On a recruiting assignment for a director-level position, the VP who was hiring for the role was beside herself because one of the short listed candidates sent the same thank you note to the VP as she did to her colleague. “Did she think we weren’t going to compare notes?” the VP rhetorically asked.
I didn’t ask to see the notes so I don’t know for sure that they were identical. Knowing this very intelligent and thorough candidate, my guess is that the notes were at least personalized for each VP’s name and that the opening statement had been personalized but perhaps the main body of the letter was a formulized list of selling points that she used for positions just like this one.
We are all busy and cut corners to save time. But in networking (and thank you notes are a form of networking) time spent equates to attention paid which equates to genuine interest. In this case, the lack of personalization was interpreted as lack of interest in the role and in the interviewers as distinct individuals. Therefore, watch your thank you notes! Here are five networking mistakes you don’t mean to make but probably do:
Mistake #1: Canned Communication
Any canned communication, like the formulaic thank you note, is a networking mistake. It’s fine to use templates to structure thank you notes, cover letters and day-to-day responses to emails you frequently get. If you don’t have templates, then you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time keeping up with your correspondence. However, don’t rely so much on the template that the response loses its genuine, targeted feel. You have to personalize enough so that your communication feels aimed at the individual and not for general broadcast.
For example, your networking pitch (how you talk about yourself) is something you use in a multitude of situations: a job interview with a stranger; an exploratory networking meeting with a warm contact; a professional networking event with people you may see from time to time; a social event with friends, some seen more or less frequently. Each of these scenarios requires personalization. When you catch up with someone who knew you from university, your pitch encompasses your life since university. When you are at a professional meeting and see a colleague from your previous company, the pitch covers a shorter arc because you start from where you knew each other and build from that. If the university friend was someone you played sports with and that’s still a big part of your life, it makes sense to mention that. If your former colleague is someone you shared family stories with, it’s appropriate to ask about the kids. In both cases, if your aim is to share what you’ve done professionally, you could still work that in but around the building blocks tailored to the other person. Both pitches are still 100% about you but completely different. Personalization to the other person is what makes the interaction genuine.
Mistake #2: No Communication
At least the director candidate sent a thank you. Both in recruiting and in general networking I have frequently received no thank you or follow up communication at all. If someone gives you a lead, let them know what happened to that lead, even if it ultimately didn’t pan out. If someone gives you advice, let them know what results you get from implementing it. If someone gives you a lead that becomes your next employer, send a thank you note (email is fine but a card is one way to stand out). Bonus move: check in with the person after you start your job to let them know how you’re doing.
I once referred a professional acquaintance to a recruiter friend of mine who ultimately placed her within the large company where my recruiter friend worked. Neither the recruiter nor I ever heard from this person that she got a job. We both found out when my recruiter friend saw her in the company directory. It could be that she was so busy in her new job that she fell too far behind on her follow up and then didn’t bother because it felt too late. The problem with skipping the communication altogether is that it stops the relationship. If you want to continue the relationship, at some point you will need to communicate again and at that point you need to address the missing communication (or overlook it and hope the other person doesn’t notice). It’s likely the other person will notice the oversight, so best to acknowledge a favor even if the thank you is late.