“Thank You” Notes and Pronoun Use

by Brad McNally, former Head Editor, INALJ Ohio

“Thank You” Notes and Pronoun Use

brad.mcnallyAs an undergraduate student, I was extremely interested in Linguistics. I would have majored in it, but it wasn’t an option, so I majored in English and took every Linguistics course I could. This makes a person very aware of the way they use language. Late last summer, a friend suggested a book by James Pennebaker titled The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us  to me. This book was fascinating, and it really has changed the way I listen to other people (not always for the better). As it is only slightly related, here is a quick rundown: stealth words (pronouns, articles, and prepositions) make up over half our speech and can tell you a large amount of information about the speaker/writer. The simplest thing to consider is the use of pronouns that refer to the speaker (I, me, my) or those that refer to others (you, your). When in meetings, I have definitely made small marks on a paper to indicate the use of pronouns, which becomes half of what you listen for, but it is interesting when you go back and consider the speaker. When bringing up this topic with a coworker recently, we jumped to the topic of writing to thank someone for something – be it a professional correspondence or not – and how to be better at it.

This came down to a point that many people forget: the thank you note is not about yourself, it is about the person you are writing it to. I have been guilty of this in the past as well. Several years ago, someone gave me the advice that you should use your thank you note to answer anything that you didn’t in the interview, or re-emphasize the quality answers you already had given. This is not exactly bad advice, but the thank you note should be a genuine thank you. You are writing to express gratitude to the recipient, not just to continue your sales pitch. To do this, consider the words you are using in the note and think about what exactly you are trying to get across to the reader.

For example, many thank you note templates (and many final notes) begin with “I would like to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to discuss this position with you.” While this sounds perfectly reasonable, and is not incorrect, it focuses the attention back on the person writing the note. For some job seekers, this is exactly the intention. The logic seems to be that the more they think about you, the more likely they are to see you as the correct candidate. Instead, if you write your note focusing on what the other person actually did, and thanking them for their effort, you may come across as more appreciative, more genuine, and (hopefully) it may be much more memorable.

Many candidates take an extremely long time to make sure every word on their resume is absolutely perfect. They labor over each phrase, trying to fit it all in to the single page format and make each line count. This effort is wonderful, but the candidate should probably put just as much effort into making sure that the thank you note that follows the interview is just as well crafted. It is easy to fall back into using a template when writing these, but if you focus on the individual and their actual effort/time/etc., you have a good chance of actually standing out in their memory later. If nothing else, consider your use of pronouns before you send that note. If they all are personal pronouns, maybe you should phrase things a little differently.


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of T160K.org, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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