The Power of the Handwritten Note

I received a letter the other day. The kind that arrives in the mail, with a stamp and a colorful envelope addressed to me. At first glance, I thought it was a direct mail piece designed to appear friendly and personal. I imagined the agency choosing the purple envelope to inspire interest and appear unassuming, which for me, “advertising person,” rings of suspicion. However, this letter was not from a direct marketer – it was from a friend. I examined the letter, the way, I imagine, someone would examine a dinosaur egg if they came across one. I immediately assumed the worst. Was she abducted and being imprisoned in an Iranian jail seeking my help? Why else would she be sending me a letter? It turns out, to say “hello.”

Receiving a letter or card in the mail – or on my desk – from an acquaintance is like Christmas morning except better because you’re not expecting it. The randomness of the occurrence wasn’t always the case. I remember writing and receiving letters from friends and family when I was a child and teenager. When my friend married, I gave her a memory box full of letters that she wrote me the summer of 1989 when she met her husband while on family vacation. Maybe I miss letters so much because I’m from one of the last generations that can remember the experience of writing and receiving handwritten correspondence. It’s different than writing/receiving an email, tweet, or status update. It’s quite more personal, meaningful and permanent. It also takes more effort and is more authentic since there’s less editing when you’re writing (no delete button).

That’s nice you’re thinking, but what does this have to do with careers? A lot. A handwritten note will carry a lot of weight. It’ll allow you to stand out since you’ll be in the minority. People like opening an envelope and reading a personal, handwritten note. It takes more time and thought and that, in and of itself, carries a lot of weight. The means of delivery does not matter – mailing it, dropping it off on someone’s desk, leaving it with a receptionist, etc. Bottom line, people are not expecting it; they will pay attention.

Secondly, part of receiving a handwritten note is more than what you write. It’s also the packaging: the envelope, the image, the size, the color, etc. Many times, you can express a lot while saying very little. I’ve kept cards for years based on the images alone. In these cases, the image, along with the sender, marked an important milestone in my life and this card becomes a memory of that. In the same respect, think about the total package, does it communicate your overall sentiment?

Thirdly, don’t only send handwritten notes as a follow-up to an interview (although that would be nice). You should always have a stash of “thank you” cards in your desk since chances are you’ll always have someone to thank for something. However, also frequent card shops or be on the lookout for opportunities to surprise and delight. A service that you may want to consider is Send Out Cards, which prints out cards that you choose (using your handwriting as a font) and mails it for less money and time than it would take normally do on your own.

And finally, it’s what’s behind the task of writing a handwritten note/letter that’s important. It shows that you took time and thought to send the right card and message to someone who was not expecting it. It keeps you thinking about others and, ultimately, being thoughtful of others is the best career investment you can make.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.