Career Advisor: Are Thank-You Emails Dead?

Lindsay Wodarkski '16

Lindsay Wodarkski '16

Lindsay Wodarski '16

It seems to go without saying, after you meet with a professional contact, sending an email thanking said person is protocol. The brief message demonstrates your respect for their time and appreciation of their insight. And frankly, it’s just expected, as not sending one could show a lack of dedication and commitment on your part. And who wants to come across like that to a potential employer when all other candidates are sending them?

Last year I was given advice to end this prisoner’s dilemma and avoid sending thank-you emails completely. The justification was that emails, which were initially an alternative to personalized handwritten letters, have evolved into a convenient way to constantly communicate even the most casual messages. This allows us to make more connections more rapidly, and with each of us continuing to send the obligatory thank-you email, it comes across as a disingenuous formality that adds to the inbox clutter. This is especially true after you’ve already thanked your contact in person and (hopefully) demonstrated a clear interest. Another email reiterating this could portray you as a brown-noser and reflect poorly on your reputation. Which is the exact opposite of your intentions.

Whether or not you agree with this advice, I am not sold that there is no value sending a follow-up email. Here are a few tips for constructing thank-you emails that avoid the above pitfall:

Wait to Send: This might seem counterintuitive, as you don’t want your contact to think you haven’t prioritized them. In reality, they’ve most likely moved on with their day and are not sitting around waiting for your email. When you appear in their inbox 24-48 hours later, it will be a timely reminder that you still exist. Not to mention, if you know your contact is having a busier week than usual, it can come across more respectful and elicit a quicker response if you wait until you know things have calmed down on their end.

Ask for Referrals: Email with a purpose other than to simply thank the recipient, and asking for referrals is a great one. It demonstrates that the conversation inspired you to dive deeper into whatever you discussed, which is a stronger way to show appreciation. Reference the topic that piqued your interest and ask “who else might be interesting for me to chat with to learn more?”

Continue the Conversation: If the point of networking is to build fruitful professional relationships, the email should serve to keep the conversation going instead of bookending it with a thank-you. Follow-up with the link to a news article timely referencing what you talked about, or a relevant topic you covered in class that week, or even a restaurant recommendation in a city they mentioned they are traveling to. Just keep it brief. It’s also okay to be slightly informal, it will come across more sincere. Finally, set the expectation that you will reach out again as your career search progresses, then do it.

Lindsay is a second-year Career Advisor whose first email address in 2002 was