Thank You Card vs. Email: How Formal Do You Need To Be?

If you only learn one thing from our site, let it be, mind your manners. Good manners will get you everywhere. Saying thank you is fundamental to making it in any industry. In this day almost every business operates on some form of email server. So the question easily becomes, what is the best way to say thank you?

The Email

Pros: Almost every company runs on email and almost everyone has a mobile device to access their emails away from a computer. Sending an email thank you almost guarantees that within minutes of you sending it, the person will receive the email. Email also allows for a simple two-way conversation should the person wish to reply. Bonus: Email is free and comes with spell check!

Cons: Email is informal and common. Even if you try hard, emails can also be hard to distinguish between genuine sentiment and forced emotion. Most people get dozens if not more emails a day. Sending a thank you email won’t make you stick out in any way. And because most people get so many emails it is possible that yours will get lost in their inboxes.

The Card

Pros: Handwritten cards, like most standard post is a lost art in today’s digital age. Sending a card would not only stand out from other potential competition, it communicates that you were grateful enough to sit and write out a card then send it. Bonus: Everyone loves getting post. You will never hear a complaint from someone who comes back to his or her desk to see a nice thank you card. Ever.

Cons: ‘Snail Mail’ takes longer to deliver then emails. And there is always the chance that it could get lost in the mail somewhere between yourself and the recipient. Cards also mean that you need to practice good penmanship and spelling. There is no backspace button on a card.

So What Do I Do?!

The card versus email debate, I fear, could go on for a long time. Email is definitely easier and more direct, where as sending a card communicates greater gratitude, and if in response to a job interview, more genuine interest in the position. So what is a girl to do? First, weight the depth of the situation. If someone met you for coffee to give an informal informational, then an email is totally appropriate. If you went in for an interview things change a bit. If this was your first round and you were told there would be more, an email is again fine. However if this was your last round interview it might be time to take out the big guns and send a card. But like all good rules, this too comes with exceptions – except this exception isn’t so much an exception as it is a suggested rule of thumb.

The rule of thumb for situations that call for sending card is this: Send an email the day of your interview and send a card a week later.

No matter what stage of the interview, you should reply with an email that day thanking the person. This email can be short, thanking the person for making the time to meet with you and pointing out something you talked about that you took particular note of or that you were interested in as relates to the job you were interviewing for. Yes its awesome that you both love kittens, but this shouldn’t be brought up in the email. Keep it professional. Then write out a card thanking the person again for their time and expressing your continued interest in the position. Drop that card in the main a day or two after your interview to account for the time it will take to travel to their offices. Et viola. A rather simple solution that makes you look like a stronger candidate.

Cards and emails should be sent to everyone you interviewed with for a position. This includes the HR reps that screen all the way to the hiring manager.

What If I Don’t Get The Job?

Ah yes, the rejection email. The rejection email hurts about as much as the rejection from the college of your dreams letters. Again your desecration is needed, but as expressed earlier in this post, you can never go wrong by saying thank you. I leave you with this little story from my own life to help you decide what to do.

I went for an interview for a position at a company I was dying to work at. I was incredibly flattered and excited that they had called me in for the interview. The first round interview was a screening with a junior member of the HR team. The afternoon after the interview I sent him a thank you email. Two days later I got called to come back to meet with the hiring manager. The day of the second round interview I not only met with the hiring manager, but I met with my entire potential new team, and the head of the department. As I got ready to leave I was told this was the final round, there was one other candidate, and I could expect a decision in three weeks. That afternoon I again sent thank you emails to everyone new I had met with. That night I wrote cards and put them in the mail later that week. Flash forward a few weeks I got an email from HR telling me they went with another candidate. As soon as I read the email, I replied thanking them for their time and allowing me to come in and interview and expressing my hope to work for their company in the future. The email was short, but sweet and not laced with any guilt. Later that day I got a call from the HR rep telling me that he had spoken with the hiring manager had been touched by my manners and they wanted to bring me back in for a new position that I was better suited for.

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5 thoughts on “Thank You Card vs. Email: How Formal Do You Need To Be?

  1. Very timely – I had a graduate ask me about this yesterday. I like your suggestion of following up an email with a card. Does it make a difference if they were offered the job on the spot? I personally don’t think so though wording would change but wondered your thoughts… 🙂

    • HI Renee, It never hurts to follow up with both. And what a better way to make a good first impression on your future boss then to send a handwritten card! The wording could be a simple thank you for the interview and expressing excitement for starting with the company. It does not need to be overly wordy. Pithy is fine, but I think it would be a nice touch to send a card. The only caveat being, if they have already started the job or will be starting before the card could arrive. It would be a bit superfluous to send a card after the job has started or that will arrive after the job has already begun. If there is not time to send a card, simply saying thank you again on the first day is a good substitution.

  2. I was always taught that you send a thank you card regardless and sent it out ASAP after your interview. Granted, after spending a few weeks in the real interviewing world, this doesn’t always apply. Definitely thank people immediately after your interview with an email, but I think for jobs that you’re really interested in OR, as Emilie mentioned, jobs you’ve been brought in for multiple interviews it’s certainly time to bring out the big guns and send that card. Also making sure you send the right kind of card is key; for example, my hot pink and orange note cards are probably not the card I want to send in, regardless of how pretty they are. Save those for sending to your pals!

  3. This was a great entry! I’m ashamed to admit I sometimes forget to thank people enough. I will definitely be keeping that last story in mind for the future. But what should you do in the case of a phone interview where you don’t have the person’s full name? Would it be awkward to ask for their contact details so you can thank them later?

    • Most times during phone interviews you’ll get the person’s full name. If for some reason you don’t, it doesn’t hurt to ask for their last name and email address; just let them know that you would like to follow up with them. I wouldn’t suggest asking for things like mailing addresses because that may be awkward and give the wrong signal to your phone interviewer. Phone interviews typically serve as a way of weeding people out rather than seeing if the person is a good fit for the company, so you don’t want to do more than a follow-up email saying you appreciate their time and look forward to speaking with them further. You don’t want to over-do it and come across as desperate, but you do want to let them know you’re interested in a full interview and with the company.

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