Q&A: Interviews, Thank You Notes and Being Smart Enough

Questions from readers:

“I’ve just returned from what I’d call a mighty good interview. I’d like to improve my odds for getting an offer by writing a thank you note. Is that an old fashioned idea? If it still makes sense, what should I say? How long should it be? Should I send it by e-mail? Long- hand on nice stationery? Please respond as soon as possible. My future may hinge on what you suggest!”

Good news. He got the job. I doubt that the thank you note made a big difference, but in the event of a tie, it could have tipped the scales in his favor. With that in mind, here are answers to our e-mailer’s questions. I hope they’re helpful.

Are thank you notes an outdated concept? Absolutely not. Interviewers always look for applicants who have as much EQ as they have IQ. Courtesy and  respect are often as valued as intellectual skill, interpersonal savvy, and interactive ability.

E-mail or snail-mail, or via social media? If your earlier communications have been via e-mail, e-mail your note of appreciation. If the company is more formal and you’ve corresponded through the postal service, mail your thank you as you would a business letter. Social media? Bad idea.

Proofread your work and ask someone with a critical eye for grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence structure to proofread as well. You don’t want the goodwill you mail to fail.

Content: Write a three- paragraph thank you letter. In the first paragraph, thank your host for taking the time to inform you of the challenges and opportunities the position and the company offer. In the second paragraph, highlight contributions you can make quickly, and contributions you envision making over the longer term of your employment.

In the closing paragraph, affirm your strong interest in the position, capability to do the job, and desire to make significant difference in the future of the company.

Next question:

“I went on an interview last week and couldn’t figure out what the employer was saying to me or asking of me. He’s American, spoke English, but had a clear preference for thinking at 50,000 feet and using words of five or more syllables. I’m no dummy but I surely felt like one by the end of the interview. What should I have done to have appeared more intelligent in my responses to him?”

The challenge isn’t in your intellect, it’s in understanding his. If the company makes an offer and you’d report directly to the person you describe, you’ll need to come clean regarding your struggle to understand what he’s saying. If you’re candid and he’s self aware, he’ll realize that you’re not the first person who’s had that challenge. If he demonstrates an effort to simplify, without condescension, impatience, or arrogance, you might have a job opportunity worth exploring. If instead, he brushes aside your concern, or treats it as though it’s your problem, he’s right, he’s your problem and you have an offer not worth taking.

“How many interviews should one person have to endure to get a job offer? I’ve been asked to interview for the same job four times, and there’s no end in sight. I’ve committed too much time and effort to this endeavor to pull the plug before I’ve been made an offer. Will that time ever come? Help!!”

          If you’re interviewing for an executive level position, it’s understandable that there would be several interviews with different stakeholders, so hang in. If you’re opting for an entry to mid level position and you’ve had four interviews, something’s wrong and my bet is it doesn’t have anything to do with you. They’ve likely run into some obstacles that need clearing before they can make anyone an offer.

If you want to know if it’s time to cut bait, ask the question. “If you were in my situation, would you continue your search?”  They’ll tell you.

If you prefer a more direct approach, ask a different question: “After four interviews and no offer, can I assume you’re no longer interested in my candidacy?” If you’ve made the wrong assumption, they’ll tell you.

I’d play it safe. Stay in the game and keep looking.     

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Joyce Richman (www.joycerichman.com) has been specializing in executive and career coaching since she started her own practice in 1982. She works in a variety of environments including: higher education, manufacturing, sales, marketing, media, technology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, banking and finance, service, IT, and non-profit sectors. A member of the adjunct faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, Joyce is certified to administer a number of feedback and psychological instruments. Joyce has appeared regularly on WFMY-TV and is the career columnist for The Greensboro News & Record. She is the author of Roads, Routes and Ruts: A Guidebook to Career Success and co-author of Getting Your Kid Out of the House and Into a Job. A popular speaker, Richman conducts seminars and workshops throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her coaching profile can be found at TheCoachingAssociation.com.