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A whopping 1,791,000 students earned their bachelor’s degrees in 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Add a stagnant economy to a saturated market, and you get a job search that can be tremendously challenging. So what can you do to help improve your odds of setting yourself apart from a sea of competition?

Today’s job candidates often underestimate, or even overlook, one post-interview gesture that actually can make or break your chance at a job offer: the thank-you letter. Perhaps now more than ever, the thank-you letter is an important step in elevating your candidacy and knocking out the competition.

Don’t let the name fool you – your thank-you letter is not just an opportunity to say “thank you.” It’s also an opportunity to qualify yourself as the best contender for the job. Think of it as your first business proposal. It should demonstrate your strong writing skills, showcase what you can do for the company, and leave a lasting impression. Most importantly, it should paint a picture of your professional future according the conversation you had in your interview.

Sound daunting and intimidating? Breaking the letter down into three key sections can take the mystery out of the process. Here’s my foolproof format.

1. Thank and refresh. You guessed it – you want to start out your letter by stating “thank you” and expressing your appreciation for the interviewer’s time. Be sure to mention the day you met with the interviewer, as well as the position you interviewed for. Remember, the individual may be holding multiple interviews for multiple positions, and this will help them identify you right away.

  • Example: “Thank you for meeting with me on Tuesday. Having the opportunity to speak with you and learn more about the <Position title> role at <Company name> was greatly appreciated.”

2. Qualify and convince. The second paragraph should comprise the majority of your letter. This is the place to communicate the skills and accomplishments you have, and how they will enable you to make a difference in the company. The key here is to cater your delivery to the specific dialogue you had in your interview. Touch upon the needs of the company as described by the interviewer, and demonstrate in detail how you are equipped to fulfill them.

By doing this, you show the employer that you have taken time to think seriously about your role and prove the value you can bring to the company. This portion of your letter will pave the way for further conversation about the skills you will bring to the table, and advance the interviewer’s interest in pursuing you as a candidate. Simply put, this is your chance to convince the interviewer you are the stand-out applicant – and that you mean business!

  • Example: “As we discussed, my experience training associates to deliver consistent service to outside vendors will benefit <Company name>; which can influence your bottom line.”

3. Close and pursue. Your third paragraph should begin with another “thank you” to show your sincere appreciation for their consideration. Then, don’t be afraid to express your expectation of a follow-up phone call or second interview and show your enthusiasm for the job. Just like if you were trying to close a business deal (remember, your thank-you letter is not dissimilar to your first business proposal!), you should be assertive about pursuing the next steps.

  • Example: “Thank you again for your time, and I look forward to speaking with you again about how I can make a valuable contribution to your company. I welcome the opportunity to meet with you for a second interview and will follow-up with you on Thursday.”

Some final pointers:

  • Just like the cover letter, your thank-you letter should be short and concise to keep the interviewer’s attention. It should be just a few paragraphs long and should not exceed one page. If you have the time to hand write your letter, use resume paper.
  • It’s always best to send everyone you interview with a separate thank-you letter. People tend to share, and sending a duplicate message to each interviewer will make you look insincere.

Finally, after you’ve sent your letter off, be sure to follow up properly to reiterate your interest and stay fresh in the interviewer’s mind. After all, the whole point of the thank-you letter is to continue the conversation until it leads to a hiring decision. This simple gesture can make all the difference in whether or not you advance to the next level, whether it’s another interview or a job offer. So make it count!

Still have questions about thanking your interviewer? Feel free to drop a note in the comments.