Imagine you’ve just had a great interview for a position you really want. You go home and put the champagne on ice while you wait for the job offer.

What you don’t know is that you’ve got an interview doppelganger—someone else who also interviewed well and left feeling confident. They too connected with the hiring manager. And the hiring manager, for his or her part, is now torn between two likeable, qualified candidates. In other circumstances, you might have been a shoo-in, but while you were sipping bubbly your doppelganger sent the hiring manager the world’s best thank you note.

Who do you think gets the job?

The role of ‘thank you’ notes after an interview

The importance of sending a post-interview thank you note is well-documented. In fact, you might consider that the interview isn’t over until you’ve sent a follow-up email. In her article, How to Write an Interview Thank-You Note: An Email Template, Alex Cavoulacos, founder of The Muse, an online career resources site, suggests that

A thank you letter can be the icing on the cake, but it’s much more than that. Failure to send one can cost you the job.

The venerable Emily Post agrees. In fact, the Emily Post Institute advises that job candidates should thank their interviewer twice, once verbally as they leave, and once in writing (by email and a handwritten note).

If you search “thank you note after interview” (or something equivalent) on Google, the volume of articles returned is massive. The wealth of available resources might lead you to believe—incorrectly—that sending a post-interview thank you note is common practice.

A thank you letter can be the icing on the cake, but it’s much more than that. Failure to send one can cost you the job.

But consider this: years ago, a recruiter at George Washington University conducted an experiment, directly asking a class of 30 students to write and mail a handwritten thank you after the session. Only three students did. Years, and thousands of job interviews and hires later, the recruiter found that the original statistics held up: fewer than 10 percent of job candidates followed up with thank you cards.

If that’s true, consider the expectations on the other end. Accountemps found that over 90 percent of hiring managers say that being thanked, after the interview, helps.

Pros and cons of going paperless

Let’s say that for any type of job, the question isn’t whether you should send a ‘thank you’ note, but how you should express your gratitude. Is email the norm today? Will a handwritten card deliver the ‘wow’ factor? Or should you call—and does anyone still do that?

Spoiler alert: the answer is yes. Job candidates use all these methods and more, even leveraging social media or text messaging.

Accountemps also discovered that 87 percent of HR managers thought email was the most appropriate way to thank an employer after an interview. Phone calls, however, were a close second at 81 percent, begging the question: Will your role involve more writing or more speaking? You might want to consider the method best-suited for showing off your writing or your soft skills and verbal prowess.

The most common forms of thank yous actually received by hiring managers were email (61 percent), followed by phone calls (23 percent), and handwritten notes (13 percent).

Interestingly, as many as 27 percent of HR managers found social media an acceptable method of follow-up. When you’re deciding on the best method for expressing gratitude, however, Handwritten notes might be more the norm in the non-profit than tech space, for example.

Three tips for crafting a post-interview thank you

It’s possible that thank you notes are making a comeback in business-at-large, to everyone’s benefit, but when it comes to first landing the job, these three guidelines are most important to follow:

  1. Be timely: A post-interview note should generally be sent soon after the interview. Common advice recommends that you send an email or note within two days. This might be the single best reason for sending an email over a handwritten letter; if your note will take too long to arrive in the post, it’s best to hit the send button.

  2. Be careful: Take the time to craft your message before sending. If your follow-up thank you note is poorly written, contains mistakes, or appears to be carelessly sent—perhaps using a boilerplate letter without a personal touch—you may inadvertently convey a lack of attention to detail, or appear not to care enough about the job or company to try harder.

  3. Be personal: Thank you letters don’t need to be long to be meaningful. If you’re at a loss, it’s best to get directly to the point: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. There are plenty of email templates available online to get you started. The thank you notes that hiring managers will remember, however, are going to be the ones that reference personal details or something you talked about. You might even take the opportunity to suggest ideas for new projects.

If in doubt about which thank you method is most appropriate, simply ask the recruiter. They'll steer you in the direction that best matches the company culture and the interviewer's preference. Whichever method you choose, the thank you note is, to some degree, an extension of your judgement and taste, so wield its power carefully.

Suzanne Barnecut is a content marketer for Zendesk and a frequent contributor to Relate. She is fascinated by technology, but a diehard reader of paper-made books and sender of snail mail. Find her on Twitter: @elisesuz.