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How to Write a Follow up Letter

Don't overlook this crucial job search step

By Robert Shannon

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me on...

I'd like to reiterate my interest in the position of...

I feel my skills and experience would be a great addition to your company...

It's one thing to turn on the charm during an interview. There you can follow the flow of small talk, interject pertinent information as needed and heck, you get to talk about yourself! But it's quite another thing when writing a follow-up letter. We've all been there (or will be eventually): sincerely trying to be sincere without sounding as lifeless and flat as a week-old can of soda left open in the refrigerator.

And once you've impressed the company with your resume and you've come out of the interview feeling good, there's no need to sweat over your follow-up correspondence, right?

Wrong. Don't let up now! Remember, you're still being evaluated.

"I read every thank-you letter and email I receive," says Lynn Zuraski, recruiting manager at a Deerfield, Ill.-based company. "And a bad letter or email can make the hiring manager think twice."

It's very important to treat follow-up letters with the same care as any correspondence you would send to a prospective employer. Any mistakes you make can be just as costly as errors on your resume or cover letter. And as Zuraski says, a mistake at this point might make a hiring manager think twice about hiring you. But follow-up letters also give you an additional opportunity to set yourself apart from the other candidates and cement your place as the perfect person for the job.

True Story #1

In a previous life, my supervisor and I were interviewing candidate for a position on our staff. After a round of interviews, we were down to three candidates. All three sent thank-you letters, but one of them included an egregious grammatical error-we were quickly down to two candidates.

"It's a great filtering device," says a human resources professional from Chicago. "It's another example of how thorough a prospective employee is. It's like your resume and cover letter: if it's done well it won't necessarily put you above another candidate, but if it's done poorly it will definitely count against you."

A successful follow-up letter shouldn't sound like a form letter that you send out to all prospective employers. Remember to reiterate relevant points made during the interview, and keep the tone of the letter professional.

True Story #2

Also in a previous life, I received many cold-call letters pitching ideas for freelance articles. One writer, who I had never met, had never talked to and had never done business with, sent a series of letters that all started with the same salutation-"Dear Bob." It's safe to say I never made it past the salutation.

Don't make the same mistake on your follow-up letters; just because you think you hit it off with the interviewer doesn't put you on a first-name basis with him or her. If you are not sure how to address your interviewer in a follow-up letter, err on the side of caution, and don't be overly familiar or casual in the tone of the letter.

The errors that really stick out in follow-up letters, are those committed through carelessness: misspellings, grammatical lapses, and other obvious gaffes that show little thought or preparation was put into the composition of the letter. Proofread, proofread, proofread! And then walk away for a while and proofread it again before you send it. A little effort goes a long way.

Be mindful of the medium by which you send the letter as well. Zuraski says she prefers standard "snail" mail to email. "Mailing a letter takes more of an effort," she says. "To me, this shows definite interest in the company and appreciation for the time it takes me to interview candidates."

However, if you are aware that the interview process is moving very quickly, and a decision will be made before a letter will make it through the mail, it makes sense to email instead.

True Story #3

I helped organize a resume/cover letter seminar at an outplacement firm. One job seeker who had worked at the management level for many years sheepishly admitted to the group that he had never written a cover letter or a thank-you letter.

At once, the two facilitators and I cringed, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no." You need to take advantage of every opportunity you have to set yourself apart from your competition. A follow-up letter can remind the prospective employer of your unique experiences that make you a perfect fit for the position. At the very least, it's an opportunity to show them that you know how to communicate professionally, which is an important workplace skill. As Zuraski says, your effort alone shows your interest in the job, and it's imperative that you at least make the effort. Therefore: "Thank you again for your time and consideration."

Robert Shannon is a freelance writer in Chicago who knows he sounds uptight in True Story #2, but "Dear Bob"? C'mon.

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