makes people feel good,” recruiter Mark Constan said. “If a candidate sends a thank you, [hiring managers] appreciate it. And also as a candidate, it feels good when someone from the company sends a note thanking you for YOUR time. Does this make any difference? I don’t know. But it’s nice, and it’s courteous. As a recruiter I have had hiring manager/clients tell me they were a little disappointed they didn’t get a thank you note. In a professional manner, I tell them to get over themselves. This isn’t the ’90s anymore. Just my opinion.”

Have your own thoughts to add to the conversation? Check out the thread in the Technical.ly Slack’s #general channel:

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