A few months after graduating from college this year, my oldest celebrated her birthday. She is now a “young, working professional,” but she is not too old to be reminded (scolded?) to write her thank you notes for those who sent her thoughtful cards and gifts.

“Have you written your thank you notes?” I asked.

“Not yet, but I will,” she said.

“Don’t wait too much longer. I raised you better than that,” I said.

It’s true–We have always emphasized the importance of a good thank you note to friends and family. It has been a long tradition in my family (both my own and my husband’s). If my own young adult kids fail to write thank you notes once they are totally out of the nest, all I can say is “I raised them better than that.”

Fast forward about a month to oldest’s first, real job interview, the kind of entry-level position in an organization that could provide her with an opportunity with a career that she really, really wants.

“Have you written a thank you email to the people who interviewed you?” I asked.

“What? I have to write a thank you note?” she asked.

(A little incredulous) “Yes, you should send a message that thanks them for their time. Send one to each person who was part of the interview if you are able to find their email addresses,” I said.

“Isn’t that a little creepy? Searching for their emails when they didn’t give them to me?”

“Thank you notes are never creepy. They will separate you from the others who interview. I promise most people don’t take the time,” I said.

Did I mention that it is a family tradition to write thank you notes? Well, I now realize that those gift-giving “thank yous” didn’t necessarily translate into everyday occasions for gratitude, so I am sharing with you what I should have done over the past 23 years (and, yes, I am counting).

Here is a primer on reminding your student that the gift of gratitude is always appreciated and coaching them on what to say and how to send their messages.

  • Handwritten, mailed, thank you notes are always preferred. Why? Because someone who goes to the trouble of writing a note, addressing the envelope, finding a stamp, and dropping it in the mail are the best kind of people. When it is possible, encourage your student to use this method. This is especially recommended when the person took considerable time, energy, or money to provide something for your student. Think: mentor, writer of a detailed letter of recommendation, coach or teacher, or other significant act of kindness.
  • Email messages are fine, too. Want the impact to be more immediate and less formal? Sending a “thank you” via the Internet is good, too. And, yes, you can search for the email address if it is not known, and, no, no one will think it is creepy. The best part of writing an email is that you can send it at any time of the day or night. This is recommended for anyone who interviewed your student or considered them for a job, internship, or scholarship. 
  • In-person or on-the-phone thank yous are appreciated. While it may be rarer for today’s generation to want to, gasp, talk to someone directly either in person or on the phone, a good, deliberate (meaning not a breezy “thanks”) expression of gratitude immediately following the act of generosity or not long after is certainly welcome. I ran into a former student of mine recently who said, when he recognized me without a mask on, “Oh, I have been meaning to write you a thank you note for your letter of recommendation you wrote me last year, but here I am now with the perfect opportunity to tell you directly.” (Full disclosure: I tell my students to write thank you notes to professors who write letters of recommendation.) While this student didn’t quite master the original lesson, I was so appreciative that he remembered after a year! This is recommended for smaller acts of kindness, but could be used if the others are not possible.
  • Videos of appreciation are unusual and cool. One year, the son of a good friend of mine sent me a “thank you” video of his playing with a toy I sent for his birthday. Well, I was pretty impressed. Not only did he express joy and gratitude, I got to see him enjoying the toy. Pretty ingenous! This is recommended for saying “thank you” to close friends and family (e.g., grandparents) and could be a good way for kids to flex their gratitude muscle.
  • The message can be short (but not too short) and sweet. Many people don’t like writing thank you notes because they don’t know what to say. Giving your student a few quick, easy scripts can help them get used to expressing gratitude. Here are a few options:
    • Thank you so much for writing a letter of recommendation for me. It really means so much that you took the time to share with _____ (the scholarship committee, the potential employer, etc.) my strengths. I really appreciate it.
    • Thank you for the opportunity to interview with your company (organization, unit, office). I really enjoyed getting to learn more about what you do and how I could be a part of your team. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
    • Thank you for the thoughtful gift. I am excited to put it to good use (explain what you are going to use it for or do with it).

While some may think that “thank you” notes are vestiges of a bygone era, I am here to say that just a few words of gratitude can make a huge difference in people’s lives, especially those who do their jobs day in and day out with little noticeable appreciation.

Case in point was the thoughtful–and unexpected–note I received from a student this semester. She was writing to say thank you for the time I have taken to answer her questions after class each week. Well, after I picked myself up off the floor, I thought, “Her parents raised her right.”


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