Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Thank You Note That Cost Him the Job AFTER the Final Interview!

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Everyone knows that a follow up thank you note should be sent after each interview during the hiring process. Some feel it is just a task to hurry up and do, a two liner note that shows the hiring manager that you have a great sense of urgency by whipping the thank you e-mail out within 10 minutes of leaving the interview! It is quick and it does show a great sense of urgency and it can show a few more things too; like you didn't take the time to prepare a well thought out or written thank you!
That is exactly what happened to a man that I wanted to hire when I was a Division Sales Manager, let's call him Tom, it is a true story.

Tom was a native of the state where my open sales position was located. He knew all of my customers and they loved him! He was well known in the area and he was a workhorse. Tom could sell and I knew it, he knew it and the local people in the industry knew it, but that said, he was also not the most sophisticated person in his style or manner. This was not a problem for the rather woodsy rural area he was going to cover, he was a local and they liked doing business with the "locals".

Tom made it through two rounds of interviews and a day in the field with my Trainer, all went fantastic. It was time for Tom to go to final interviews at headquarters to interview with all those Marketing, upper Sales Management and Human Resource folks back in New Jersey.

Tom did "ok" with the polished people back at headquarters. The general roundtable end of the day feedback was, "Well Linda, given his territory he will probably do fine, but certainly his level of sophistication will probably limit him from promotion opportunities or moving to one of our large city territories". So I got the green flag, albeit with muted blessings from Mecca, to hire him. I would call Tom in the morning, he was boarding a late flight back home as I received the news.

Tom arrived home late that evening and showed a great sense of urgency by writing the thank you note before he went to bed. I am sure he was feeling a sense of satisfaction as he hit the "sent button" with his thank you to each person that he interviewed with earlier that day.

The next morning, with coffee in hand, I walked down the hallway to my home office in anticipation of a non-stressful Friday office day. I was looking forward to an easy day; some sales representative conference calls, plowing through some e-mails and the highlight of the day, calling Tom to tell him he was hired! I finally got that difficult-to-hire territory filled! I was happy!

I opened my e-mails and Tom's thank note was waiting for me! I also saw forwarded e-mails from the home based management team with subject line's reading, "Tom's thank you, please read". This was not unusual, everyone shares an e-mail they receive from a final interview candidate. The "please read" seemed weird, but nothing alarming. I thought to myself, "Wow that Tom is on it and it looks like he sent everyone a thank you late last night" This is GREAT, this helps support my reason for hiring him!".

So feeling VERY good about everything, as I took that much needed gulp of morning coffee, I decided to open my thank you from Tom first. The e-mail opened and I almost spit the coffee out of my mouth and onto the computer screen as I read the first sentence, or I should say, tried to read Tom's first sentence. I began to feel a little panicky, surely he must have had a drink or two on the plane, or maybe he was just super tired crossing a time zone or maybe he had both going on!

As I continued reading the jumbled four paragraph note, that rambled on with incorrect spelling, fragmented sentences and grammar, I began feeling weak and was now almost sure I made a big mistake. Then I had a calming positive thought, "Maybe he messed up ONLY on my thank you note, he put all his time and energy writing a great one for the others!".

The last thing any Division Sales Manager wants to do is send a candidate in for a final interview at headquarters and have them bomb. A final interview candidate is a reflection of the Manager's decision making ability! Tom got in by the skin of his teeth and he had no room for error. Certainly this would be a first for me, a person bombs AFTER they get through the interview process!

I quickly flipped to the other forwarded E-mails from management marked "Tom's thank you, please read". As I opened one after another I quickly realized there was no need to open them all, he had copied and pasted the exact horribly written e-mail to everyone. He did take the time to type in and insert the first name of each person as if the thank you was written just for them! In addition, he had a typo in two out of the five names! He couldn't even get that right.

As I sat there in amazement, a new e-mail popped into my box from my boss marked urgent, "Please call me to discuss Tom and his thank you notes". I looked at the message and thought, "is it really correct to say notes, when he only typed only ONE note and cut and pasted it to all?". It was the only humor I could find in the situation. I called my manager and there was little to discuss, I agreed with him, Tom was out and I was embarrassed. How could we tolerate someone without basic writing skills and the lack of business judgment?

I poured over Tom's simple previous e-mail notes he sent to my Sales Trainer and me earlier in the interview process. They were brief, four liners, but nothing to worry about. His written business plan that he presented in the second interview was excellent. What happened? I needed to find out.
I called Tom and I was upfront, I told him the job was his until we received the thank you notes. He was floored, he did not read them since he sent them. I suggested that even hitting spell check would have eliminated some of the problem (it was not loaded as an auto program back then). When I asked him what happened, he indicated he was tired and just wanted to get it done, but also writing was not his strong suit (no kidding!).

As for his previous correct correspondence? He shared that his wife would edit all his e-mails and written work before he would print or send anything important. I asked him what happen to his wife last night? He replied, "she was in bed sleeping and he did not want to bother her". I wasn't sure if I wished he would have given her a good shove to wake her up or if I was lucky he let her sleep!

He was highly regarded in the territory and I knew he could knock out the sales numbers, but he was now too risky to hire. I did not need to have management on my back if by chance he did not perform. Tom called me back 30 minutes after our conversation and was very upset. He said, "Linda, I went and printed out my sent e-mails and I would have never made those type of mistakes if I was not exhausted. My wife would alter some things, but never the amount of correction that was needed on that e-mail". I had to sadly tell him it was over. I did not share with him that the thank you notes were circling around the office now as a joke of sorts.

The bottom line is that Thank You Notes do matter! Thank You Notes can be a powerful tool to help you develop and solidify relationships, set yourself apart from others (preferably in a positive way!) and be instrumental in helping you land a job! I just finished the follow up piece to this article revealing the 3 elements needed in every Thank You to build The Strategic Thank You Note that will help you secure that job! Do you know the 7 Basic Tips? It would have saved Tom this job if he had known!

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