Don’t forget to say “thanks.” Thank-you letters, notes, and emails are often given short shrift in comparison to the primping résumés and cover letters receive. Yet thank-you letters play an extremely important—and very unique—role in your job search and professional activities. Thank-you letters are the only “after-the-fact” document. They come after the meeting, after the interview, and after the assistance. Thank-yous have the advantages of insight and perspective. Embrace opportunities to write and send thank-yous that are spot-on in terms of tone, context, and substance.
Everyone and often. Don’t look for excuses to avoid sending thank-yous; look for opportunities to send them. Interviews, informational meetings, endorsements, events, endings, and assistance—all present moments to extend gratitude.
Job interviews are obvious generators of thank-you letters. A smart approach is to send thank-yous to every individual with whom you meet and at every stage of the interview process. Busy law students sometimes question if they, “have to send,” a thank-you after a screening interview. A professional gave 20 minutes of her time and may have recommended you for a second interview, why wouldn’t you send one? Similarly, students sometimes question if they “have to send,” a thank-you to every lawyer they meet during a callback. Why wouldn’t you capitalize on a chance to impress everyone? A thank-you after an interview can advance your image as a professional, thoughtful person who writes well. Do you prefer that a single lawyer or every lawyer holds this favorable impression? Don’t miscalculate how powerful a well-timed, personalized thank-you can be. Twelve years in a career services office has given me copious examples of thank-you’s positively impacting students’ job searches.
Thank-yous are also appropriate following informational meetings and conversations held during networking events. Whether you speak with an attorney for 30 minutes at an arranged meeting or for 5 minutes at a cocktail reception, if the conversation is notable, send thanks. Thank-yous can punctuate meetings with an exclamation point that affirms for lawyers their time was well spent.
Moments to say thanks are everywhere, including after lawyers serve as references for you and otherwise assist you in your job search and with campus events. Moot court coaches, a professor extending office hours for your questions, a lawyer who spoke to your organization during a lunch, are all prime targets for thank-yous. And don’t forget to send thank-yous to supervising attorneys and staff as jobs, internships, and clinic placements come to an end. People like feeling appreciated.
Purposeful and personal. Thank-yous are workhorses that accomplish a lot when written well. The first paragraph has three key purposes: provide context, express gratitude, and convey sincerity of interest in the person/opportunity/guidance. Nothing about the first paragraph should be generic. A thank-you letter needs to be personalized to its recipient, which is why it’s futile to look for a perfect prototype.
The function of the second paragraph shifts according to context. If it’s in response to a job interview, you should: reaffirm interest in, and qualifications for, the position; clarify or add to an answer given in the interview; and/or share relevant, positive changes in your candidacy if any occurred subsequent the interview (e.g., named to a dean’s list). If your thank-you is in response to an informational meeting, use the second paragraph to acknowledge specific advice offered, information shared, or contacts given.
The final paragraph allows you to reiterate your gratitude and clarify next steps as appropriate. Following an interview, you can note you are excited to hear from the firm. Following an informational meeting, you might suggest plans for a future meeting. Be dynamic and keep the thank-you personalized to the very end.
Sample thank-you following a job interview:
Dear Atty. Eng,
I enjoyed talking with you on October 14 about the law clerk position with Eng & Associates. Thank you for sharing the information about the planned growth of the firm and how the law student hired will fit into the plan. Based on what I know now, I am even more convinced this position is a perfect fit for me professionally and personally.
It was clear from our conversation that you and your colleagues value hiring a student who feels comfortable taking initiative. I was remiss in sharing with you in our meeting that I founded the Legal Writing Society at XYZ Law School. This included drafting by-laws, establishing an executive board, and recruiting members. As such, I will have no problem as a law clerk seeking assignments and proactively identifying attorneys’ needs.
I recall you saying that you intend to make a hiring decision during the week of October 27. In the interim, I am happy to respond to any follow-up questions you may have. It was truly a pleasure to meet you and to learn about your law firm.
Sample thank-you following an informational meeting:
I am very thankful for the hour you spent talking with me on November 14. Your willingness to share your professional experiences and to advise me regarding my career path is a gift to my immediate and far futures.
Your suggestions about courses and internships are timely, because I just received an email from the law school notifying students of spring internship offerings. I plan to pursue the placement with the EEOC per your recommendation. Also, I researched the Labor and Employment Conference you mentioned, and I registered.
I value your investment in my learning, and I look forward to seeing you in February at the conference. I will email you the week before the conference as you encouraged me to do, so we can arrange to connect at the Thursday cocktail reception.
Handwritten, business letter, or email. You can’t deny the appeal of emailing a thank-you. No formatting letters, printing addresses on envelopes, or buying stamps. Pause before you hit send, however, and consider whether an email, a business letter, or a handwritten note is really the best approach. Make this decision based on what best reflects the likely expectations of the recipient, not on what’s most convenient for you.
My recent travel for alumni outreach meetings is a great example of how context impacts form and delivery. I traveled to meet with a number of attorneys in Phoenix. Afterwards two attorneys and one recruiting director received emailed thank-yous. I decided this was appropriate because all of my previous correspondence with these individuals were emails, the tone of these meetings were casual and familiar, and their phones and devices were never far from them. I sent another attorney a US mailed business letter. He was a senior lawyer who was very formal throughout our interactions. Even in arranging to meet, he never responded to me via email. In response to my email, I received meeting times and arrangements through his assistant. I also mailed a handwritten thank-you note to a lawyer. The intimacy of the handwritten note was necessitated by how overwhelmingly gracious the attorney was in welcoming me to his firm and how generous he was with his time when talking with me about his practice, children, and grandchildren.
My decisions were fairly obvious as to the best form and mode of delivery. The waters are often murky, though, as etiquette doesn’t keep pace with technologies. When context clues don’t help, connect with your career services office to confirm your approach.
Thank-yous are terrific and powerful tools for generating goodwill in your favor. Look for opportunities to express thanks, and do so in a manner that is sincere and professional. Every positive connection you make increases the value of your professional network. n
5 Quick Tips for Drafting Great Thank-Yous
- Avoid making general references to the timing of a meeting in thank-yous with phrases like, “I enjoyed talking with you today/yesterday.” You can’t know that the thank-you will be read in a timeframe in which “yesterday” is still accurate.
- Consider what’s best for the salutation. The salutation should match the familiarity you have with the recipient. After an interview, “Dear Atty. Jones,” is appropriate. After an informational meeting, you might determine that, “Dear Janet,” best reflects the existing relationship.
- Keep it brief. Apply the “less is more” approach to drafting. Thank-yous should be under a page in length.
- Send thank-yous only to the people with whom you actually interviewed. This tip isn’t as obvious as it may first seem. Firms often provide names of interviewers in advance, and then the day of the interview, change interviewers. Account for these changes when addressing thank-you letters.
- Balance promptness with quality. Sending a thank-you within 24 hours isn’t to your advantage if it highlights shoddy craftsmanship rather than perfection and professionalism.
ERIN BINNS (email@example.com) is director of career planning at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.
Vol. 43 No. 8