ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
This is the time of the year that for many is all about transitions, weddings, graduations, job interviews and lots of gift giving. And that means it's also a season of thank you notes.
SIEGEL: Thank you so much for the beautifully decorated pot and plants. I have loved having you in class.
SIEGEL: I heard a little birdie saying that you had ties to France. So this picture from Paris reminded me of you. I'm sorry it's so late in coming, but I wanted to say thank you for all your help.
Unidentified Man #1: First, you are the best. Second, you are the bestest. One day, maybe we'll both do headstands at the same time.
Unidentified Woman #3: Thanks for the yummy cookies. Your plate will return soon after you do. Welcome home, married lady.
NORRIS: Even rejection for a big job interview merits a message of gratitude.
Unidentified Man #2: Thank you very much in any case for all your time and attention. It was a joy meeting you and your staff.
NORRIS: Most of those sentiments you just heard were handwritten on elegant card stock, sent through the mail with a postage stamp. But that last one was delivered electronically through the internet, which introduces this new quandary, is it appropriate to send a thank you note via email?
It's certainly convenient, but does an email convey the same air of sophistication? Does it meet the established standards of etiquette? Does it express true gratitude if someone pounds out a thank you from their Blackberry while riding the train as opposed to sitting down and composing a note by hand?
We batted around these questions at one of our editorial meetings and our staff was divided. Not surprisingly, the younger folks at the table thought email was just fine. The more senior staffers preferred a longhand and clearly legible note.
So, we decided to get some expert advice. Peggy Post is the great- granddaughter-in-law of Emily Post, the doyen of good manners. She's carrying on the family tradition as author of the 17th edition of the classic guide Emily Post's Etiquette.
PEGGY POST: An email does not replace the warmth of a handwritten thank you note. Occasionally an email thank you note is okay, if, for example, it's the kind of thing you would thank someone for by way of phone. Let's say you had dinner at a friend's house, a causal cook out, and you would have picked up the phone and said thank you. Then and email is ok.
Or, let's say you're thanking somebody who sent you something from across the seas, from maybe Australia. Your aunt sends a graduation gift. You may certainly send an email thank you, but in that case I recommend following up with a handwritten note.
NORRIS: Well, what about a job interview?
POST: I would recommend sending the handwritten thank you note. And we have a website on emilypost.com and we do hear from people who interview, say in the technology field, and they say if I send a handwritten note, it might get there too late. Or maybe the interviewer travels a lot and they wouldn't even get my handwritten note that I'd send by way of snail mail. So, in those cases, certainly go ahead and thank somebody by way of email, but I recommend following up with a handwritten note.
NORRIS: So, if you really want that job, take the time to write a letter.
POST: Yes. And we often hear that people do receive job offers - that's not the only reason - but they've been told later that their handwritten note separated them, really differentiated them from the other people, other applicants.
NORRIS: Good advice from an expert in etiquette. But when it comes to a job interview, Peggy Post, even with her vaunted title, is somewhat of an armchair quarterback, dispensing wisdom from the sidelines. We thought it would be useful to hear from someone who's constantly vetting job candidates, and as such, constantly receiving thank you notes.
JUDY GILBERT: I would say that a handwritten note is always better, provided that it lands in the person's hands in time for something to be done about it.
NORRIS: That's Judy Gilbert, the director of staffing programs at Google. She says in today's fast-paced world, hiring decisions are swift and email, while less elegant, is more expedient. Gilbert has been with Google for the past two years, but she's worked in Human Resources for 15 years. And in that time, Gilbert has seen a shift in thank you notes. How they're received and how they're composed.
GILBERT: We know that it's very easy to dash off a quick email to one person or to 15 people. And along with that it's much easier to make silly mistakes. So, one of the things that we've sometimes seen is you'll receive a thank you note from a candidate and it'll have the wrong name of the company in it or it will have the name of a different interviewer. And you'll see that what somebody has done is they've just gone through and cut and pasted, they've done a search and replace, and it hasn't worked perfectly.
And so, that's something that is very hard to do when you're taking pen to paper, but it's very easy to do on email. And so, the burden is a little bit higher on the candidate to make sure that you think everything through and that the thank you note that you finally send when you hit that button is the representation of yourself that you want the future employer to see.
NORRIS: So, the email becomes a sort of a new kind of a filter in some way.
GILBERT: In some ways it can, yes.
NORRIS: Is it harder to distinguish yourself with email? Especially if you stick to that standard form? You don't have that lovely stationary maybe with your name stamped or engraved up top. How do you set yourself apart?
GILBERT: I believe that you can set yourself a part by the quality of your ideas and the way that you metaphorically put them on paper, although it's electronic paper more often these days. I would rather find out about a candidate, how she thinks and what she believed was important from the discussion that we had, rather than whether she ordered herself nice stationary or maybe somebody gave it to her as a birthday present.
NORRIS: What do people generally put in that subject line? Just thank you?
GILBERT: Often it's thank you, which sometimes can be a problem, because sometimes spam filters will catch that and I think for awhile there was a virus going around that had the words thank you in the subject line. And so that was a bit tricky. But, you know, thank you for the meeting, thank you for the conversation, just something very short and sweet.
NORRIS: Email has introduced a whole new vernacular, strange abbreviations, capitalizations, ways of communicating in, you know, in sort of garble if you just look at the words, when actually you start to decipher it, it sort of makes sense. Do people use this sort of strange email vernacular in the missives that you receive. The thank you notes?
GILBERT: Some people do. It's typically not appropriate. Typically I want to think about - I encourage candidates to think about the email as something that they would - it's similar to something that they would be writing on paper. Take yourself out of the online chat or what you put on your blog, and write out the whole words, don't use abbreviations and put your thoughts down in a cohesive kind of way.
NORRIS: So thank you, letter u, is not going to get it?
GILBERT: Not so cool.
NORRIS: Judy Gilbert, thanks so much for talking to us.
GILBERT: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: Judy Gilbert, director of staffing programs at Google. And after all this, if you still have to write a thank you note and you're still stumped, we have some advice at our website, NPR.org. Thank you for listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.