When fashion designers paid homage to the 70s about a decade ago – a trend that I was thrilled about at the time – my (then) boss explained, “Oh, honey. I’ve lived through the 70s once, and I have no desire to do so again.” While at the mall the other day, I suddenly understood exactly what she had been talking about as I cringed at some essential 80s elements that have staged a comeback. Apparently there comes a time when everything old becomes new again, and during these digitally dominant days, receiving a handwritten note instead of an email or a text message stands out like RuPaul at a monster truck rally. In other words, the actual act – i.e., choosing paper and pen, composing a thoughtful message, ferreting out an accurate address, applying a stamp, and dropping the result in the mail – can make a significant impression, especially on a potential employer, prospective client or current colleague. But when and how to do it”
As so few people take the time handwrite notes or letters anymore, you have the opportunity to make a good impression in a variety of situations. Below are the Top 5 Times To Put Pen To (Good) Paper:
01 | in appreciation
This is The Biggie (and the most obvious). You can genuinely make your mark with a timely, well-crafted and sincere business thank-you note. Not only will it make you and the recipient feel good, but it will also help you foster relationships for on-going career and business building.
Examples of when to send:
- potential employer | for taking time to meet with or to interview you*
- boss | for a recent promotion or desirable assignment
- co-worker | for help with a project or deadline
- vendor | for going over and above or making you look good to your client
- client | for their new or continued business or feedback
- potential client | for taking the time to speak to you
- anyone | for a gift, whether something tangible or of their time and effort
*So many interviewees blow off this follow-up method that you can really win some points here. Not only does it show that you care about the job, but it also immediately demonstrates to the potential employer how you would represent their company should they hire you. Use the note to extend the interview by reiterating why you are right for the position, and if you glean from the interview that the position was not a good match, then go ahead and explain why. The interviewer will appreciate your honesty, which just may secure you a different position in the future. You just never know…
02 | after meeting face-to-face
How many people follow up with an email after chatting with you at a conference or meeting” Chances are, quite a few. How many people mail you a handwritten note after chatting with you at a conference or meeting” Chances are, hardly any. Ah ha! Another chance to stand apart.
If the point of the contact is to gain business, then use note cards branded with your company’s logo. If the point is to seek out a new job, then use either personal or generic note cards – in other words, not branded with your current employer’s logo – as that is disrespectful to your current employer and reflects badly on you to the potential employer. Lastly, if the point is to potentially develop a mutually beneficial career building relationship, such as sharing contacts, vendors, etc., use your best judgment about what kind of note cards to use.
03 | expressing sympathy
Often the most difficult to compose, sympathy notes can be incredibly intimidating for the writer. However, executed well and with absolute sincerity, they have the greatest potential of positively impacting a colleague. Simply by showing the recipient that they are not alone, acknowledging their loss or distressing circumstances, and making the effort to set them at ease, you help them cope by showing support. For some simple examples, go here and here.
04 | congratulating
On a much happier note, acknowledgments of congratulation are must easier and much more fun to write. Plus, they go far to create positive impressions with the recipient as they subconsciously associate you with an upbeat experience.
For what kinds of things should you be congratulating clients, co-workers and fellow industry members”
- landing a promotion or new job
- winning an industry or community award
- being appointed or elected to an industry-related position
- completing a milestone: celebrating an employment or marriage anniversary; getting married or having a child get married; having or adopting a child or grandchild
Happy, happy, joy, joy!
05 | keeping in touch
Haven’t heard from a client in a while” Drop them a note. As we all know, it’s much easier and less costly to gain repeat business from someone with whom you already have an established relationship than to win new business from a stranger.
Don’t always write with the intention of making a sale or landing a project, though. We all want to do business with someone that we trust and that we feel has our best interest in mind, so sending a note just to “check in” on them and their well-being can often be just as effective in the long-term as asking for business. Offering a repeat client a discount or incentive is always appreciated, but simply expressing your gratitude for your relationship over the years is often enough.
Write On, Man
Of course, these are not the only circumstances when a handwritten note will make you shine like the star you are, but this is a good start. In all cases, keep it short, to the point, and sincere. Do those things, and it’s hard to fail.