Service of Thanks II

April 14th, 2014

Categories: Etiquette, Manners, Thanks

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?


12 Responses to “Service of Thanks II”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    This is not handwritten, BUT, Thats a great and current topic…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I didn’t expect anything handwritten from the scholarship applicants but a “Thx for your time” in an email would have counted and those who didn’t send even that couldn’t count on being a finalist for a scholarship–that simple.

  3. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    With communication so vastly simplified today, it continues to appall me how seldom I receive confirmation of anything—whether it’s an assignment I’ve submitted or a book or article I’ve put in the mail. Whenever I get a handwritten note, I practically cheer…but that doesn’t happen very often.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Seems the easier it gets to communicate the lazier we get. Most of the time there’s nothing we can do about it. At least in the case I wrote about–issuance of scholarships–she who didn’t send a smoke signal lost in spite of having an amazing resume, extraordinary recommendation letters, sparkling grades, fantastic application essay and remarkable gift of gab.

  5. Deborah Brown Said:

    I can’t recall the last hand written note I received for helping with advice, networking intros, resume input, etc., from anyone!
    Occasionally, an email. I believe this hardens back to manners taught at home. For me, it was you can’t spend it, play with it wear or read it until you’ve thanked the sender with a note! Where is Dear Abby when we need her????

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You had a very strict parent! I, too had to write thank you notes. I enjoyed it actually because when I was quite young one of my mother’s friends told her–and she told me–that my notes were great. It can be a challenge if the gift is off the wall but then, who in PR hasn’t written copy that squeezes every ounce of good out of a strange product? Come to think of it, maybe it was those thank you notes that got me into the business.

    I digress: As Merv wrote, it’s so easy now to communicate that there are no excuses. People of all ages today think that they are the center of the universe and that they don’t need to heed basic warnings or bother with old fashioned courtesies. They feel they can text while driving, drive like a maniac or, more on topic, accept all sorts of favors which will keep on coming because they are too important and too busy to think of what the giver might enjoy reading/hearing. And what might the consequences be of silence? I doubt that they think that far ahead.

  7. Paula P. Said:

    I’m with you all the way on this one!

    Thank you notes go back to when man first invented writing. Maybe even the first thought ever written was, “Thank you.” I know customs and mores in society are changing at a rapid pace, but nothing will, nor should, ever replace the effectiveness of a well-crafted hand written thank you note especially in business. However, your description of your scholarship committee’s decision, with which I thoroughly agree, to penalize applicants who didn’t write to say, “Thank you.”, brings up a broader issue. One, I believe, worth exploring.

    A colleague of mine years ago, who later became a close friend, suffered from a combination of severe dyslexia and dismal manual dexterity, which made the hand writing of anything painful for him. To make matters worse, his mother was a real tyrant (I once met her and can believe it) who literally forced him as a child, no matter how painful it was, to thank in writing for each of his gifts. It got to the point where he dreaded Christmas and his birthday, because they brought with them presents for which he would be compelled to thank. Obviously, somewhat neurotic, he was notorious at work for making others write to thank, while he himself often did not. Because he was smart and creative, our employer tolerated this up to a point, but eventually he acquired a new immediate “by the numbers” superior, and was fired.

    The issue is: Should businesses tolerate employees whose handicaps make it difficult, if not impossible for them to perform the most basic of tasks, such as writing thank you notes?

    The City of New York spends billions on kneeling busses to accommodate wheelchairs, teaching un-teachable children with so called “special needs” and keeping people alive in nursing homes and hospitals who have no chance of recovery. Shouldn’t business do its part and employ people “unable to perform the most basic of tasks”?

    I think not. Business is cutthroat and heartless. Profit is everything. If society wishes to subsidize the inept and incompetent, that’s its choice, but business does not have that luxury. It must, to compete and survive, heave its underperformers, as handicapped as they may be, out onto that great slag heap of humanity, Welfare.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I have wonderful news for your friend: Computers are the salvation of people with dyslexia. I’ve spoken with the director of a prominent school that teaches children with such learning disabilities and she confirmed this.

    More good news: A typed thank you letter is perfectly appropriate for a business thank you and even better, in most instances, so is a nicely crafted email.

    All the scholarship applicants needed to do was to type a few words of thanks on a keyboard and hit “SEND.” They didn’t need to look up my email address: I had already written each to confirm the time of our interview.

    I trust that you were being sarcastic to make your point? I’d like to meet an employee that is good at everything. That’s what colleagues, assistants, agencies—legal, advertising, marketing, or PR—are for.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    Thanking either reflects upbringing or inborn good manners, and in many cases, both. Failure to do so sends a clear message: Disregard, and/or contempt for the sender, granter of interview and etc.

    Everyone’s experience in that regard differs since it depends upon those with whom one is involved. The reporter is writing about a subjective topic as he sees it.

    It is not imperative that gratitude be shown by the written word – which can come as automatic and not be in the least bit sincere. At the risk of exhausting an old adage, actions speak louder than words.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    When asked by students I mentor or friends looking for an internship or job, I have never suggested that they skip the thank you, even if they have met four to six people in the interview process. I never will. I think it is imperative in that context and such an easy way for people to distinguish themselves from others.

    The young stars I interviewed might be shocked to learn that a 1 minute note stopped them from moving to the next stage of the scholarship process to potentially receive $2,500-$10,000. Who cares if the thanks is heartfelt in this case? Given they are in the communications field, it gives them another opportunity to strut their stuff.

    The biggest gift anyone gives another person is their time–even if it is part of their job as in the case of someone who works in human resources. [As volunteers the time we devote to speaking with them and reporting what we hear translates to work done nights and weekends to catch up.] Perhaps they aren’t taught by parents, relatives, mentors, advisors, teachers, instructors or others. They are smart as their credentials illustrate. They had better hone their skills of observation or in this market, unless their parents are very well connected, goodness knows where they will land.

  11. RCF Said:

    I am most touched by the letters of thanks I get at the end of the year, after everything is over, students are off to college and there is nothing to “gain” by flattery and warm thanks. Then, whether the letters are emailed, on cards given me at graduation, or “snail-mailed” they have their effect. I feel gratitude for having had the opportunity to teach these students. I say such thanks are not necessary, but they do make me feel warm and cared for.

    I do not get many thank-yous for the letters of recommendation I slave over. But then, the students do not see them, nor do their anxious parents. All they know is that I sent a letter by the deadline.

    Smart students thank me for that, perhaps just in case they need something extra (!). No – that is not fair. There are those who understand what it is we all have to do and appreciate it. and when they let us know, it is nice.

    On another note, thank yous for parties are awfully nice to get, and I find them hard to write. It seems the trick is to have small note sized cards that are either elegant or pretty, and to write the note immediately.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your students are your clients in a way–both your students and my clients expect the best from us. However writing a recommendation is above and beyond so I’d think it requires some recognition. When my clients thank me it makes me feel great although keeping me on is thanks enough.

    The trick for a bread and butter note is to think of something to focus on: What did the host/hostess take the most trouble to do–decorate the table, make the pie from scratch, assemble an amazing group of people, pull together the event at the busiest time in his/her life? Once you’ve decided, off you go and the note is done in a second.

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