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Career Strategies for Librarians
Your Last Impression: Saying Thank You after Your Interview
by Larissa Gordon

It is highly unlikely that a search committee will use the presence or absence of a thank you letter as a
major factor in their decision to hire you or to pass you over for another candidate. However, in deciding
whether or not to write a thank you letter, you should keep in mind the fact that the interview process is
largely guided by impressions. The feelings, positive or negative, that the members of a search
committee form about your character will go a long way towards helping them to make their hiring
decision. As a result, any chance you have to show the search committee that you are a “swell” individual
should not be ignored. While there are many opportunities during the interview process to show off your
good character, the thank you letter is often the last chance that you will have to clue the search
committee in to the fact that you are the person whom they should hire, so it is important to make this
opportunity count!  

As is often the case for so much in life, there is more than one right way to write a thank you letter. The
following guidelines are what have worked well during my foray into the library science job market.
However, while the tips listed below are based largely on my experiences, I also worked hard to include
additional advice from career counselors, professional librarians, employment-related websites, and
conversations on e-mail lists such as NEXGENLIB-L.  

Why send a thank you letter?

Sending a thank you letter is a great way to show a search committee that you are a conscientious and
thoughtful person, two characteristics that all employers look for. The fact that you took the time to write
(and thank you letters do not take much time to write, so this will not be an overly burdensome task) will
also reinforce the idea that you are a professional who is very interested in the position being offered,
especially if other candidates fail to thank the search committee for their interviews. Thank you letters
can also serve grander purposes. They present you with an opportunity to correct a mistake or repair a
misunderstanding that occurred during your interview. They allow you one last opportunity to sell yourself
to the search committee. Finally, thank you letters also allow you to create a dialog with one or more of
the search committee members, giving you additional opportunities to sell both yourself and your
credentials.

While you may think that sending a thank you letter is akin to “kissing up,” this is not the case. The thank
you letter is a professional courtesy and an opportunity to reconnect with the members of the search
committee and promote yourself, nothing more.  However, sending flowers or gifts to the search
committee after your interview is something that you should never do during your job search. It is in poor
taste and it also makes you look desperate, which will in turn make the search committee less likely to
hire you.

Who should be sent a thank you letter?

If you have been interviewed by a search committee, it is best if you send a letter to each committee
member individually, rather than writing one letter addressed to the entire committee or only to the
committee head. Sending individual letters gives your letter a more personal feel and enables you to
form a connection with each member of the committee. If you have forgotten the names of the search
committee members during the stress of the interview, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for their names
again at the end of the interview and write those names down. Just make sure to check that you are
spelling the names correctly! Finally, if you met at length with other individuals who were not on the
search committee, it is polite to send those individuals a thank you note as well.

When to send your thank you letter

Thank you letters should be sent after a face-to-face interview, but they can also be sent after a phone
interview. Personally, I have sent thank you notes during both the phone and face-to-face stages of the
interview process. I see no problem with sending out multiple thank you notes for one position,
particularly when you are meeting with different people during each stage of the interview process.

You should send your thank you letter out as soon as possible after the interview, preferably within 24
hours. However, this can vary depending on the timeline given to you by the members of the search
committee as to when they will be making their decision, so make sure to ask for this information if it is
not given to you at the end of your interview. If the committee is going to be making its final decision later
that day, a thank you letter will probably not do you much good. However, if this is the first of several
interviews, sending the letter can only reflect well on you should you be chosen for a follow up interview.
If the committee will not be making their decision for several days or weeks you can wait a few days
before sending the letter, but don’t wait too long. I have found that if I put this task off, even for a day, it
tends to never get done. If, like me, you have trouble remembering to send your letter after the stress of
an interview, it may be a good idea to leave yourself a note as a reminder. In any case, whenever you do
decide to send your letter, make sure that it will arrive before the search committee announces its
decision, and check your e-mail and phone messages before you send the letter. As I have learned from
personal experience, it can be awkward to send your letter after you have already been notified of the
search committee’s decision.  

How to send your thank you letter

I use the term “thank you letter,” but your thank you letter is much more likely to be a thank you “e-mail,”
especially if you are dealing with time sensitive conditions where a decision will be made rather quickly.
E-mail is an accepted form of communication, and many search committees even communicate with
their candidates or send out notices of their hiring decisions using e-mail. However, when using e-mail
to communicate in a professional environment, you must make sure to format the e-mail in a
professional manner. You can format an e-mail in the same way that you would format a paper business
letter (refer to a writing manual if you need a refresher on formal letter writing), but at the very least you
should include an appropriate greeting (Dear Mr./Ms.) and salutation (Sincerely). Also remember to
proofread your letter rather than relying totally on spell-check to catch your mistakes.

On the other hand, if you are absolutely confident that you have the time, a professional looking letter
sent through the mail, either typed or handwritten on quality paper, is highly recommended. Handwritten
letters are particularly desirable because they convey a personal touch that is rare these days, and is
thus usually appreciated.  However, if you have sloppy handwriting as I do, stick to a typed letter. Also, do
not forget to sign your letters!

What to say in your thank you letter

Thank you letters should be kept short, a paragraph or two at most, because the majority of the people
you send your letters to will not want to take the time to read a longer letter. It is perfectly fine to write a
thank you letter that is only a few sentences long. In this letter you can thank the individual for taking the
time to meet with you, let them know that you enjoyed learning about their institution and its goals, and
remind them that you remain very interested in their position.

If at all possible, try to personalize the letters you are writing. When you meet with people during an
interview try to jot down their names and a unique fact about each person, and then use those facts in
your letters. For example, if one of the committee members is currently in charge of developing their
library’s marketing plan, you can mention the marketing class you took as an undergraduate in college.  

You can also use the thank you letter to address something that you feel did not go well during the
interview. If the search committee had a concern about your candidacy, you can address that in your
letter by acknowledging their concern followed by an explanation as to why this particular issue will not
be a problem based on evidence from your resume and past experiences. If you answered a particular
question poorly during your interview, it is also perfectly fine to rethink your answer in a thank you letter
and let the search committee know that upon further consideration your answer has changed/expanded.

It is also a good idea to include a sentence or two in your letter designed to sell yourself and remind the
search committee of your strengths as a candidate. However, you should, if possible, base what you say
on what was discussed during the interview. Take notes during the interview, if you can, to make this
task easier. For example, if the search committee seemed to focus on the web page design class you
took during your graduate studies and the need that their library has for someone with this skill set, you
could mention in your letter that you believe your experience in this area would be a valuable asset to
their library. Many people feel uncomfortable promoting themselves in this manner. However, self-
marketing is a necessary skill to have in the professional world, so it is probably a good idea to start
practicing now. Just remember to keep things short and simple! While advice columns for those in the
corporate or business world greatly stress the concept of selling yourself, I don’t believe this is as
important in the field of library science as it is in other fields.

Finally, in writing a thank you letter you have the opportunity to open a dialog with one or more of the
individuals you send letters to by asking them a question in the letter related to the job or to a topic that
was discussed during your interview. If you can keep this discussion going for a little while you will have
additional opportunities to connect with this individual and to sell yourself to them. However, be careful
not to overstay your welcome by keeping the conversation going after the other person has brought it to a
close.

Remember: Thank you letters should not only be sent to prospective employers, but also to those
individuals who have helped you with your job search or acted as your references. Sending letters to
these individuals thanking them for their help after you have found a job is professional courtesy, and it
also helps to reinforce the positive impression your references and friends have of you. Besides, you
may need the help of these individuals later on, so network while you can and send them a thank you
letter, and perhaps another letter letting them know how you are doing in your new job after you have
been there for a little while.

Related Resources:

To help get your creative juices rolling I have included a few links to websites that provide sample thank
you letters. While these sample letters, and the advice that accompanies some of them, are not
necessarily all specific to the library profession, you may find them useful as a starting point.

http://jobsearchtech.about.com/od/thankyouletters/l/aa041398.htm

http://susanireland.com/thankyouletters/index.htm  

http://www.quintcareers.com/sample_thank-you_letters.html

http://www.worktree.com/tb/MB_thanklet.cfm

About the Author:

Larissa Gordon graduated from Drexel University with her Master’s degree in March of 2005.  After
several months of searching and many thank you letters  later she landed her first full time professional
position working for Wilmington College as the librarian for their Dover campus library.

Article published Aug 2005

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