Q: What’s the proper follow-up after an interview? In particular I’d like to know what to do if I don’t want the job.
This is a great question because the standards for business communication have changed (and in some cases the standards for good manners as well). It used to be that a hand-written note was the expectation after a sales meeting, lunch or client entertaining, or after an interview for a job. It’s still considered a “classy touch,” but with email being today’s primary means of business communication, it’s the new mail. It’s likely that many executives don’t even know where the mail room is, let alone open their own mail, so relying on the USPS alone isn’t the best idea.
I suggest you send a hand-written note (assuming your writing is legible and does not represent you poorly) in addition to an email — just in case the letter never shows up or is left unopened. Both should be done within 24 hours from the interview. I’d recommend sending different, but related, messages for each medium to avoid repetition.
As for the content of your notes, regardless of whether or not you are interested in the job, be sure to thank the interviewer for her time. If you are interested, you should point out the qualifications, skills and experience you can bring to the organization and your interest in the role as well as follow up on topics that came up in the conversation to provide additional information and context.
If you are not interested in the job, politely let the interviewer know that you are interested in taking your career in a different direction. Either way, it should be kept brief (no more than half a page is a good rule of thumb). Be sure that you spell-check and read aloud to help check for grammar and that it “sounds right.” A sloppy follow-up note can be as bad as a typo on your resume.
The most important thing is that you leave a professional impression on the interviewer. Assuming you are building a career in a particular industry, you do not want to risk burning any bridges. The industry you are in is only going to get smaller the longer you are in it, and New York is competitive enough without giving someone a reason to say anything negative about you.
Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series from Jeff Lundwall, a founder and managing partner of Mercury Group LLC, a retained executive search firm focused on the media, marketing and advertising industry. In this series, Lundwall will answer your questions — big and small — pertaining to getting the most out of a job and career. Please send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.