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May 12, 2022

Interview Thank You Emails: How Much Weight Should They Really Carry?

Hiring
An arm reaching out of a computer, waving

Picture the scene: You’ve just interviewed a series of stellar candidates, and you’re trying to decide which one to hire. Suddenly, your inbox flashes and in comes an interview thank you email from one of your top candidates.

Impressive, right?

For better or worse, sending a ‘thank you’ email is often the tipping point for candidate success. But with 80% of hiring managers confirming they take post-interview thank you emails into account, and only 24% of candidates actually sending them — that’s a whole lot of talent that could be getting an unfair shake.

So, as an HR pro focused on inclusion, should you let the thank you email sway your decision?

It’s a sticky topic, so we went to the experts to find out. Today, we’ll take a closer look at whether hiring managers should take post-interview thank you emails into account, or leave that fuzzy feeling in your inbox.

The tl;dr: Are thank you emails necessary?

  • “Hiring managers don’t always know how to respond”
  • “The thank you letter alone won’t lead to an epiphany”
  • “Weak managers could take interview thank you emails as a challenge”
  • “Hiring decisions should never be based on one factor”
  • “The importance of thank you emails depends on the role”
  • “Candidates get an extra point for sending a thank you note”
  • “Thank you notes are lovely to receive, but not a necessity”
  • “They aren’t a deal breaker, but they can be a differentiator”
  • “Thank you emails are a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have”
  • “Hiring managers need to send thank you notes too”
  • Interview thank you emails: The results

“Hiring managers don’t always know how to respond” 

As founder of The Sourcing Institute Foundation and an expert on engaging hard-to-find talent, there’s a reason Shally Steckerl has been dubbed ‘The Godfather of Sourcing’.

So, when we asked him whether the post-interview thank you email could ever be a deal-breaker for candidates, he jumped straight to it: 

“No way!” 

The way Shally sees it, it’s not a given that busy hiring managers will respond well to these emails.

“Often hiring managers are flustered and uncertain how to respond to thank you emails, and some are even irritated that the candidate has their email address,” he says.

So, if interview thank you emails aren’t always the way to go, how can recruiters spot those all-important soft skills?

“They should look at the candidate’s treatment of the recruiter and their comportment with other members of the hiring team,” says Shally.

“The thank you letter alone won’t lead to an epiphany”

As President of Reimagine Organization Development, and founder of Executive Women of Command, Tanjia Coleman’s resume is beyond impressive.

So, it’s no wonder Tanjia focuses on future practices instead of getting stuck in HR days gone past.

“Thank you notes never overshadowed the information I accessed from the phone screen or interview. These overly time-consuming, antiquated practices and the ‘way-we’ve-always-done-business’ processes should continue to evolve to keep pace with business practices,” says Tanjia.

For Tanjia, human-first hiring means HR pros should focus more on considerate actions over high expectations.

“In our current climate, individuals are responsible for so much in both their personal and professional lives that I’d never expect someone to take even more time to write a thank you letter 24 hours after an interview, it’s simply not considerate. We have to infuse the ‘human’ back into the various ‘human relations’ processes,” she says.

“What some hiring managers don’t realize is that if they’re not clear about some elements of the interview, the thank you letter alone won’t lead to an epiphany.”

— Tanjia Coleman, President, Reimagine Organization Development 

Here are some top tips from Tanjia.

For Hiring Managers and TA teams:

  • Make candidates aware that thank you letters/emails are not expected after an interview or phone interview and will have no bearing on the actual hiring decision.
  • If you’re inclined to have candidates write these letters, have the courtesy to respond, and inform everyone on the interviewing slate that the expectation is for them to respond as well.

For candidates:

  • Write a (one-page max) cold email thank you letter that succinctly highlights discussions during the interview.
  • Include “thanks” or “thank you” in the subject line to increase the chances of your interviewee actually opening your email.
  • Mention any nuanced conversations you had with the interviewee – upcoming vacations or courses, for example. Also feel free to reference information gathered from a previous email exchange.
  • Ensure there are no grammatical errors and that your contact information is accurate (and that it’s addressed to the correct person and organization).
  • Include call to action links to publications or podcasts, if it’s relevant to the position you’re seeking. If you’re feeling bold, suggest a next time to meet. 

How Tanjia identifies soft skills beyond the interview thank you email  

“If hiring managers don’t look at or accept thank you emails, here’s how they could analyze soft skills:

  • Look for development of thought. Can they explain a project they’ve worked on from ideation through execution?
  • Access the candidate’s ability to shift quickly based upon both internal and external events. How does the candidate adapt to these changes?
  • Gauge the candidate’s level of excitement about the organization and/or the position,” explains Tanjia. 

“Weak managers could take interview thank you emails as a challenge”

As a straight-talking podcast host and one of our all-time fave HR bloggers, Tim Sackett is a recruiter who can dance. And when it comes to post-interview thank you letters, he’s got a few thoughts you won’t want to miss. 

“Not sending a post-interview thank you email is never a deal-breaker. Honestly, it's probably 50/50 (depending on the position) on whether you actually receive one or not,” he says. 

Here are Tim’s best tips for what the ultimate thank you letter should look like:

  • “The key to great post-interview communication is personalization and being genuine. If it looks and sounds like a form letter, you might as well skip it!
  • Make sure candidates show desire and provide additional information, without sounding desperate.
  • It’s awesome when candidates offer up some advice in a positive way, like, ‘I really enjoyed learning about the company and your interview style, but I thought it was a bit awkward to take an assessment for an hour, then sit and talk, I would have preferred that afterward.’ While it goes against conventional wisdom to be critical, leaders should see this as next-level caring and engagement. This person cares enough about me, this job and our company to already try and help us get better,” says Tim. 

But as Tim puts it: there is a risk.

“Weak managers could take this as a challenge,” he says.

How Tim identifies soft skills beyond the interview thank you email  

“The reality is you find out someone's soft skills the more time you spend with them. Managers should be willing, especially in low-volume hard-to-fill roles, to take more time in interviewing,” says Tim.

But with so many hiring tasks to manage, how does that look in practice?

“I love an interview process where the candidate meets with many people, and the manager touches base after each one for a few minutes to ask a new question. The candidate becomes more comfortable after each interview and begins to open up each time the manager steps back in for ‘small talk’. This is when the manager begins to see who they really are,” he explains. 

“Hiring decisions should never be based on one factor”

Talent pro and Founder of Double M Training & Consulting Dr. Melanie Peacock believes interview thank you emails are great — but they should never be a deal breaker.

“Post-interview thank you emails show a candidate has good manners, but they shouldn't be a deal breaker. As with all strategic recruitment and selection practices, decisions should never be based on one factor. There are a myriad of reasons why a candidate may not send a follow-up email, so to make a hiring decision based solely on this is ill-advised,” says Melanie.

How Melanie identifies soft skills beyond the interview thank you email

“The best assessment of a candidate's soft skills occurs through carefully crafted, job-related interview questions around experiences within teams, conflict resolution, and delivering exceptional customer service,” she explains. 

But it’s not just the questions themselves that count.

“Behavior during the interview can also signal these competencies. Did they arrive on time? Did they maintain appropriate eye contact? Did they verbally thank the interviews at the conclusion of the meeting? These are other ways to gauge soft skills in lieu of a post-interview email.” 

“The importance of thank you emails depends on the role”

Jonah Phillips has one of those resumes that makes you sit up and pay attention. As a super skilled program developer, he’s created hit programs like My Word Search, Crossword Hobbyist, and most recently My Worksheet Maker.

Despite not coming from a strictly HR background, Jonah is one of those folks who can try his hand at anything and succeed — and his awesome track-record proves his hiring clout.

Here’s what Jonah thinks of the interview thank you email:

“It totally depends on the role we’re hiring for. For customer-facing roles, being able to convey positivity and enthusiasm is essential. We’ll look closely at thank-you notes, cover letters, responses to any written questions, and even the emails sent to schedule an interview. If a candidate doesn’t seem like a great person to work with in their written communication, they’ll have a hard time getting customers excited about working with our company,” says Jonah.

But that’s not always the case.

“For internal roles, the criteria are different. We hire a bunch of programmers, and being a great writer just isn’t essential to being a great programmer. For a programmer, a lot of soft skills are trainable if the employee is a good fit,” he says. 

“If a candidate doesn’t seem like a great person to work with in their written communication, they’ll have a hard time getting customers excited about working with our company.”

— Jonah Phillips, Founder & Owner of Crossword Hobbyist, My Word Search and My Worksheet Maker

How Jonah identifies soft skills beyond the interview thank you email  

“The most important question we ask is ‘Why do you want to work with us instead of all the other companies out there?’ We want to make sure our employees are excited, challenged, and fulfilled by the work, and don’t see it as just a means to a paycheck. If people love their work, they’ll make the effort to do everything they need from a ‘soft skills’ perspective to be able to thrive,” says Jonah.

“Candidates get an extra point for sending a thank you note”

Known as the ‘mad scientist of online recruiting’, Chris Russell is one of the most tech-savvy recruiters on the planet — and he sure knows a thing or two about great interview feedback.

Here’s what the Managing Director at RecTech Media has to say about the interview thank you email:

“I always appreciated a thank you email from a candidate after the in-person interview. It shows they’re professional and interested in the position. Is it a deal breaker? No. But those that do it get an extra point for doing so,” says Chris.

How Chris identifies soft skills beyond the interview thank you email  

“Communication skills are important, so I like to see how they articulate what their skill set is. That could come in written or verbal form,” explains Chris.

“Thank you notes are lovely to receive, but not a necessity”

Laura Mazzullo, owner of New York based HR boutique, East Side Staffing, is an HR powerhouse who knows great interviews. 

When it comes to the interview thank you email, she believes they’re a little out-of-date.

“These days, we need to think about the purpose of thank you notes and why we send them,” says Laura. 

To really promote inclusion in the workplace between team members, Laura believes the way we use thank you emails needs to change. 

“Thank you emails can seem odd in the current market as the power dynamic has shifted, where employers and job-seekers are now equals in the process — both parties being discerning and evaluating each other based on their future goals. If a hiring manager believes in expressing gratitude, they should send candidates a thank you note expressing gratitude for their time,” says Laura.

Ultimately, she believes there’s a time and a place for interview thank you emails.

“I believe in only sending interview thank you emails when a candidate is very interested in an opportunity. Without that interest, it can come across as disingenuous. If thank you notes have errors — grammatically, wrong names/company/templates, or just come across as very pushy, salesy, or use it as an opportunity to further sell their candidacy — most hiring managers find it off-putting,” she says.

The way Laura sees it, writing a thank you email just isn't always necessary.

“Some hiring managers want to see if the candidate is interested in the opportunity. But that should be up to the recruitment partners to ask and convey to the hiring manager. A thank you note is lovely to receive, but not a necessity,” she says.

“It’s old-school to assume a candidate owes you a thank you note, and to judge accordingly. In modern hiring, there is equity in the process.”

— Laura Mazzullo, Owner, East Side Staffing

How Laura identifies soft skills beyond the interview thank you email 

“We shouldn’t think of them as soft skills — they’re the hardest skills to practice and develop! If a manager does competency-based interviewing (and they should be!) then they’d weave cultural contribution skills into their interview process, which would mean the interview is where the evaluation happens. A thank you note being used as a candidate evaluation tool seems like a trap, not what a thank you note is supposed to be — an expression of gratitude,” says Laura.

“They aren’t a deal breaker, but they can be a differentiator”

If you’ve been in the HR space long term, you know Jennifer McClure. 

As President at Unbridled Talent, Jennifer has spoken at over 175 industry events, including training Fortune 100 clients. 💪🏼

So, what does she think of the thank you email?

“While it's nice to get a post-interview thank you email from a candidate, it shouldn't be a deal breaker. Our job as recruiters or hiring managers is to hire based on skills and qualifications. So, unless thoughtfulness is a BFOQ, it shouldn't be used as a qualifier/disqualifier,” says Jennifer.

But even so, she still believes thank you notes have a role to play.

“That said, I've always told candidates that sending a thank you note can be a real differentiator. When multiple candidates are qualified, we tend to hire those that made the best impression. Unfortunately, not many candidates follow up with a quick note of thanks, so writing one can add a little oomph,” says Jennifer.

How Jennifer identifies soft skills beyond the interview thank you email  

“There are plenty of personality tests for hiring that address soft skills, and a post-interview thank you note isn't one of them. It's best to utilize validated assessments, so all candidates are considered based upon the same data set. Good interview questions, particularly behavioral interview questions, are also a great way to evaluate soft skills related to communication, critical thinking and problem-solving,” says Jennifer.

“Thank you emails are a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have”

Kyle Maltz, COO and Partner at Dollar Flight Club, is one of those must-know HR pros who’s cracked the secret of how to  maximize candidate experience with minimum effort.

And in typical Kyle fashion, he believes interview emails are only ever necessary if they have a clear purpose.

“Do thank you emails matter? Yes… to a degree. They’re not a deal breaker — but these days, I would say it's more uncommon not to see it than to see it,” he says.

So, how much do they matter?

“Thank you emails are a nice-to-have but they're not a need-to-have. That said, these days it's so easy to find great job opportunities, so there’s been a massive increase in the volume of qualified candidates for roles,” explains Kyle.

And with great candidates comes great competition.

“With the increased competition, it's all about standing out from the crowd and getting noticed if all things (qualifications) are equal, the loudest bird gets the worm,” he says.

How Kyle identifies soft skills beyond the interview thank you email   

“Post interview soft skills are great, but what's more impressive is candidates finding my email prior to interviewing, introducing themselves and asking questions about the role or company — it's an instant way to beat out 99% of the applicants for a deeper evaluation of their candidacy and, in turn, get one step closer to an interview and opportunity to send that post-interview thank you letter.”

“Hiring managers need to send thank you notes too”

Jessica Miller-Merrell’s resume reads like an HR how-to: Founder of Workology, workplace change agent, author, consultant, global speaker, podcast host — oh, and did we mention she’s recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer?

Just that then. 😅 

When we asked Jessica whether interview thank you emails are a deal breaker, here’s what she said:

“A thank you email from the candidate is just good etiquette, and it can be helpful for HR to see they have good listening skills and can reference specific bits of information from the interview,” says Jennifer. 

But for this HR pro, flipping the script to get hiring managers to send thank you notes is just as important.

“On the flipside, hiring managers need to send thank you notes too. Candidate experience is crucial for employers, and that means letting candidates know where they stand at each stage of the hiring process. With modern ATSs, these emails can even be automated, customized and personalized. There’s no excuse for ‘ghosting’ candidates,” she says.

How Jessica identifies soft skills beyond the interview thank you email  

“During the interview, look for cues that the candidate is actively listening and engaged. Do they ask appropriate questions? Do they ask about company culture? Using the end of your interview time to open it up for your candidates to ask these questions can give you a lot of insight into soft skills,” says Jessica.

Interview thank you emails: The verdict is in

Interview thank you emails are an age-old tradition that don’t always fit into modern hiring.

Most HR pros agree they have a time and a place, but they should never be the final marker for a hiring decision. These days, the most important thank you email is from recruiter to candidate, and with the right applicant tracking system, sending consistent thank you emails to candidates is simple.

So, next time you’re faced with a difficult hiring decision, focus on merits over mail. 👌🏻