To thank or not to thank – That is the question

As an executive search consultant, I spend the majority of my day talking to people. After conducting countless interviews, I’ve begun to notice how shockingly low the thank-you rate is. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so taken aback, as yes, I’ve actively approached these candidates and yes, many of them are senior level executives – but perhaps these are just excuses. In my opinion, the thank-you note is a much more powerful tool than candidates and recruiters give it credit for. 

The thank-you note comes in different shapes and forms, and is used for different intents and purposes. It could be a “thank you for interviewing me” or a “thank you for taking the time to meet me for coffee” or even a “thank you for reaching out to me”. It’s an expression of a positive emotion, and a very basic one at that. Please and thanks are some of the first things we are taught as children – their importance should not be forgotten even as we get older.

Recruiters – guilty as charged – are notoriously blamed for our lack of feedback and follow-up. Let’s take the example of a typical recruitment process. There is a candidate who is interested in a particular role; let’s call him Marc. I’ve been exchanging with Marc over the past couple of weeks – we’ve done the dance – he’s shared his CV, we’ve discussed the role, he’s expressed his interest, and now I’ve interviewed him. We both carry on about our regular days and in a few weeks time, when one of us needs something from the other (Marc would like an update on the process, I would like to give him more information about next steps etc.), we reach out. It’s all very transactional.

In a world where networking is so emphasized, it’s surprising how many candidates do not approach interviews with a networking mindset. No, I’m not encouraging more candidates to add us, headhunters, on LinkedIn to “keep them in mind for future opportunities”, but rather I’m encouraging them to transform the transactional into relational.

Let’s go back to Marc; little does Marc know, I’m talking to 10 other candidates with a similar profile to his who are also vying for this same job – often the case in today’s economy. Whether a candidate is dealing with a recruiter or a Hiring Manager directly, the onus is on the candidate to make the best impression he or she can. The candidate’s job is to convince the employer that he or she is the best person for this job. So why not pull out all the stops? Don’t get me wrong – a simple thank-you letter is not going to guarantee an interview or job offer, but it can’t hurt. And, a well worded note, well … that might just make a recruiter or hiring manager look twice. 

Perhaps the thank-you note, like the cover letter, has a reputation of being antiquated and obsolete. Let’s change this! Recruiters don’t need another fluffy “our discussion today made me so much more excited about this role” email; what they do need are cold, hard facts. “Thank you for your time; this opportunity is great; you want someone that can do abc? I’m the right person because I’ve done xyz”. Make the recruiter’s job easier; be convincing (but not arrogant) why you’re the right candidate for this role. The ability to follow-up and provide a concise conclusion is valuable in any field regardless of the role. On top of that, (unless more candidates read this post and begin sending follow-up notes) chances are your note will stand out as one of the few received.

Recruiters could also use a lesson in the power of thank-you notes. Our jobs are all about making connections and networking. Every call made, or email sent has a clear purpose – to find the right candidate for a particular role. Ironically, a lot of the people we speak to do not start as candidates themselves; they’re “sources”: industry experts, thought-leaders, senior executives. In speaking to these people, our goal is to source their networks for any possible candidates they might recommend. A great recruiter knows how to turn a source into a candidate. This is not an easy task, and usually one that requires a level of a pre-existing trust or relationship between the source and the recruiter. As such, it’s important that we, the recruiters, take the time to thank these people for their time, insight and consideration. In doing so, the relationship deepens allowing recruiters to heed the advice of their trusted sources for insights and recommendations, and for these sources to heed the career advice of their trusted recruiters. When recruiters are seen as trusted advisors, the relationship is transformed from transactional into relational.

Admittedly, in the busyness of our day, we often do not prioritize the time for these small, yet powerful gestures. In doing so, we compromise the long-term benefit for the short-term gain. A cold-call to a source that is followed by a small gesture of thanks makes the relationship warm; isn’t that what networking is all about? Creating more and more ties so that a call is never cold? A thank-you note has the power to do so, if only we took the time.

For candidates who spend countless hours tiring over a lengthy cover letter to “stand out”; and for recruiters trying to build their networks – go back to basics with a simple thanks. 

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