April 14th, 2014
It’s not often that I read an article that contradicts my experience so dramatically. In fact, when I read Guy Trebay’s “The Found Art of Thank-You Notes,” in The New York Times I was working on yet another post about the lost art of thanks even when gratitude makes business common sense.
The Times article seemed to have been written either by a person associated with a luxury stationery industry trade organization pushing pricey engraved note cards, or perhaps Rip Van Winkle’s great, great, great grandson–someone who just woke up, having learned of a vintage art and in awe of the fresh, new concept. Another reason for the discrepancy between the experience of stationers and others he quoted and the reality I continue to face is that Trebay said that the reemergence of elegant thank you notes sent via USPS has been launched largely by the fashion industry. I am not associated with it.
The direction of the original post was based on an email conversation between me and Erin Berkery-Rovner. I shared my astonishment at how few scholarship applicants I’d interviewed for a generous industry-sponsored program had sent an email afterwards to thank me for my time to prepare and for the conversation itself. Each one of them had my address. I thought she’d be interested and surprised given her work as college career development executive/alumni job counselor/ headhunter.
Most of the applicants were grad students and only one mentioned anything about my business, information easy to find on my website [in the signature template on my emails] or in a two-second Google search. I’m not the only stickler for this kind of acknowledgement in a business context. The scholarship committee chairs instructed us to let them know if applicants thanked or referred in any way to our careers. Those who didn’t were on the cutting room floor.
Erin responded: “I can’t believe some didn’t write back! I thought that type of note was normal-but apparently it’s a thing of the past. It’s pretty crazy!” She added: “I’m also surprised that only one looked up anything personal about you. Very strange!”
She continued: “I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I did an informational interview with a woman and gave her a lot of information on getting into higher education. I asked her to send me a list of schools that interested her. She never did. And then one of my colleagues at a prestigious school mentioned an open job, and so I emailed the woman. By the time she got back to me it was too late–the job had already been posted and had been in interviews. And I even asked for follow up, and nothing, no thank you no nothing. It’s really odd to me.”
In your dealings with people who may want something from you—such as applicants for scholarships or jobs or advice-seekers you help pro bono—where do you see the pendulum swinging: Towards written notes, tweets and texts or no acknowledgement whatsoever? Have you, like Guy Trebay, seen an uptick in bread-and-butter letters?