The 4 levels of 'thank you'
Because sometimes it’s not always clear whether you should send a card or a Ryan Gosling impersonator.
It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and to celebrate we’re diving into the surprisingly complicated world of thank you notes: when to send them, what to say, and whether it’s ever a good idea to pin six exclamation points to the end of a sentence.
Now, though, we’re taking a slightly different tack. Because while there’s certainly nothing wrong with sending someone a quick email when they do you a solid, some situations demand a little more than that, whether it’s a thoughtful gesture (gift basket?) or a hurtling cannonball of gratitude (original three-act musical about the recipient?).
“Etiquette is not that cut and dry,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, founder and director of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Lake Worth, Florida. “It’s situational, and so it depends on what the favor is and how well you know the person.”
Nevertheless, it’s smart to follow some general guidelines when it comes to determining how, exactly, you should go about thanking someone for an interview, networking opportunity, or larger favor. Read on for the four levels of “thank you.”
In most professional settings, a short thank you email is usually all you need. It’s the typical, one- to two-sentence message you send after an interview or networking event, or any other situation where you don’t know the individual you’re thanking personally, but some kind of follow-up is needed. We’ve got a guide to writing thank you emails for you templatizers out there, but suffice to say that it should be short, and include the words “thank you.”
“Even if you don’t get the job, write a thank you note anyway,” says Whitmore. “The candidate who was chosen may turn the job down. He may get hit by a truck. Anything could happen, and you could be the number-two person in line, and you’re going stand out if you send a thank you note just thanking the person for their time.”
2. Handwritten note
Did someone write you a letter of recommendation or suggest you for a promotion? Try classing up your thank-you with some fancy stationery. There’s never a downside here (unless the slower snail mail delivery is a concern)—in fact, Whitmore suggests going handwritten even for standard follow-ups. “Send an email, but follow it up with a handwritten note,” she says. “Not only are you trying to stand out, but you’re getting your name in front of that person two times.”
Handwritten letters are also great when a co-worker does you a favor—everyone likes finding a little surprise on their desk. They’re that perfect middle ground, when you need to impart a personal touch without going overboard.
Now we’re getting into the upper echelon of thanks-giving, where you’ll need to put some real thought into what you’re doing. Gifts are ideal when someone writes you a reference letter that truly goes above and beyond, or otherwise directly contributes to your landing a job.
How much is too much? That largely depends on how well you know the person—along with how big the favor is. “Give what you have,” says Whitmore. “Don’t go in debt, but do what you can.”
Not sure what to buy? Wine is usually a good bet—or, if they’re not drinkers, flowers usually do the job, or a gift card to one of their favorite shops or restaurants.
When you’re responding to a big favor, a meal on you can be as good or better than a concrete gift. After all, it shows that you’re willing to take time out of your schedule just to say “thanks.” That counts for a lot, and can be a great way to show your appreciation when someone helps you in a big way.
As in gifting, there’s a fine line where the extravagance of the gesture needs to be in line with the magnitude of the favor. It’s weird to take someone out to Chez Fancy if you’re only thanking that person for giving you advice, for instance. That’s why it’s usually best to reserve a meal-as-gift for someone you know personally, who has helped you in a tangible, personally impactful way.
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