As I was cleaning off my desk I ran across a handwritten thank you note I received from a student. I quickly reread the note and went to throw it into the recycle bin, but something stopped me. I just couldn't throw it out. I placed it under my computer monitor with the four others that I had received over the past year. On my way home I thought about the notes and why I was saving them. I realized that the value of a handwritten thank you note has increased and is now a rare commodity.
I have since discussed thank you notes with colleagues both in academia and the corporate sector. I spoke with friends who work at different colleges and universities, and in corporate sector fields ranging from finance to entertainment.
Every one of them had stories of a time they received a handwritten thank you note and what it meant to them. It seems that thank yous in general have gone out of style. Several of my colleagues became irritated as they shared stories of how they put extra effort forth with students, potential employees, colleagues, friends and even family, but never got a thank you note (either handwritten or electronic). They felt taken for granted and unappreciated.
How does this translate into valuable insight for you? What I have noticed about myself and many of my colleagues is that when something as simple as a thank you note is received, we hold the student in higher regard and are more likely to continue going the extra mile to help them out. It is about relationship. Think about yourself: when people show you appreciation, you value it and will most likely want to help them out next time. You think more highly of them. If no appreciation is shown, you most likely feel blown off and unappreciated. Maybe you don't or can't empathize with a generation of mentors, instructors, and potential employers who grew up writing (and expecting) thank you notes. If this is you, it is time to wake up. These little notes are expected and part of the professional world. If you are of the mindset that the help you receive from others is owed you, you're wrong. Nothing is owed you, especially help and kindness.
From my own experience I share that those who take the time to send a note of thanks go into my mental list of people I will continue to remember and look out for. My colleagues have said the same. The authors of the five notes I have sitting on my desk remain on the top of my mind when I hear of job or internship openings. This is the power of a thank you note.
If you want to succeed in business and life you need to constantly be building positive relationships. A lot of power rests in that little note you write and can make this process easier. I'll guarantee that if you ignore Thank You's and ignore my advice you'll find it harder to successfully navigate your academic and professional career, not to mention your relationships with friends.
Here are some rules to keep in mind about thank you notes:
Send them! They are important and people do keep track of whether or not they were thanked. They especially notice when they weren't thanked. Thank you notes show that you care about the other person and value their time and effort.
A handwritten note is always the best (in my opinion) as it demonstrates that you cared enough to spend the extra effort on handwriting and mailing the note. Email thank yous are acceptable when the majority of your communication with the other person has been electronic. They are quicker to receive, but do take less effort. These are usually more casual thank yous. If you want to make a good impression, or if the person has gone out of their way to help you, don't use email. Send a handwritten note.
Send them the same day you received the effort from the person. Do not get lazy and wait a week. It is obvious to the recipient that you delayed and that your appreciation was an after thought.
Keep it simple. Be real and don't fill the note with fluff. It will come off fake.
Thank you notes open and close doors. Don't burn bridges by forgetting to do something as simple as sending a thank you. It's also another chance to get your contact information in the hands of someone who might be able to help you down the road.
If you don't know whether or not you should send a note, or aren't sure if the favor was big enough to merit a note, send a note anyway. It won't hurt.
Don't overdo it. There is a fine balance and I think most people know when they are being sucked up to. Don't be a brown-noser. Be yourself and be real. It will be appreciated.