Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.
This week’s question is:
Classic interview advice is to send hand-written thank you cards after the interview. Is this actually good advice? What are your recommendations for post-interview etiquette in regards to thank you notes, follow ups via phone/email, providing additional information, etc.? Bonus question: Do you have examples, either from your own interview history or from candidates you have worked with, where conduct after the interview has influenced the hiring decision?
Amy Tureen (she/her/hers), Head, Library Liaison Program, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas: I believe sending thank you notes following an interview is a good practice, but not a requirement. A handwritten note is always nice and will be received with pleasure, but an email thank you will be remembered just as fondly as well. Given recent changes in mail processing speeds and depending on the recruitment schedule, it’s entirely possible a written thank you note will arrive well after a decision has been made, so the arrival or non-arrival of a card really should not have a role in the decision process. Some folks bring thank you notes, envelopes, and stamps with them to interview so they can drop their cards in the local mail system before they leave town. This is a good example of thinking ahead but, again, not required. Thank you notes (virtual or physical) generally only leave the impression that the candidate is polite and/or acculturated to white American corporate working norms. It is never a deciding factor in my experience. That being said, I have been told more than once by new employers that I was the only person who sent a thank you note (suggesting it is indeed noticed, even if it is not a deciding factor). I have also been on one search committee that was very excited to receive handmade, handwritten thank you cards incorporating art the candidate had made of the library following their visit. We were already excited about the candidate in question, but we were also pleased to see an example of the artistic skills and craftiness of the candidate who was, at that time, applying for a position which sought those specific skills.
Jaime Taylor, Discovery & Resource Management Systems Coordinator, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts: You probably should not be sending hand-written thank-you notes at this point! I certainly do not expect them, and I don’t think I’ve received any in the approximately five years I’ve been working on hiring. Current etiquette dictates that you could send an email thank you. For one thing, it will get to the people you are thanking much quicker and more reliably than snail mail. For another, the entire application and interview process up to that point has likely been paperless or near so – which would make email totally appropriate.
If you want to send a note, the details are not terribly important. You could send on email to the entire hiring committee, separate emails to each person, or an email to the chair of the committee asking to pass your regards to the committee. Keep it short and sweet – no more than a paragraph. Mention something that was discussed in the interview and your continued enthusiasm for the position or institution. If there’s additional material you’d like to send to the committee, you could say something like, “I’ve attached the slide deck I mentioned from my presentation last year/the article I wrote about the thing we discussed” and then include the file or a link to it. If you are going to send a note, send it within 48 hours of the interview.
That all said, receiving or not receiving a thank you note, email or otherwise, has no bearing on my hiring process. About half of the candidates I interview send them, possibly a little less, and I do not think it’s necessary. We evaluate candidates on their ability to do the job they are applying for, as laid out in the job description, and a thank you note has no bearing on that.
Larry Eames, Instruction Librarian, Kraemer Family Library, University of Colorado Colorado Springs: The advice to send a hand-written thank you note makes essentially zero sense in today’s day and age. I’ve never received one as a search committee member and I would never expect one. That said, I’m always chuffed to get a thank you email. It’s never consciously influenced my decision making—to me sending a thank you note is one of those corporate shibboleths that people may or may not have been taught and therefore shouldn’t be used to make actual choices—but it is a nice thing to do.
If you’re going to send one, I recommend tailoring it to the interview. The formula I use is “Thank you for taking the time to interview me [today/yesterday]. I particularly enjoyed hearing about [thing you talked about]. I would be excited to join your team for [reason]. Please let me know if I can provide any additional information or documents.” I’ve never been asked for additional information nor have I ever sent any, but I suppose the thank you note could be a chance to include a detail you forgot to mention or didn’t get a chance to mention in the interview.
Gemma Doyle, Collection Development Manager, EBSCO: Thank you notes can be such a divisive topic. I have worked with hiring managers who would automatically discard candidates who didn’t send them, which I think is a terrible practice. As a hiring manager, you want the best candidate for the job, not necessarily the one that sends the most effusive thank you note, or any thank you note at all, but the fact that some people take it so seriously means that candidates really do need to send them.
That being said, I would definitely encourage candidates to email instead of writing a handwritten thank you note. Email is more immediate and more likely to get to the hiring manager more quickly, and if you have any questions in your note, it’s so much easier for them to just hit reply and answer them. Hiring, at least in my experience, is a time-consuming process that I have to fit in at the edges of doing my actual day-to-day work, so anything you can do that makes things easier for me is appreciated. For that reason, a lot of post-interview follow up from candidates can be challenging. I always give candidates an idea of what the hiring timeline looks like, but things can happen on our side that stretch it out unexpectedly. Obviously, if you have questions or are missing information that I mentioned sending to you on anything you’d need to make a decision about the job, please follow up and ask for it. But I think a lot of advice out there tells candidates to follow up to keep themselves in the hiring manager’s mind, which is completely unnecessary. If we want to offer you a position, I promise we won’t forget about you!
Alison M. Armstrong, Collection Management Librarian, Radford University: Handwritten cards can be a way to set yourself apart from other candidates but the timing is a challenge with the speed of some hiring decisions (following in-person interviews, anyway, it can feel glacial during the process) and the pace of the postal service. I know some search committees schedule candidate interviews in quick succession and have a meeting to choose the candidate the day following the last interview. Short of handing the notes to them in person, they may not reach them until after a decision has been made.
Instead, or in addition, I recommend sending an email to the people you met during your interview as a way to ensure they receive it before a decision is made. I also recommend making it as personal as possible – something that tells them that you remember them and the interaction you had.
In terms of further communication, they will reach out to you if they need additional information. If you think the process is dragging and you haven’t heard anything for a while, there are multiple things that may be happening. More than likely, you have not been selected however, it is best to let the process play out since you never know. But, it may be time to move on to the next job opening.
If you interviewed, you should hear something in a reasonable amount of time but, as with all things human relations related, there are different perceptions about who can do what in which situation which means that the search committee members may not feel comfortable reaching out to candidates. This may mean you hear from them later than you would think reasonable.
Ellen Mehling, Job Search Advisor/Instructor and Brooklyn Public Library’s Job Information Resource Librarian: I recommend sending a thank you email, not a handwritten note. It should be short and sweet (one paragraph is fine) and personalized – if you were interviewed by a panel, send each person who interviewed you a separate message.
Strictly speaking the “thank you” is not required. The fact that you’re sending the thank you message is almost more important than its content. It shows courtesy and respect, and professionalism. It’s true that some interviewers don’t care about thank yous, but others do, and not sending one may be a point against you with them, so it is best to just send it.
You can and should mention something that came up during the interview, and you can give new information if you forgot to mention something you want the recipient(s) to know about, but understand that your chance at selling yourself was during the interview, so you shouldn’t think of the “thank you” as a way to share any substantial info about yourself. If the hiring manager / committee was not going to have you move forward in the hiring process after the interview, your thank you message is not likely to change their minds no matter what you write.
Most of the time when post-interview conduct affects a hiring decision is when the conduct is negative in some way – like aggressive, repeated follow-up or any other kind of pushy, entitled behavior. It is a good idea to ask at the end of the interview “What is the next step in the hiring process? What is the best way for me to follow up?” and then follow those instructions, or if you didn’t ask about that and received no info about when you would be hearing from the employer, I would follow up only once, maybe a week or two later, via email. After that you’ve done everything you could re: getting that job, and if you continue to contact the employer it will hurt your chances rather than help.
Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: I don’t ever remember being taught much about interviewing in any of my graduate school experiences. So the thing about writing a thank-you note wasn’t something I did at first. I’ll have to admit that I can take it or leave it. I understand that it is an opportunity for a candidate to acknowledge being grateful for the interview (which, in fact, they earned, it was not a gift). I have never viewed it as required. And these days I do not mind at all receiving an email expressing thanks which has happened. Would I change my opinion of a candidate if I did not receive a thank-you? I don’t think so.
I always want to conclude an interview by letting the candidate know the approximate timeline. Given that a search committee doesn’t always control all the moving pieces of a search, including making offers and negotiating, the timeline is always a bit uncertain. I would recommend that candidates not contact the search chair for follow-up unless (a) their situation has changed or they might not be reachable for a while), or (b) it is after the interval when the search chair indicated work would be ongoing. I would also recommend that a search chair reach out to candidates if there is going to be a delay that will affect all candidates.If, during the interview, something came up and a candidate feels the search committee would benefit from additional information then I think it’s fine for that person to reach out to the search chair (who can see that others receive it if relevant). It can get awkward if a candidate sends on unsolicited information which might lead to a chair needing to contact other candidates so there is consistency and equity. I don’t think this happens often but I strongly encourage erring on the side of not offering up unsolicited materials.
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Kathryn Levenson, Librarian, Piedmont High School: Thank you notes are something that I think many people feel are passé. I was raised to always write a paper thank you note. Lately, people seem just as happy to get a quick “Thank you for taking time to interview me” via email. I do think that it can be a way to get that last bit of marketing in. Maybe there was something short that the candidate did not get to say at the interview. So, maybe the candidates forgot to say. For example, responding to a question about resolving issues with a group of students, perhaps the candidate writes, “I forgot to say at the interview that I was a camp counselor for three summers with children from 8 to 12 years old. During that time, I was able to learn techniques from other counselors and to resolve some issues successfully on my own.”
So the short answer is that if I get a thank you note, I think, that was really nice, but it probably would not influence my hiring decision.
Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: Applicants can’t guarantee – in many organizations – and especially in today’s workplaces – if “handwritten notes” or any U.S. mail will come to them in a timely manner. Basically this is due to slow downs in postal deliveries (fewer staff) as well as fewer staff in organizations tasked with receiving and redistributing mail. Also – and hopefully this is temporary- hybrid schedules, all online interviews and reduced hours and closed locations means that a letter may sit somewhere that – prior to current times – received and processed information twice a day. In fact, I was part of an online discussion recently where several vendors were talking about their print/paper/mailout budget vs. their online advertising (look and technique) and what they were moving for marketing and advertising. The discussion was spot on in focusing on speed and avenues of distribution as well as “look” that is, did people want their online catalogs to “look” like their print/paper ones or not – as well as – librarians have marked up, annotated, posted notes and communicated through print/paper catalogs at work (round robin, posted information, etc.) for decades…so how do they highlight, annotate or mark up online publisher’s catalogs? or aggregator lists? or email announcements?
With that said, I will say don’t hand write a thank you but send follow up communication as such:
- Email to the chair and each committee member – or
- Email to the chair and ask them to distribute as they see fit – or
- Email to the Administrative Assistant in the process and ask them to distribute
- Create any of these emails as formal letters including content within the email
- Create a thank you note as an attachment and attach it to the email to any of the first three emails addressed first in this list
- You may want to correct something you may have said incorrectly in the interview (Ex – (I left out an example of education I would like to share in this follow up, etc.” or “I realize my resume reflects this while I share this….”)
- Consider expanding a question you might now feel you have more valuable information on after reflection or self assessment. (Ex – I indicated my proficiency level was intermediate but in reflection and realization that I have both in-depth education and experience, I know my level of expertise is advanced and I welcome the opportunity to discuss if that is needed. Also, I have attached the outcomes/summary of my most recent certification in this area as well.”)
- Send a second example of a product (They may have requested original work and you are now sending or linking them to additional original work or original instructional design AND content or pictures of you giving that program and the audience responding or even a video clip of you at work giving a book talk or storytime.”)
- Provide any information they asked for such as “timeline for starting the position” “willingness regarding salary discussion,” etc.
and – of course – the usual – “Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview.” but make it more robust …include:
- a reiteration of how much you want the position – or
- a reaffirmation of your fit for the organization – or
- your enthusiasm for a possible acceptance – or
Finally – am I aware of any minds being changed? Not specifically for the good, but interestingly, I have had people point out why they made the mistakes they made …or why they chose to emphasize this rather than that. This insight is good but hasn’t moved any “don’t hire” to the “hire list.”
We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or via impromptu web conference. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.