No Thank-You Note? No Job

Editor’s ‘simple rule’ for hiring goes viral, elicits retorts from HR pros, managers, journalists, job seekers

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie April 10, 2019
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​You're impressed by a job candidate's resume, references, interview responses and insightful questions about your company, and she's the strongest applicant you've seen so far.

But uh-oh. She never sent a note to thank you for meeting with her.

So you cross her off your list.

Sound harsh? Over the top? It's the approach one publication's executive managing editor swears by.

"I've been hiring people for 10 years, and I still swear by a simple rule: If someone doesn't send a thank you email, don't hire them," reads an April 5 tweet by Jessica Liebman, executive managing editor at Insider Inc., an online media company known for publishing the financial news website Business Insider. The tweet links to an article Liebman wrote that explains why she thinks a thank-you note is important.

Then Twitter blew up.

"Anyone who treats a prospective employee like a child instead of a potential peer isn't worth working for in the first place," tweeted one of thousands of offended commenters, who included HR pros, hiring managers, journalists and job seekers. "I send follow up emails to thank the interviewer for their time, but as soon as you make it required you turn a kind courtesy into a petty demand."

Tweeted another: "Since we're so concerned about Emily Post manners in the hiring process, I wonder if the author sends a personal note, or any communication at all, to the people she decides not to hire after a long and frustrating application and interview process."

According to Glassdoor, which provides online company reviews, one person who interviewed at Business Insider reported that the two editors she met with were "cold …. barely asked any questions and didn't even respond to my 'thank you' note."

Liebman did not reply to an interview request sent to her Insider Inc. e-mail address, nor to a message left with those answering phones at her company's New York City office.

Thank-You Notes Identify the 'Good Eggs'

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

In the April 5 article that Liebman's tweet links to, Liebman wrote that "as a hiring manager, you should always expect a thank-you email, and you should never make an offer to someone who neglected to send one."

Such a note, she wrote, signals that the person wants the job. And it differentiates the "bad eggs" from the "good eggs" because it shows that a candidate is "eager, organized, and well mannered." It also shows resourcefulness, she wrote, "because the candidate often has to hunt down an email address the interviewer never gave them.

"The handful of times we've moved forward with a candidate despite not receiving a thank you, we've been ghosted, or the offer we make is ultimately rejected," she wrote. "A few times, the offer is accepted, but the person pulls out before their start date or leaves after a few months."

Some people tweeted that they understood or supported Liebman's approach to hiring.

Managers often rely on their own rules of thumb when they lack structure or guidance for hiring, said Daniel Chait, CEO of Greenhouse, a talent acquisition software company in New York City.

"I'm somewhat empathetic to Jessica Liebman," he said. "Hiring managers do many more harmful, ill-advised, unfair, biased and arbitrary things every day. When a hiring process is unclear and unstructured, people default to using their own usually subjective criteria. While I certainly disagree with her decision, I put more blame on the system that caused her to have to decide this at all."

The Backlash

The tweets posted in response to Liebman's usually made one or more of four arguments.

The first was that a follow-up note to a hiring manager could backfire: It might be viewed as ingratiating, or it might even irritate a busy manager who doesn't want an inbox clogged with thank-you notes.

"Candidates can often be unsure whether they should send [a note] or not," said Claire Petrie, talent acquisition manager in the Buffalo, N.Y., office of Remedy Intelligent Staffing. "They aren't sure if it's too much or if the recipient will think it's crossing a line."

Tanya Bourque is founder of OpExpert, a boutique talent-acquisition consulting firm in Wyomissing, Pa. She said that of the thousands of people she's hired in the past, perhaps 20 sent her thank-you notes.

"Very few candidates send thank-you notes," she said, noting that demanding one before hiring someone "would be refusing 99 percent of the population, who don't send thank-you notes."

The second argument frequently made against Liebman's approach was that demanding a thank-you note for an interview is imperious and presumptuous, especially at a time when companies are scrambling to find talented workers.

People "can't believe in such a thing as the war for talent when there are hiring practices going on such as rejecting candidates who don't send thank-you notes," Petrie said. "We are in a candidate-driven market right now, especially in my world of manufacturing. If you want to have meaningless hoops to jump through, then you will attract less top talent."

A third argument was that managers can't expect thank-you notes when most don't send candidates similar notes for taking the time to interview—which often involves travel, time off from work, lengthy tests and multiple in-person interviews.

And the fourth argument was that requiring a thank-you note may discriminate against people who come from backgrounds that didn't promote this practice, or against those who are socially reserved, such as someone with "isolation, depression, anxiety, autism," one person tweeted.

Tweeted another: "The only thing a thank you note represents to me is what the norms are for the social class and cultural background … of that candidate. It's nice to get one, but literally doesn't factor into the decision at all, and shouldn't. I've been hiring people for 20+ years."

Instead of using a "flawed proxy" like a thank-you note to weed out candidates, managers should "think more carefully about what criteria actually matter," Chait advised.

"If thank-you note sending is a proxy, what is it really a proxy for?" he asked. "Then, set up a process to more effectively and closely screen for those things. By making more-objective hiring decisions, [managers will] end up saying yes to more good [applicants], and as an added benefit, they'll be more fair [and] inclusive and help combat bias."

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