While getting an interview these days is likely the hardest career task IT professionals might face, there’s a critical post-interview success element that can’t be overlooked—the interview follow-up letter.

“Thank you letters are important in this market, now more than ever,” said Lisa Verde, director of recruiting for Matrix Resources, Inc., an international IT recruiting firm. They are important, Verde explained, because hardly anyone sends them, yet companies expect them, and a thank you or follow-up letter can make the difference between getting a job and getting overlooked.

To help members make the most of this important career search document, here are some useful tips for writing the letter, as well as a downloadable file that provides three specific letters for various hiring personnel.

Tips for creating a follow-up letter
The goal of the follow-up letter is to make an impression on the potential employer, so I recommend sending a handwritten note within 48 hours of the job interview. If your handwriting is hard to read, you can use the templates I’ve provided to type and print the letter.

In addition to sending a follow-up letter to the specific person with whom you interviewed, I suggest purchasing a pack of thank you cards so you can send one to each person you met during the interview process. The cards should be simple, yet professional in appearance. You can use the same basic format and text, but vary the content slightly.

Here are some tips for creating the follow-up and thank you notes:

  • Keep it short.
  • Don’t try to sell yourself by adding in lots of detail.
  • Sound enthusiastic.
  • Make sure to say “thank you” in the text.
  • Be courteous and to the point; say nothing cutesy or overly technical.

While it’s common sense, it doesn’t hurt to stress that you need to spell everything correctly on the note and thank you letter—especially the recipient’s name and title—and make sure your grammar and punctuation are perfect. Such details are important because they demonstrate that you are detail oriented.

Unless you have a perfect memory for names, titles, and other such details, plan ahead to get the information you need for the follow-up letter and thank you notes. Take a pad and pen along with you to the interview to jot down the information, and ask for business cards from everyone that you spend significant time with during your visit.

I also recommend taking notes about your conversations with the hiring person and others you meet, so that you can make detailed comments in your thank you letter. This approach is illustrated in the templates you can download and customize for your letter. You may even want to have a list of questions ready for each person you interview so you can get useful information.

While it’s appropriate to type and print out the letters, always write the address on the envelope by hand. It’s not a good idea to use your current employer’s labels or to mail it from the office. Potential employees don’t want to see that you’re using your current employer’s resources for your job search.

Reasons e-mail isn’t effective
While everyone’s using e-mail these days, career search experts advise against using e-mail for follow-up and thank you communications because it’s not as impressive as a handwritten or professional letter.

Verde says that if you do send e-mail messages, make sure to send a customized one to each person. Don’t send a general thank you message simultaneously to everyone. The difference might seem subtle and picky to you, but competition for good IT jobs is so fierce these days that every little bit of extra attention to detail helps. Good companies will notice.

Another consideration for an e-mail follow-up is to use a personal e-mail account rather than your business account. This is common sense because many companies screen corporate e-mails as they come in or go out, and you don’t want your boss to find out that you’re looking for a job—much less on company time. Potential employers don’t like it either because it shows little company loyalty. They even notice finer points, such as when the e-mail was sent, so make sure to send it after office hours or on the weekend.

Following up on the follow-up note
If you send a note and don’t hear anything from the company within one to two weeks, you should follow up with a call or an e-mail message to the hiring manager or head HR person.

Don’t try to find out what is happening with the position—that’s overreaching. Instead, indicate you are calling to find out if they got your thank you notes and if they have any questions. That’s the classy way to follow up.