Well-written, thoughtful follow up letters and emails show a lot about your character and can put you over the top. The key is not just to write the note, but also to write a GREAT note. Here are three things that can help you avoid an embarrassing situation. Take your time; I’ve seen enough things go wrong when people rush.

Here are a few landmines to avoid:

  1. Being Late. I strongly recommend sending a handwritten note the day of the interview—so the hiring manager gets it within a day or two. It is called “Snail Mail” for a reason, get it in the mail as soon as you can. Being on time says a lot about you: that you are respectful, thoughtful, and you really want the job, which means you’ll work hard. I then recommend following up with a brief email a few days after that. If you wait a week or two to send your notes it sends other messages: You are a procrastinator and may not be great about hitting deadlines.
  2. Being Careless. Don’t get chummy or jokey, “S’up, C-Dog?!” Make sure your handwriting is legible and that spelling and grammar are correct. And check everything twice. If Santa has time to check his list twice for a billion kids, you certainly have time to re-read your notes! My writing partner Adrian Gostick tells a story from early in his career. He was a senior in college and applied for his first editing job. He explained in his follow-up letter how he loved “words.” Weeks passed but no reply. Perplexed, he pulled out a copy of that letter and realized he had told the manager he loved “worlds.” Trust me, today he proofs everything twice, or more!
  3. Being Too Self-Absorbed. Good follow-ups are never generic, i.e., “Thanks for your time!” But more importantly, they are more about them and less about you. For instance your note might focus on a key issue the hiring manager spoke about, i.e., “Thanks for our terrific conversation today about the industry trends. I can see your marketing efforts are already making a huge impact on Acme’s image, and I’m eager to brainstorm with you about how marketing can also drive growth and market share. That’s been a key focus during my career!” The specificity about their business shows you pick up on clues, and the action-oriented approach says you want to help solve problems that are important to them.

You can send different but equally engaging and timely notes to everyone you met during the interview process. And then you’ll take a deep breath and relax. If you have avoided these three landmines your odds are pretty good. Mess up on a few and not so much!