Thank You Letters: The Risks vs. The Benefits

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					WEEKLY RECRUITER SPEAK                                                                                                           1. 800. 973.1177

Thank You Letters: The Risks vs. The Benefits
[by Jamie Bailey]
This week, our recruiters weigh in on the potential benefits and risks of sending thank you cards to firms after interviews and come out decidedly against it.
Find out why.

One of the most common questions that at-           preciative and classy, (3) it helps them stand       learn that no one else would even consider
torneys ask me after going in for an interview      out from the crowd and be more likely to get         asking out their boyfriend or girlfriend if he
is whether or not they should send a thank          hired, and (4) it restates your case.                or she were single.
you letter. The resounding answer is “no.”
Before you ever send a thank you letter,            1. Thank You Letters Show You Are Inter-             2. Thank You Letters Show They Are Appre-
please read this article.                           ested in the Job                                     ciative and Classy

The longer I have been in the business of           If you go to an interview, are nice to your          Many attorneys got it drilled into them at
legal recruiting, the more I have become            interviewers and shake hands with people             some point in their lives (by their grandmoth-
convinced that sending a thank you letter is        after it’s over, you are interested in the job.      ers, perhaps) that a classy person always
a bad idea. I have heard-and seen--far too          Moreover, if you apply to the firm in the first      writes a thank you letter to show their appre-
many horror stories regarding thank you             place, you are interested in the job. Think          ciation. I do not necessarily agree with this.
letters and believe the cost-benefit analysis       about it. The employer is already aware of
strongly weighs against the writing of thank        your interest. If you really want the job, then      In romance novels, notes are always being
you letters. They are simply not a good idea.       let the employer know the reasons why dur-           exchanged between the knight and his dam-
                                                    ing the interview. This is all you need to do.       sel. In addition, many Americans have mis-
There is one thing you should always ask                                                                 guided views about how others higher on the
yourself when considering whether or not to         Would you send a thank you letter after a            socio-economic ladder than them behave. In
send a thank you letter: what would you think       good first or second date? If you got a thank        this rarified environment (where a powerful
if you got one of these after a first date? In      you letter in the mail after a good first date,      partner you interviewed with might certainly
the job search situation, you are trying out        what would you think? You would probably             live), it is imagined that thank you notes on
for a potential long-term relationship with         think a couple of things.                            expensive stationary are routinely exchanged
your employer. Just as there is in dating, you                                                           after meetings.
need to have at least some mystery to make          First, you would think that you had already
the other side like you and, in addition, the       “closed the deal” and that the person was            Not necessarily the case. In fact, if a client
other side wants to feel like they are lucky if     very interested in you. While this might seem        got one of these notes, they would be more
you are interested in them, too.                    like a good idea in some respects, it isn’t. I       likely to think the attorney had ulterior mo-
                                                    am not suggesting you play “mind games” in           tives rather than that they were classy or
This article analyzes the benefits and the          either your personal or professional life, but       appreciative.
costs of writing thank you letters. I hope that     I am suggesting that you do not need to com-
after reading it, you too will conclude, as I       pletely “show your cards” to your potential          The fact of the matter is, you can express
have, that sending a thank you letter is not a      employer.                                            your appreciation at the end of the interviews
good idea.                                                                                               by simply saying “thank you,” smiling and
                                                    If you show your cards too early, the potential      genuinely conveying your feelings through
A. The Rationale for a Thank You Letter             employer will think that you may not have            the use of appropriate body language. Re-
                                                    a lot of options. The employer wants to feel         garding the “class factor”: you are who you
Many attorneys think that sending a thank           as if you are someone that is in demand in           are. You will come across as the person you
you letter is a good idea. The common rea-          the market, because they will view you more          are by the way you talk, the way you dress,
sons they think this are: (1) it shows they are     favorably. To revisit the dating metaphor:           the way you carry yourself and more. You
interested in the job, (2) it shows they are ap-    people, in general, would not be excited to          are not going to change the employer’s mind

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WEEKLY RECRUITER SPEAK                                                                                                         1.800. 973. 1177

about your classiness through a thank you                                                              concerned about a collegial atmosphere and
note.                                              While I have gone about making this point in        more. It was amazing to me. I knew each of
                                                   an extremely long-winded way, I hope you            these students interviewing and they were
3. Thank You Notes Help You Stand Out from         can see that there is little a thank you note       among the most competitive people I knew.
the Crowd and Be More Likely to Get Hired          can do to improve your chances in the above         I also know each of them was full of it. Out
                                                   process. Yes, the interviewing process can be       of those six people, I know one of them went
Many attorneys think that sending a thank          and is different for different firms and for dif-   to work at Latham & Watkins (and is now a
you note will make them stand out from the         ferent classes of attorneys (partners, associ-      partner I think), one at Sullivan & Cromwell
crowd and therefore will be more likely to get     ates, etc.). Nevertheless, the basic interview      and another at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher
hired. I will concede that this argument may       follows this sort of format. Here, the thank        & Flom.
have some validity if you are interviewing         you letter is not all that likely to make that
with an extremely small law firm. However,         much of an impact on the process.                   The point here is that all these students
with large law firms, this is rarely going to                                                          were masterful bullshitters. Given what they
make much of a difference.                         Now, in the interest of fairness, I would like      did with their careers, it seems obvious to
                                                   to point out that there are certain types of        me almost all were lying to the firm. What
Let me tell you how most interviews with           situations where a thank you letter could re-       I suspect is that if I had sat there the entire
large law firms work. I hate to be so simplis-     ally serve to make your point effectively but       day, everyone would have said the same thing
tic, but in many respects this is how it goes:     where I still would caution against writing         to this small firm. Certainly, the firm must
                                                   one. The most common instance is when you           have known that these people were not being
a. Partner gets your resume (and cover let-        are a very well-credentialed attorney coming        honest. The only thing they were doing was
ter) from the recruiting coordinator of the        from a large firm and interviewing with a           trying to get the best job.
firm via office messenger or email;                smaller law firm. Here, there is a possibility
b. Partner reviews your resume and decides         that you would be well served writing a thank       What this says to me is that there are certain
whether or not you look good within 1-5            you letter and here’s why:                          rare situations when a note might make a
seconds;                                                                                               difference. Here, every single one of these
c. You show up for the interview. Partner          When I was in law school, a small law firm          candidates was telling the same story. A
makes up mind about whether or not they            from a small town in Alabama came to                note might have made their case a little
like you by the way you look and what was in       interview at my law school. There were many         better and made them sound more convinc-
your resume within 1-5 seconds;                    well-credentialed attorneys at this small law       ing in the end-if someone really did want to
d. Partner interviews you for 15-60 min-           firm, but the fact remained that it was still       work in a small town in Alabama. Of all the
utes. May actually change their mind about         a very small firm of less than ten attorneys.       potential situations where you would need
whether they like you during the interview         The firm only interviewed people who were           to stand out from the crowd, though, this is
(10-15% of the time);                              on law review and had marketed itself as a          about the only one I can think of where a note
e. Partner fills out an evaluation of you in       rare lifestyle firm that was really exception-      would help you do this. Given the small size
1-5 minutes and sends back to recruiting           al. It got a lot of interest. For some reason,      of the firm, they would want a very intimate
coordinator;                                       I wrote down the wrong time and showed up           understanding of every candidate they hired.
f. Recruiting coordinator goes over your           for the interview (being held in a small inter-     A note would also help separate those who
reviews from partners and associates who           viewing room on campus) about two hours             are genuinely interested in the position from
interviewed you and advises the hiring part-       early. Each interview was 20 minutes, so over       those who are not. Notwithstanding, this sort
ner of them. Person is ultimately hired or         the course of the next two hours I watched          of situation is so rare that I do not think it
not hired after some further discussion. This      six separate law students in my class walk          merits further discussion.
could take a day, or it could take months.         into their interviews with the firm. Based on
Firm will be concerned with whether they           the way the interview room was situated, I          4. Thank You Letters Restate Your Case
have the money to hire you, the work to hire       could also hear each interview occurring.
you, if your experience is right for the job, if                                                       While the above discussion touched on this
your interviewers liked you, if you are likely     Each of the six people who went in for the          a bit, I believe it is important to devote a
to succeed in this position, your potential        interviews made the same pitch about how            separate section to “restating your case.”
employment stability, your “fit” with the firm     they did not want to practice in a big firm,        Many attorneys who interview with law firms
and more.                                          money was not important, they were more             are under the impression that they need to

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WEEKLY RECRUITER SPEAK                                                                                                        1.800. 973. 1177

(1) tell them what you are going to tell them                                                         bring him back to the United States in a few
in a cover letter, (2) tell them in an interview   If you did something wrong in an interview,        weeks for interviews.
and (3) then tell them again in a subsequent       if you did not make your case well enough,
thank you letter. If you have any familiarity      the odds are very slim that a thank you letter     I prepped the attorney the best I could for
with marketing, then you certainly may sub-        is going to make much of a difference. More        the interviews, but they still did not go well.
scribe to this belief system as well.              than likely, it will hurt you.                     I learned this from someone else inside the
                                                                                                      firm on a Friday evening. My candidate was
I do not think you ever need to restate your       In closing this section, I want to briefly write   scheduled to get on a flight on a Sunday
case after the interview. If you have made         about a situation where I worked with a can-       morning for his 30+ hour trip back. I called
your initial case well enough, you will not        didate and wrote a series of thank you letters     my candidate on Saturday morning at 7:00
need to because you will already be believed       with him over an 18-hour period that ended         am and told him to come over to the office so
by whomever is weighing the pros and cons          up getting him a job. This is a rare situa-        we could reposition his candidacy with the
of hiring you. If you restate your case, you       tion and one where I believe a considerable        firm.
may actually make things worse if there is         amount of skill was brought to bear. It was
any doubt or indecision with your reasons for      not easy, though, and it certainly could have      With considerable coaching, he did not com-
wanting to work for the firm.                      backfired.                                         plete his thank you letter until about 3:00 am
                                                                                                      that morning. It was an incredible effort. The
One of the most interesting classes I ever         My candidate was working in a very distant         letter went into detail about why he wanted
took in law school was a class in conjunction      place as a corporate attorney. While I will not    the job, was brutally honest about his lack of
with the psychiatry department where we            divulge the location, suffice it to say it was     opportunities, described how hard he would
studied murderers. This class was fascinat-        not in the United States and he was work-          work and how much the position would mean
ing because five other students and I actually     ing in one of the most isolated places I have      to him and ended up being a very moving
got to watch police and psychiatrists inter-       ever heard about. He was practicing in an          product. I actually heard that a couple of
view murderers behind mirrored glass. One          area where no one spoke English, where the         partners who received the letter cried when
of the things that I learned in this class was     weather conditions were brutal and where           they read it.
that no matter how bad something is that           he desperately felt the need to return to the
someone does, they almost never think they         United States. The problem was, the market         He got the job.
are wrong or change their position. Through-       was not right for him to return at all. Without
out my legal career, as I worked for a judge,      meeting him, I got him numerous interviews         This situation, however, was extraordinary.
and then a string of attorneys, it became very     in the United States after convincing him to       There are not a lot of situations like this
clear to me that once someone has formed           spend 30 hours and a great deal of money on        where you need to step in and really do
an opinion about something, it is exceedingly      train and airline fares to travel here. In his     something monumental to get a position. It
rare that his or her opinion will be changed.      first trip to the United States, he did not get    worked here. It would not always work and
Certainly, outstanding lawyers can influence       a single job offer and had very poor interview     it was a risk. I want to be clear with you that
judges and juries. The truth remains, though,      skills. For all intensive purposes, his job        this sort of tactic should only be used in the
that most people believe what they believe         search appeared doomed.                            rarest of situations.
and there is little you can do to change that.
There are thousands of political, psychologi-      The candidate continued to contact me and,         B. Why You Should Not Write Thank You
cal and social situations where it is next to      feeling incredibly sorry for him, I continued      Letters
impossible to change what one party thinks.        plugging away at his job search, but was
                                                   unable to get any results. The market was          You should not write thank you letters be-
In the interview situation, a thank you let-       simply not right. As luck would have it, I was     cause, (1) they make you appear not to have
ter is rarely going to change how someone          able to set up a meeting with a partner I          any other options, (2) they give you an op-
thinks about you. In fact, because people are      knew who was traveling to this distant land        portunity to screw up, (3) they can potentially
more eager to justify their own decisions          for an unprecedented business trip. After          polarize interviewers against you, (4) they
than anything, a thank you letter may actu-        considerable lobbying, I got the partner to        can make you appear dishonest or disingenu-
ally serve the opposite purpose because the        meet with the candidate in a town about 3          ous, and (5) they make you appear like you
interviewer will read into it what he or she       hours from where he lived in a hotel bar           have nothing better to do.
wants to in order to justify their decision.       for drinks. Incredibly, the partner agreed to

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WEEKLY RECRUITER SPEAK                                                                                                          1.800. 973. 1177

1. Thank You Letters Make You Appear Not to                                                               too personalized, not personalized enough-
Have Any Other Options                               2. Thank You Letters Give You the Opportunity        whatever? Again, the quality of the stationary
                                                     to Screw Up                                          you are using says a lot about you. Maybe the
Let me be frank about one thing: Most at-                                                                 person receiving it will like you based on this-
torneys do not write thank you letters after an      I have heard so many thank you letter horror         maybe they will not. You simply have no way of
interview. In fact, I would say that less than       stories that it is hard to count. When you write     knowing. Why, though, should you even take a
5% do. Accordingly, the people who will re-          a thank you letter, the chances are very good        chance?
ceive your thank you letter likely never wrote       you may make an error. They happen all the
one themselves when they got a job at the            time. One of the most common errors is a             I have also seen many stellar attorneys who
firm. Therefore, their first questions are: Why      typo, a misspelling, or something of the sort.       were guilty of (1) faxing thank you letters from
is this person writing me a thank you letter?        You may get the firm’s suite number wrong,           work, or (2) sending a thank you letter from
Is his current job in jeopardy? Is he desperate      you may misspell a name-the list is endless.         their work email address. These are stylistic
for a job?                                           One of the more common ones I have heard,            things that can also cost you an offer-regard-
                                                     is attorneys interviewing with several firms         less of how good of an interviewee you are.
As a legal recruiter, I have worked with nu-         and sending thank you letters and mixing up          Not worth the risk.
merous attorneys throughout the years. I have        the people at different firms. This is more
worked with attorneys whose firms were shut-         common than you might think. All of these            All of the concerns above are stylistic. Cer-
ting down, attorneys who are unemployed and          errors are so common, I would estimate they          tainly, you can screw yourself up based on
attorneys who were eager to find a new posi-         happen with over 50% of the thank you letters        style, but what about substance?
tion for various reasons. The attorneys who          attorneys write after an interview.
typically ask me whether or not they should                                                               In your thank you letter, you may say some-
write a thank you letter are usually in trouble      Regardless of your good intentions, these            thing like the following:
or desperate for a change like those above. I        errors can be extremely fatal. They communi-
hate to be so brutally honest, but this is true.     cate a lack of detail in an extremely important      As a patent attorney, I really feel Smith Smith
                                                     piece of written work product designed to get        & Smith fits in with my goals. I particularly
If an attorney is considering writing a thank        you a job. They give those who interviewed you       look forward to the opportunity to start getting
you letter, they have put themselves in a            and were unsure or simply did not like you           some litigation experience in addition to doing
situation where they are effectively saying: “I      excellent ammunition to use against you to           patent prosecution at your firm.
really need this job, I want to give myself every    prevent you from getting a job. No matter how        What if the firm does not have much IP litiga-
possible advantage and a good thank you let-         hard you try, you may end up making errors in        tion and only prosecution? You may have just
ter may really set me over the top.” This is not     these letters. I do not care if you were Summa       blown yourself out of the water. Despite their
the best strategy.                                   Cum Laude from a top five law school and             representations in the interview, you have no
                                                     work at a top ten American law firm - to err is      idea what the firm’s plans are for you. You
If you appear not to have any other options,         human.                                               could say 10,000 different things like this in a
the firm is likely to think there is something                                                            thank you letter and end up not getting a job
wrong with you that they do not know about.          Have you ever looked at someone’s handwrit-          due to it, unbeknownst to you.
Firms want to feel like all of their attorneys       ing and decided that you did not like them
are strong and in demand. If you do not appear       because it was too sloppy, not sloppy enough,        The point of this is that you never know how
in demand, firms will think that you are inter-      too organized, too pronounced, too formal-           the firm is going to view either the stylistic or
viewing there because they are losers. Firms         whatever? The fact is, many people read oth-         the substantive representations you make in
do not want to feel like losers.                     ers writing and will reach conclusions simply        your thank you letter. Be extremely careful
                                                     by the way it looks. I’m not kidding! Why on         before you write a thank you letter and know
There is also no way to make firms think you         earth would you want to give someone an op-          that it will have consequences you might not
are in demand in a letter that is likely to be ef-   portunity to dislike you based on this?              ever be able to foresee.
fective. Lawyers are suspicious by nature and
are likely to think you are “bluffing” anyway if     In addition, we have not even spoken about the       3. Thank You Letters Can Potentially Polarize
you try and make this case in a letter. It is also   quality of the stationary you are using. Is it too   Interviews Against You
likely to piss them off. Keep the mystery going      expensive, not expensive enough, too colorful,
by not writing a thank you letter.                   too bland, too large, too small, too formal,         The fact of the matter is, some interviewers

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WEEKLY RECRUITER SPEAK                                                                                                       1.800. 973. 1177

are going to be more interesting to you than        surprised because you have may have only           time to write a thank you letter. You do not
others. Consequently, you will make more            touched briefly upon what you are referring        need to make all interviewers think this, but
of a connection with certain interviewers.          to. Accordingly, what you write will sound         you need to make some of them think it.
While this is perfectly normal, the fact that       dishonest.
you might have more of a connection with one                                                           C. Conclusions
person than the other is not something that is      The main issue with thank you letters is that
going to serve you all that well in the interview   it is often difficult to say anything without      Getting a job, interviewing for a job and then
stage.                                              appearing to be stretching the truth. The          getting an offer is a careful dance. This is
                                                    intent of most attorneys in writing them is        especially so with law firms. If you screw up
When you write your interviewers thank you          to say something-anything-in order to make         at any stage in the process, you may lose your
letters, there is a chance that some may com-       a positive impression and stick out. This is       opportunity for an offer.
pare letters. If one letter is long and shows       often impossible to do without appearing to be
an obvious connection and another does not,         pushing it a little bit.                           Ultimately, it is up to you whether or not you
one interviewer may decide they do not like                                                            write thank you letters. In extreme cases, as I
you due to this. Does this sound crazy? Yes.        If you appear to be a little bit overreaching      have pointed out in this article, I think they can
The dynamics of social organizations can be         in your thank you letter, the interviewer may      work. In the vast majority of cases, though, I
nothing short of insane. You simply cannot          think that you may not be trustworthy. You         do not think they are worth it. When you write
understand them-especially when you are not         may remind them of opposing counsel, an            a thank you letter you are taking a major risk
working there.                                      ex wife-or more. You need to be extremely          you do not have to.
Do not make the dynamics of a certain firm                                                             If not a thank you letter, then what?
work against you. This is almost unavoidable        Given this concern, many attorneys try and
if you are sending several thank you letters.       be understated in their thank you letters.         All you have to do is shine in your interviews
Many interviewees decide based on this logic        The problem with this is that they then sound      and make the best impression possible. Do
just to write one thank you letter-to the high-     disinterested in the position-or even sarcastic.   this and nothing more and you will never have
est ranking partner they interviewed with, for      You can never control how others view what         the need for a thank you letter.
example.                                            you write.

Again, this can backfire. “He only respects the     5. Thank You Letters Make You Appear Like
most powerful person he interviewed with?”          You Have Nothing Better to Do
one interviewer might think. That person will
not even be giving him assignments-I will.          Good attorneys are always busy. Clients and
                                                    other attorneys in the firm always want to give
I hope you can understand that there is just        them work because they know the work done
potentially too much going on here with thank       by the good attorney is of the highest quality.
you letters for you to get involved. They can       Those are also the sorts of attorneys most
turn your interviewers against you. Avoid           firms want to hire.
                                                    When you sit down to pen a thank you note,
4. Thank You Letters Can Make You Appear            many attorneys who receive it will not help but
Dishonest or Disingenuous                           think that you have nothing better to do. This
                                                    is extremely unattractive to many interview-
Thank you letters are typically rife with state-    ers. Worse, you may fax them the thank you
ments that sound suspect. Interviewees will         letter from work on the firm stationary, or
say things like “it was the most interesting        send it using the firm postage meter. This
conversation I have had in a long while,” or        looks bad. Really bad.
“our discussion reaffirmed my belief that
this is where I really want to work.” When an       You want your interviewers to think you have a
interviewer gets a letter like this, he is often    lot going on-so much so that you do not have


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