1. The other day, I ran into the woman who rents a garage spot from us, and she fervently thanked us for letting her rent the space, gesturing at the miserable mounds of snow in the parking lot behind our garage -- the snow she would have otherwise had to dig her car out of. You know why we rented to her? Because when we first moved into our house, she not only knocked on our door and asked (two other people did the same that week, but we were so harried that we mostly muttered something incomprehensible and promptly forgot about it), but then followed up with a handwritten card slipped into our mailbox, politely reiterating how much she would appreciate the opportunity to rent our spot. That card totally sealed the deal, folks.
2. A few weeks ago, I was interviewing students for a part-time job working with me on DesiLit and the SLF. All of the students were sweet and fine, but they're 19 or so -- none of them really had any useful/relevant experience. So how to pick between them? Well, one of them dressed nicely for the interview, brought an extra copy of her resume with her to hand to me, and e-mailed me a thank-you note after the interview. I was inclined to hire her anyway, just based on 'clicking' well during the interview, but that thank-you note really made her stand out.
3. When I interviewed for academic jobs after grad school, I had a slew of interviews at MLA. (There's a whole side conversation we could have here about how many of those were 'real' interviews and how many were 'must fill diversity requirements' interviews, but I'll never really know the answer to that, so we'll table it for now.) I was miserably ill that weekend, and I went through the interviews in a haze; I then went directly to a brand-new low-residency job teaching in Vermont, where I trudged through the snow and tried to do a good job despite still being quite ill for the whole ten days. I don't think I made a great impression on my Vermont colleagues, but ah well. What I really regret, still, is that I didn't send any thank-you notes for those MLA interviews. I had moved away from grad school to live with Kevin again, and I don't regret that at all -- but if I'd stuck around in Utah, I'm guessing one of my professors would have reminded me that thank-you notes are important and not to be neglected. I'll never know if I could have moved a little higher on someone's list if I'd taken the time to write those notes.
I've just been thinking about all this as various people I know are job-hunting (including former students of mine) and/or trying to get published. Persistence is key -- the squeaky wheel gets the grease is a saying you can really live by. And a little extra courtesy goes a long way. We don't live in the era anymore where thank you notes are quite as de rigeur as they used to be -- which means that while you can, perhaps, get away with not sending them, if you do send them, it can only help you. If you're the one candidate who sends a thank-you note, you're going to stand out. And if you're the only one who *doesn't* send one -- well, that's noticeable too.
I am now feeling slightly guilty that we have not been having the kids do thank-you notes for birthdays and Christmas. We really need to get on that; I'd like them to grow up with such courtesies completely habitual -- so they too can score the garage space of their dreams. :-)