A few years ago, you couldn't go wrong with a résumé and cover letter printed on high-quality paper and mailed in a matching envelope. After a job interview, informational meeting or other personal contact, a hand-written thank-you note was considered standard.
These days, the right approach is far less clear.
Annelise Larson, who was a corporate HR person for eight years and is now an MBA candidate at the University of St. Thomas, said the days of the paper résumé may be drawing to a close. While there may still be some exceptions, "submitting a résumé electronically is required by all large companies, and even most medium-sized ones," she said. "Paper is harder to keep track of."
For thank-you notes and other correspondence, there is less agreement about the proper medium for the message. E-mail has some strong points in its favor. If you're using a thank-you to help you clinch a job interview, a written note may arrive after the decision has been made, even if you race to the post office right after the interview. If the people you write to are traveling or working from home, the delay in receiving a paper document could be even longer. An e-mail can be sent more quickly and, these days, will more than likely be retrieved within hours -- if not minutes.
On the other hand, people who believe in the hand-written thank-you note tend to hold that belief very strongly. An e-mail is simply not a substitute. "A hand-written note makes you stand out," Larson said. "When a client sends a thank-you note, I put it on my bulletin board."
The best solution, for now, is probably to think of e-mail and written correspondence as separate tools. E-mail, as noted, is fast. In addition, Larson said, "e-mail opens a conversation."
It might be useful to think of it more as a follow-up than a thank you. In addition to letting the recipient know that you enjoyed your meeting or conversation, you can also clarify or expand on a point or two from the interview. With e-mail, it's also easy to provide a link to a web site or article that provides information or insight on a topic that you discussed. It's a value-add for the recipient that also helps to establish your expertise.
The written note, on the other hand, functions as a formal conclusion to the meeting, while inviting the next step. If it's a first-round interview, you hope to make it to the next round. If it was an informational interview, you can promise to keep the contact informed as you put all the good advice to use.
With e-mail becoming a more acceptable medium, are we ready for the thank-you text message? "No!" Larson said firmly. But, she added, "In the next few years, we'll probably start seeing some form of them."
However, Larson used Twitter to acknowledge business leaders who participated in a panel discussion at St. Thomas. "If you have people who are active in social media, getting mentioned raises their visibility," Larson said. "It all depends on how technologically savvy the recipients are."