Updated on 12.10.13

The Art of the Thank You Note

Trent Hamm

One art form that seems to have fallen by the wayside for many people is that of the handwritten thank-you note. A thank-you note is an elegant and inexpensive way to show appreciation to someone who has assisted you in some fashion and also is a stellar way to improve a potential business contact.

What does it cost, and what are the potential dividends?
This is a personal finance blog, after all, so the biggest question is whether or not a thank you note is worth the time and money. It comes down to this: is it worth the time investment (a few minutes) and the money investment (at most, a dollar) to create an additional positive impression on the person you would send the note to? Unless the answer is an emphatic “no,” then a thank-you note is worth the investment.

How should I write a thank-you note?
This is a tricky question that is going to get varying advice from different individuals. My personal belief is that you should purchase high-quality thank you cards from a stationery store (one exception to this is if you have note paper with your organization’s information printed on it) and hand-write the note. This shows a very personal touch, much more personal than that of a printed note; it also shows that you personally took time to show appreciation to them.

Keep it simple. Unless you’re familiar with the recipient, start off with a formal greeting (“Dear Mr. Wilson,”), a single sentence reminder of your connection (“We had the opportunity to meet the other night over drinks; I was the individual with the personal finance blog amd the penchant for gin and tonic.”), another sentence (or two or three) that shows appreciation for the favor (“Thank you for thoughtful and interesting advice on the connection between finance and personal presentation. Because of your advice, I contacted the Carnegie Foundation and discovered some great opportunities.”), and a final one that expresses hope for future contact (“I hope that we will have the opportunity to connect again in the future.”). Sign it simply (“Sincerely, Trent”), and you’re good to go!

Include your business card in the envelope, if you have one and you don’t have a formal relationship with the recipient. This enables the recipient to keep track of who exactly sent them the thank you note in the event that they have forgotten.

When should I send a thank-you note?
Here are a few common occasions where a thank-you note is appropriate – an an example of when one is inappropriate.

Whenever you receive a gift, send a thank-you note. If someone sends you a gift (that’s more than just a product promotion), this is a great opportunity for such a note. This is particularly true with Christmas and other personal gift-giving occasions, though for personal notes, you should use blank, hand-written notes.

Whenever you interview for a job, send a thank-you note. This is true whether or not the interview went well; in either event, you should show appreciation. Why? Even in the worst case scenario, it taught you some things about yourself.

Whenever someone does something for you that is helpful for either your personal or professional life, send a thank-you note. I find these are the most powerful ones in terms of building a network of people that you can regularly connect with. I’m not typically the most social person, so when I am able to make a significant contact with a person, I make sure to follow up, because those individuals may eventually become your co-workers, your clients, or potentially your friends.

Whenever you establish a new professional contact, send a thank-you note. This doesn’t mean that you should send a note to every person that gives you a business card. Instead, wait for encounters that are actually meaningful. What I do is if I spent time interacting with someone and some genuinely fruitful ideas come out of the meeting, I’ll take their card and jot down a quick note on the back as a reminder. Then, when I have a few moments, I take the cards with notes on the back and issue thank-you notes to those individuals, using the jotted note as a reminder.

Avoid sending thank-you notes to the same person more often than every six months. I’ve found that more often than this creates a sycophantic impression, which is a negative. One note is great; five notes is creepy.

In short, I’m a big believer in the power of the thank-you note. Time and time again, I come across individuals that I have thanked via note in the past and I’m already ahead because I have an established positive relationship with that person.

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  1. Kevin says:

    The thank you note is a very powerful thing. My Dad has always encouraged me to send thank you notes. We get a box of really nice notes with our last name imprinted on them. Very simple, but also classy.

  2. mapgirl says:

    And be sincere. I don’t send out many of them, only when I really appreciate the person’s efforts. One every six months sounds like a pretty good rule to me.

    Try also to send out ACTUAL PAPER NOTES. Email is nice, but for a personal thank you note, it takes to the next level when it comes in a nice envelope.

    Recently a friend of mine was commenting on why I’m so good at networking and I think the trick is following up and making the personal contact after meeting someone. Thank you notes are one way to do that, i.e. thanking them for taking the time to speak with you at length.

  3. mapgirl says:

    Oops. You covered the paper note part. Seriously, can’t stress that enough. I got a really ncie present once from someone, a book called The Art of the Handwritten Note.

    Emails just don’t cut it. You can filter those out fast, but a pretty envelope gets sorted fast if it looks like it’s a personal item.

  4. icup says:

    regarding an interview, always send a thank you note. most people don’t, and I have sat on the other side of the table quite a few times and believe me, the people who send us thank you notes (usually email these days) really solidify their impression in our minds, which is really important after interviewing with 10 or so people and reviewing countless resumes. After a certain point, everybody tends to blend together. I also asked my colleagues from several hiring committees what they prefer — thank you note or no, and they always prefer a note.

  5. Toby Getsch says:

    I little batch of thank you cards also makes a nice gift to give to someone when you can’t think of anything else to give them. It can be a little personal, but also friendly help when you know someone is job searching or recently had a life event where they’ll probably say thanks.

    (HINT: Don’t do this for Valentine’s Day! Chocolate works much better.)

  6. Toby Getsch says:

    I little batch of thank you cards also makes a nice gift to give to someone when you can’t think of anything else to give them. It can be a little personal, but also friendly help when you know someone is job searching or recently had a life event where they’ll probably say thanks.

    (HINT: GUys, don’t do this for Valentine’s Day! Chocolate works much better.)

  7. I didn’t grow up doing thank you notes. I came from a culture where it wasn’t too pressing and things were very casual so we said our thank yous verbally often. However, I still need to *really* work on sending out Xmas cards and thank you notes after parties and other events where we receive stuff from people. I’m pretty embarrassed about this and need to shape up in this arena. Thanks for reminding me I need to do them today ;).

  8. Kate says:

    My great aunt called these “bread and butter” letters. She came from a different era, long before email. Even when I sent her just a short note to thank her for a gift, she would inevitably reply with at least a postcard. I still write them, and I always think of her when I do. I sent a thank you note out in the mail just yesterday to a woman who kindly offered lodging to a number of us traveling to attend a conference. There’s a certain satisfaction, these days, in doing something so old-fashioned and basically honorable.

  9. Amy says:

    My family has always taught us that thank you notes are important. They were never optional growing up and they are not optional now that I am an adult. I put a lot of thought into writing notes and try to make them as special as what I have received.

    I do not spend a lot of money on notecards, but I do embellish the outside with a rubber stamp and try to write the most heartfelt note that I can.

    Heartfelt is the most important part!

  10. I remember when I was struggling trying to look for a job when someone gave me this same tip. I took the tip and sent “Thank You” notes (actually, E-Mails) after every interview just sending sincere thanks for taking the time to meet with me.

    I noticed that it worked because not long after I was hired, and days afterwards I was receiving requests for second interviews & hire notifications. Very helpful and I pass the same advice to friends and family that happens to be looking for new work.

  11. Alex says:

    How should I start Thank You note if there were two or three interviewrs but I remember name of only one of them?

  12. susan says:

    How would I write a thank you note to someone who has used my business to have work done? Im in the asphalt business. So I do driveways, parkinglots, and etc. Please give me a good idea of how to write a thank you note on my postcards that I send out that have my info and thank you for your business already printed on them.

  13. Monica says:

    I recently graduated and was just writing some thank you notes for presents (especially money) for my graduation. I was wondering how do you thank people for money without being as tacky as saying “thanks for the money”?

  14. Brandon says:

    I have been in professional sales now for 10 years and love every minute! I continue to learn from each sales person who is in the top of their industry. I ask “Why are you the best? What do you do that makes a difference?” The number one reply I hear “Thank you notes, cards anything I can send them. I keep in front of my customers and prospects every chance I get.”
    As you probably are already aware Tom Hopkins – -sales legend, is a huge advocate of sending thank you cards http://www.tomhopkins.com/article2.htm . Or does the name Joe Girard, Guinness Book of records holder as the worlds best sales person, and his law of 250 ring a bell (http://guerrillaconsulting.typepad.com/guerrilla_marketing_for_c/2005/09/toms_placeholde.html? I am not telling you anything you don’t already know, but how many of you truly practice it?
    I have been using a new marketing/”keep in touch” tool to build relationships with clients, plus keep in touch with friends and family at the click of a button and for under $1.
    Here’s how it works!
    1) Select your card from an on-line catalog where you can choose from over 8,000 cards – many are designed especially for the Realtor and mortgage brokers. Or perhaps you would like to upload your own photo and logo– no problem.
    2) Next you type a personal message.
    3) Hit send and the PHYSICAL CARD goes in the mail the same day for about a dollar. YOU CAN EVEN DO IT IN YOUR OWN HANDWRITING!. Plus for those people you want to include a gift, you can insert a gift card from top retailers or even a check without ever having to go to the store.
    For users with a large Rolodex, you can even import contacts from excel and outlook without a problem.
    No more standing in line at the store trying to buy a card, forgot stamps – no problem. Lazy and you don’t to take a time to send a note, now you can send a REAL card for under a $1 under 60 seconds.
    Now let’s think out of the box and focus on how you personally can grow your business with this system.

  15. Jenners says:

    Thank you for this, Trent and everybody. I work for a non-profit and try to thank contributors ‘by hand’ even tho they get a printed TY letter with their receipt. Some of my co-workers agree that a personal TY is necessary, but are willing to settle for doing it by email. I can’t back it up with stats, but I am convinced that today more than ever, a hand-written TY note goes a long way to encouraging repeat contributions, b/c so few are doing it anymore. Besides, if they can pick up a pen to write a check, the least I can do is do the same to thank them.

  16. MINDY says:

    i had a short term relationship with a man that i met when i lived in nj.but i had to move. he is into his career and i have kids. he has none.we still keep in contact every so often.The relationship was in possible for either to continue. We are still friends. He sent me a 1000.00 check and card in the mail.how do i thank him with out him thinking i am interested in nothing more than friendship

  17. donna says:

    I lost my cellphone in the toilet inside our company building and someone gave it back to me. would like to write a simple thank you letter for her…can u help me to do one.

    Thanks & Regards,

  18. Margaret says:

    For the kid about the money — for cash wedding gifts, I wrote something like, Thank you for coming to the wedding. It was great to visit you. We are saving our wedding money to put towards a house. — So you could say something like thanks for coming to my grad (or for thinking of me). I am putting my graduation money towards tuition at U of Whatever.

  19. Tall Bill says:

    Back in January 2005, I entered the Hospital – the first of 3 total & wheeled out the FRONT door in April 2006. A year later with family in tow, we visited each and every area I had been in & as we spoke briefly at each, my daughter hand wrote each caregivers name on the envelope for me to hand deliver to anyone that had cared for me. We had spent a few nights between homework signing each one & when it was all said and done 176 were in hand. I continue to get emails and calls from time to time thanking me for lifting their spirits so greatly as most head home never to be heard from again. It’s great to be able to write this & may this year be blessed with comfort for all.

  20. Melinda says:

    Thanks Trent!

    Just a question, what if your handwriting is atrocious? Seriously, my handwriting is so bad I really think it would leave a negative impression. Do you think it would have the same effect if I printed it in a nice font and hand signed it?

  21. I couldn’t agree more about the power of sending note cards. I always send thank-you notes for job interviews and I always feel like it puts me ahead of the game. On at least one occasion, it has sealed a job for me.

  22. princess_peas says:

    @Melinda – sorry for the late reply.

    My suggestion is, buy a REALLY nice pen (I like a fountain pen but a good quality ballpoint can be just as good.) It sounds a bit silly, but holding a well-crafted, expensive pen to write the note WILL make handwriting look better on anyone. Also, taking the time to write the note carefully, aiming for the best you can get, when there are no interuptions, makes a massive difference too. And if all else fails, practise your good handwriting and see if it doesn’t improve! Even if it just enables you to write in a straight line on a blank card. However, taking the time to print in a nice font, whether you hand-sign the note or print that too also shows that consideration/personal touch, so my personal oppinion is that it’s fine to do so :-)

  23. Rob says:

    Trent, thanks for a write up on how to write a “Thank you” note. I know I can be stronger in this area. I liked the idea of any time you make a new professional contact to send them a thank you note. I will try using this idea in the future. Thanks Trent!

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