09 October 2007

One Wonders What Changes

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

“‘It seems like a small thing, but I tell my students that every contact with the college contributes to their perception of you,’ said Patrick J. O’Connor, director of college counseling at the private Roeper School in Birmingham, Mich.”

That is a quote from an article in today’s New York Times about college applicants sending thank-you notes to college admissions offices as part of their application process. It is, apparently, de rigeur now, yet another pressurized element of this already stressful scenario.

Which raises the question: what changes during people’s time in college? Somehow, they seem to lose the knowledge and foresight on-hand in high school that suggests that sending a thank you is both good etiquette and, as the college counselor above notes, another opportunity to shape someone’s sense of who you are. This is an issue I take seriously, although the degree to which I care about it has little impact on the actions of others.

I can think of a few reasons why thank you notes for similar situations, like job interviews, seem less common. It might be that there’s a premature sense of being an adult, by which I mean that the decisions made based on one’s age are not necessarily the right decisions for the situation – regardless of age. Maybe the absence of parents urging their children along has some impact; the pressure to get into college, while still living at home, gives one’s parents a very large role (as some of the students in the article note). Or, it could be that there is an (unwarranted) sense of familiarity and informality, which surely influences decision-making for most people in one way or another; in this case, it may help reverse the sense of who is in control of a particular situation – but clearly, it isn’t the applicant, whether for a college spot or a job.

I wonder what the “Millennials” over at Employee Evolution think of this issue. Too formal for their blood? Mark Liston, a recruiter and a contributor to the site, did mention thank you notes as an important part of the interviewing process in a recent post there (important for baby boomers, he says, but I’m not one – and they’re important to me, too).

My take, in case anyone missed it: thank you notes are important. They won’t be the single most important part of anyone’s interview / application process, but they can break a tie if a decision has to be made between two candidates.


Anonymous Ryan Paugh said...

Interestingly enough, during my first job search I actually DID send thank you letters to the employers I really wanted to work for.

It was good for me in two ways:

1. If they weren't going to hire me, there was a better chance that they wouldn't drag out the process. They would respect my gratitude and be honest from the get-go.

2. It helped me land my first gig.

Gratitude does go a long way and I don't think it's just a Boomer thing.

Here's what I think:

When we were writing those thank you letters in high school, our parents and counselors were urging us on. During the big employment search, protocol is a little more vague to us.

I was lucky because I had guidance. But everyone's not so lucky.

Also, there's a vague understanding of what employers want on top of the standard interview, resume, etc. Some don't want to receive extra emails from potential hires simple by reason of company etiquette.

Thanks for posing the issue.

11:24 AM  

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