From an early age, my mom instilled in me the importance of writing thank you notes. I can’t remember the exactly how old I was when I wrote my first one, but I imagine it was as soon as I was able to write. After every birthday party, Christmas, or any other occasion where someone had given me a gift, my mom wouldn’t let me rest until I’d written a thank you note to every last person.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve continued to write thank you notes for all sorts of reasons. I’ve written them to high school teachers who wrote me letters of recommendation, to friends who let me stay with them during my travels, and to the many mentors I’ve had during my journey as a freelancer.
I’ve also had the pleasure of receiving a few thank you notes over the years, so I know just how warm and appreciated they can make you feel. At the same time, I’ve used thank you notes as part of my professional life, both out of courtesy and the desire to follow up with potential clients. They can be powerful tools, yet so few people take the time to write them.
In this post, I want to take away any excuses you might have for writing thank you notes. Don’t know how? I’ll show you. Not sure when to send a thank you note? I’ve got you covered. Struggling to structure your note? I created a three free templates.
By the end of this post, you’ll know everything you need to start sending your own thank you notes. The results will be improved professional prospects for you, as well as a world that’s just a little bit happier and more full of gratitude.
Why write a thank you note to begin with? In some cases, the need is obvious. If you receive a birthday gift, for instance, you should write a thank you note both to show your gratitude and to let the person know you received their gift.
In other cases, however, things can be less clear. Do you send your boss a thank you note for…giving you a job? What about your who helped you during their office hours? You can’t spend all your time writing thank you notes, after all.
I don’t have the answers for every situation, but here are four common reasons you should write a thank you note. These will cover the majority of the situations you’ll encounter. If you’re in any doubt, then just send a note. It never hurts.
1. To Thank Someone for a Gift
Of all the situations in which you’d send a thank you note, this is the one people are most familiar with. If anyone sends you a gift in the mail, a thank you note is definitely the right move, especially if that person is someone you don’t see much in person. Even if it is someone you see regularly, however, it’s always a pleasure to receive mail that isn’t a credit card offer, bill, or ad.
There is one gift-giving situation where I think thank you notes are (probably) unnecessary. If you’re at some kind of organized gift exchange where it’s assumed that everyone will bring and receive a gift, then you don’t need to send a thank you note. Unless, of course, you’re the victim of a Michael Scott-level gift that goes way over the $20 limit:
2. To Follow Up After a Job Interview or Meeting
This is a type of thank you note that you’re probably not as familiar with. However, if you’ve read any of our content on job interviews, you’ll know that following up after an interview is essential. The best way to do this is through sending a thank you note. Why? Assuming two candidates are equally qualified, which one would you hire?
- The one who reached out to you after the interview to thank you for taking the time to give them a tour of your office, answer their questions about the job, and give them a chance to grow their career
- OR the one who came to the interview and didn’t even bother taking 5 minutes to send a thank you note
Of course, sending a thank you note won’t guarantee you get the job over someone who’s more qualified or performed better during the interview. But it never hurts.
Also, don’t limit your interview thank you notes to just the hiring manager or team that interviewed you. Depending on the interview format, it might also make sense to send a thank you note to the receptionist who escorted you to the interview room or the department head who gave you a tour.
3. To Show Your Gratitude for Someone’s Help
This is the type of thank you note that we don’t send enough. If someone helped you out, let them know. I’m not saying you need to send a written thanks to every person that ever held the door for you, but larger gestures of help definitely deserve a note.
Here are some situations where a thank you note makes sense:
- For a letter of recommendation – Whether it was for a job, internship, graduate school, or volunteer opportunity, send a note that shows you’re thankful for the time your professor, coach, or boss took to write the letter. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it’s also a chance to update the person on whether or not you got the opportunity you applied for (and how it went).
- For academic help – Did your professor, tutor, or friend take extra time to help you master derivatives or decline German nouns? Thank them for going above and beyond.
- For career advice – Did someone from career planning spend hours helping you to perfect your resume? Did a local professional meet with you for coffee to tell you how they got started in their field? This kind of help is hugely valuable, so tell them how much they helped you.
- For support during a difficult time – Was someone there for you when you were struggling with anxiety, bad grades, or the loss of a loved one? You can’t ever repay them for their help (not that you need to), but you can send them a thank you note.
4. To Demonstrate Your Appreciation
This reason is similar to the previous, but a bit more general. There are some people in our lives that always deserve thanks, since they provide us with ongoing support or, ya know, raised us. I’m talking about your parents, your close friends, or even the barista at the coffee place where you do your homework.
If there’s someone special in your life that’s helped you get where you are, supported you all the way, or just made your day a bit brighter, send some thanks their way.
Now that you understand the reasons you’d want to write a thank you note, let’s take a look at how to actually do it. As with any kind of writing, getting started is usually the most difficult part. With the method below, you’ll be writing that note and sending it off in no time.
1. Identify the Reason
Why are you writing this thank you note? Your reason probably fits one of the categories I discussed above, but if not, that’s cool too. What’s most important is that you understand why, as that will dictate how you approach writing the note.
The type of thank you note you write to a professor who helped you pass Calculus is going to be different from the kind you write to a friend you’ve known since childhood.
2. Choose the Format
Once you know why you’re writing the note (and who the recipient is), you need to choose your format. By this, I mean you need to make a couple decisions:
- Physical or digital note
- If choosing a physical note, you also need to decide between:
- Typed or handwritten
- Pre-made or homemade card
Let’s look at each of these choices in more detail:
Physical vs. Digital Thank You Notes
If you have the option to send a physical thank you note, do it. It’s way more personal and requires more effort than a digital one.
In some cases, though, a physical thank you note may not be practical. Perhaps you don’t have a physical address for the person you want to thank (and you have no way to look it up).
Or, in a job interview situation, it may be in your best interest to send a digital thank you since a physical one might not arrive before the company has made their hiring decision.
In most cases, however, I suggest going the physical route.
Typed vs. Handwritten
Even if you decide to send a physical thank you note, you still need to decide if you want to type it or write it by hand. If you have nice, legible handwriting, then I think you should choose handwritten. If you’re like me, however, and have handwriting that friends have described as both “serial killer” and “like someone who just learned to write cursive,” then you may be better off typing a nice note and then signing it at the bottom with a pen.
Also, you should consider the occasion. If you’re sending the note in a professional context where legibility is the most important thing, then typing is better. But if you’re sending the note to a close friend or family member who won’t judge your chicken scratch, go ahead and add that charming, handwritten touch.
Premade vs. Homemade
Should you use a store-bought thank you card, or should you create your own? I think there’s a lot of room for variation here. You certainly should not buy a premade card and just sign your name. That’s almost worse than not sending a thank you note; it’s very impersonal.
But there’s nothing wrong with choosing a funny or touching thank you card from the store and then adding your own personal message.
In general, though, I’d stick with just a standard typewritten note (no weird fonts or colors) or some simple cards that have “Thank You” embossed on them.
3. Write a Draft Using This Structure
Now that you’ve chosen your format, you need to write the notes. It’s easy to get trapped in writer’s block at this stage, agonizing over the right words to use. To break you out of that paralysis, here’s a format that works for any thank you notes you’ll need to write. It consists of four parts:
- A kind message or thought
- What you’re thanking them for
- Conclusion (and follow-up, if relevant)
Let’s look at each in more detail:
This is the first line of the note. It’s the classic “Dear So-and-so” that you use when you write an email (I was going to say “write a letter,” but then I remembered no one does that anymore).
If you’re writing a professional note, then you can just use “Dear” + “the person’s full name (and title, if relevant).” For instance, “Dear Thomas Frank.”
I don’t generally think it’s necessary to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” these days. If you’re applying for a job in an industry or at a company that’s very traditional, you might do so. Likewise, you might want to include it if the person you’re writing to is a lot older than you. You’ll have to use your best judgment there.
If it’s not a professional note, then it might make more sense to start with the person’s name followed by a comma. For example, “Martin,”. Or, you could include a greeting before it, as in “Hey Roxine,”. Use whatever sounds natural. Read it aloud if you need to.
2. A kind message or thought
This is what you should write in the first sentence or two of the note. Just as when you’re meeting someone, you wouldn’t start with the thing you’ve come to talk about.
You need to make a little small talk first to ease into the conversation. It’s the same with a note like this. Plus, saying something kind and thoughtful will make your recipient feel good.
For example, let’s say you’re writing to the hiring manager of a company where you just had an interview. You might begin with a couple sentences along the lines of “I had a lovely time touring your office the other day” or “It was a pleasure to meet you and the team members at Needful Things.”
3. What you’re thanking them for
This is the heart of the thank you note. Express whatever it is that you want to say thanks for. For example, “Thank you for taking the time to tell me about how you got started in the cat café business.” Or, “I’m so thankful for the support you gave me during my dad’s illness.”
4. Conclusion (and follow-up, if relevant)
Once you’ve thanked the recipient, you need to conclude the note. This will vary depending on the formality of the situation and your intent for the note.
If you’re just writing to thank a friend, it’s sufficient to just add one more kind/funny sentence and then just sign your name at the bottom. If you’re close to the person, you might write “Much love,” and then your name.
With a business thank you note, on the other hand, you want to add a nice conclusion but also indicate your future intent. For instance, if you’re writing to thank a professional mentor, you could say, “I’ll keep you updated on my career plans when I’m closer to graduation.” Or, “I’d love to return the favor and help you in any way I can.”
Don’t be pushy or sleazy, but don’t be afraid to take the lead in continuing or furthering the relationship you have with the person you’re writing to. They’ll appreciate you doing so, as it makes it easier for them to help you (which they presumably want to do if they’ve already met with you and you made a good impression).
This can also work well for jobs, as even if you don’t end up being the company’s pick for a specific position, you’ll at least be on their radar for future hires (or if their first-choice candidate declines their offer).
4. Edit Your Draft (To Eliminate These 5 Common Mistakes)
Okay, so you have your thank you note draft. But don’t send it just yet. Before you put in the mail (or press “Send”), you should give it an editing pass.
If you’re handwriting your note, I recommend doing a typed draft first so that you can use digital tools to check for spelling, usage, and grammar errors. Regardless, though, you should look to eliminate these five common errors:
1. Too long or wordy
You’re writing a thank you note, not a cover letter, book proposal, or research paper. Therefore, you should keep it short. Five sentences maximum is plenty, and I’d say three is adequate for most situations.
The most impersonal thing you can do is buy a pre-written thank you card and sign it. But even if you write your own card, it’s still possible that it’s impersonal. Be sure to include some touches that make it clear that you know the person you’re writing to (and aren’t just using a generic thank you note).
If you’re writing to someone you know well, this is easy. Just make an inside joke or reference whatever happened at your last family gathering.
But if you’re writing to someone in a professional context, you’ll have to get more creative. You could mention something funny that happened during the interview, or a detail that stood out to you about the company’s office.
It’s the difference between, “I loved learning about your company” and “Hearing about how Buy More is reshaping the consumer electronics buying experience gave me insight into the direction I want to take my career.”
3. Incorrect tone
“Tone” in writing can be hard to define, but it’s basically the way a piece of writing sounds. For our purposes, the most important aspect of tone is how formal (or informal) the note sounds. In a note to a friend, you should use casual words like “hey” or “badass.”
But in a note to the company you’re hoping will offer you a job, you’ll want to keep things more professional. You don’t want to sound like a robot, but you don’t want to be too casual, either.
4. Grammar errors
When writing something this short, there aren’t usually many true grammar errors to watch out for. Most of the problems you’ll encounter will involve misspelled or misused words. For example, writing “to” instead of “too” or “there” instead of “they’re.”
To avoid these issues, I recommend taking your thank you note and pasting it into Grammarly. Grammarly is a free app that will check your writing for grammar, spelling, and usage errors. I highly recommend it for proofreading your essays; I use it for all my professional writing.
5. Spelling the recipient’s name wrong
Please, please make sure to check that you’re spelling the recipient’s name correctly. Even if it was an honest mistake, spelling someone’s name wrong makes you look careless.
As Dale Carnegie put it, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Seeing your name misspelled, however, turns it into the sourest and most frustrating sound. I say this as someone with a name that people commonly misspell….
5. Send the Note ASAP
Now that your note is error-free and polished, send it as soon as you can. While thank you notes are always pleasant to receive, they make the most sense if they’re sent as close as possible to the thing for which you’re thanking the recipient. Getting a thank you note for a Christmas gift in July, for example, is just confusing.
And in a professional situation, it’s always in your best interest as a job candidate to send the thank you note ASAP so that you’re still fresh in the hiring manager’s mind. If you wait too long, they may have hired someone else.
After reading the last section, you may be wondering how all of this information fits together. It’s one thing to read about how to write a thank you note, but what does it look like in practice? To show you how to translate the theory into reality, I’ve created the following three example thank you notes for these common occasions:
- Thanking a professional mentor for their guidance
- Thanking a friend for a gift
- Thanking a company after an interview
Feel free to adapt each example to suit your own needs. Just make sure to personalize them accordingly.
Example #1: Thanking a Professional Mentor for Their Guidance
Dear Homer Simpson,
I enjoyed meeting you the other day for coffee and donuts. It was enlightening to me as an aspiring nuclear plant safety inspector to learn what life is like for you on the job.
Thank you for all the guidance you’ve given me as I explore this career path. You’ve helped me see how I can apply what I’m learning outside the classroom, while also giving me valuable career advice. I hope we can chat again soon; it’s always a pleasure.
Example #2: Thanking a Friend for a Gift
Got the mug you sent me the other day. The message on it is perfect. Can’t believe you managed to find something that combines my love of rock climbing and Futurama. Hope everyone is well in Nashville. See you at the reunion.
Example #3: Thanking a Company After an Interview
Dear Michael Scott,
It was a delight to meet you at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin earlier today. I had no idea what a wide range of industries your company serves. Now I can appreciate just how essential paper is to modern business.
Thank you for showing me around your office and answering my questions about the open receptionist position. It sounds like an engaging, rewarding job.
Regardless of the decision you make, I’m grateful for your time and consideration.
I hope this post has shown you how to write any kind of thank you note you could ever need.
Taking the time to write thank you notes will not only help you further your career prospects, but it will also strengthen the relationships you have outside of your work. It’s a great habit to get into while you’re still a student, as it only becomes more relevant the further you get in life.
Thanks for reading; I’m very grateful.