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Some Notes on Thank You’s

Interviews are being set up all across academe these days, as searches begin to near their final stages. Professional conference interviews are concluding, phone interviews are in high season, and on-campus interviews are on the horizon.

When I went on the market for the first time, I sent out loads of thank-you notes. Call or e-mail me? You get a thank-you note. Interview me? A note to everyone on the committee. Turn me down and hire someone else? A final note expressing gratitude. I suppose this was a testament to my parents’ interests in good manners, which merged with my deep-seated desire to have a job.

On the other side of the job-search table, I have received stacks of thank-you notes over the years. They stand out visually in my mail, as the vast bulk of my mail is in standard business envelopes that dwarf the smaller hand-written notes. I always smile when I get them, in part because I no longer expect them.

As I read a thank-you note this week, I started to wonder about how necessary they are anymore. In 17 years, I can’t remember a single instance of someone on a search committee saying, “I love that candidate, but no thank-you note, no job offer.” I also can’t remember a time when a committee member said, “All things being equal, I say we offer the position to the one who wrote the timely thank-you note.” What I do remember, however, is that in many cases, the thank-you note was totally congruent with the personality of the candidate: nice people often do thoughtful things. It’s not the note, per se, that affected the interview process, it was the sense of incipient collegiality that made the difference. Thank-you notes, however, are not the only way to communicate this.

The notion of thank-you notes is rooted in a strong sense of social obligation. Perhaps a new era demands new ways of fulfilling social obligations. Brief thank you e-mails? A single note to the department or the search committee rather than individual notes? Kind postings on a wiki site?

Are thank-you notes still an expected part of the search process? Have you ever seen a thank-you note positively affect a search? Do you have suggestions for how candidates can express thanks to the departments or persons who have been a part of the search process?

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