7 Smart Tips for Writing a Proper—and Professional—Thank You Note

iStock.com/JaniceRichard
iStock.com/JaniceRichard

Think a post-job interview thank you note has gone the way of calling cards and phone books? Think again. Especially in the digital age, a handwritten message is a nice gesture, and an easy way to stand out in a pool of equally qualified applicants. It’s as simple as this: Be yourself, write it down, and get it in the mail, pronto. Here’s how.

1. STOP WASTING TIME.

When it comes to thanking an interviewer or potential boss for their time, don’t drag your feet. “Shooting them a note quickly doesn’t look desperate or needy—it looks interested,” says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, who runs The Protocol School of Texas, a firm that specializes in etiquette training for corporations, universities, and individuals.

Her policy? Send a quick email later that day, then write a handwritten note within 24 hours. “Often, we worry about doing too much or too little,” she says. “And when that happens, we freeze.” Avoid stagnation by adopting this two-pronged approach for all professional and networking interactions.

2. YES, YOU REALLY SHOULD SEND A HANDWRITTEN THANK YOU.

You might be thinking that snail mail is so 1995. But after your initial email (which you’ll send, ideally, before close of business the day of your interview), get ready to put pen to paper. “It’s just a little bit of effort,” says Gottsman. “But if you’re neck-and-neck with another candidate, this could set you apart.” 

3. BUT FIRST, MAKE LIKE GRADE SCHOOL AND WRITE A ROUGH DRAFT.

Before you bust out the stationery, gather your thoughts. Feel free to write a quick draft on the computer, but also take a piece of scratch paper and actually write the message out. Write slowly. Write legibly. Bonus points if you trace an outline of your stationery onto a piece of printer paper or a memo pad, so you’ll see how the note will fit in the space available.

4. KEEP THE NOTE PROMPT AND MAKE THESE THREE KEY POINTS.

Thank the interviewer for his or her time, reiterate your interest in the opening, and draw a connection between your experience and the role. This thank-you won’t be all that different from your initial email, says Gottsman: “It’s okay to be a little bit repetitive here. By the time the person receives this thank you, he or she might have met a handful of other candidates.”

Be yourself (your professional self, that is) and sincere—and don’t be afraid to show a little emotion or enthusiasm. “A hiring manager is looking for someone who’s competent, sure, but they’re also looking for someone who wants this job and plans to stay awhile,” she explains. Keep it short; if you’ve written more than six or so sentences, it’s too long. Open the note with “Dear” and close it with something simple, like “Sincerely" or “Best wishes.” This isn’t the place for a “Cheers” or a “Fingers crossed!”

5. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. (SO DOES PROOFREADING.)

More likely than not, your penmanship has … suffered a bit as you’ve gotten older. These days, you might hand-write (or scribble) only the grocery list. So if you need to, write that rough draft a few times to practice your spacing. Once you’ve penned the note on stationery (more on that below), give it a thorough check. “Nobody’s going to ding you for messy handwriting, as long as they can read it,” Gottsman says. Will someone else be able to tell the difference between an o and an a? Is everything spelled correctly? If you don’t trust yourself, snap a photo of your note and email or text it to a trusted friend for a once-over.

6. INVEST IN SOME REAL STATIONERY.

“It doesn’t have to be expensive,” Gottsman says. “Your cardstock just needs to feel high quality and look professional.” Contrary to popular belief, the card itself needn’t say the words “Thank You!” A better choice: Your initials or monogram, your name, or a small symbol or icon. Keep it simple.

7. PAY ATTENTION TO EVERY DETAIL.

“In correspondence like this, everything counts,” Gottsman says. “I might not mean to judge you based on the stamp you used. But if your stamp is from, say, a holiday that took place weeks ago, that won’t go unnoticed.” (Ditto if you meter the mail at your current office.) Center the addressee on the envelope and write the return address neatly, too. If you mess up, use a new envelope—don’t merely scratch it out. And make sure the stamp isn’t askew. “These might seem like little things, but when you’re trying to make a great impression, your thank you note is part of your professional image and cachet,” Gottsman explains. “Just like your tie, your blazer, or your portfolio.”

This article originally ran in 2016.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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5 Easier Ways to Water Your Christmas Tree

Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

A decorated Christmas tree adds instant holiday cheer to any room—for a few days, at least. If you neglect to care for it, however, it doesn't take long for that tree to start dropping needles and dry up into a brittle, brown fire hazard. The key to keeping your tree looking healthy until the New Year is to water it every day. Of course, that comes with its own problems, like sap-covered clothing and sore knees. Here are some alternative methods for watering your Christmas tree that won't have you wishing for the end of the holiday season.

1. Rig a funnel and PVC pipe.

The worst part of watering a Christmas tree is crawling around on your hands and knees, but once you've set up this funnel rig, you can water it while standing up. As Eric Palonen demonstrates in the video above, all you need to do is stick a PVC pipe into the tree stand, attach a funnel to the other end with an elbow connector, and pour in the water.

2. Dig out a pool noodle.

Don't have a spare PVC pipe at home? A foam pool noodle works just as well as the receptacle for your funnel.

3. Disguise a DIY water dispenser as a present.

On Instructables, Rickyspears shares his step-by-step process for building a Christmas tree-watering rig. Using a bucket and plastic tube with brass fittings, you can create a water-siphoning system that automatically keeps your tree hydrated. And because a big bucket of water beneath the tree isn't the most festive sight, Rickyspears also tells you how to disguise it by hiding it in a box decorated with wrapping paper.

4. Use a wine bottle.

Still have some leftover wine bottles from Thanksgiving (or the weekend) lying around the house? Use one of them to water the base of your tree while keeping a safe distance between you and the sticky branches. (Though if you do get some sap on your hands, there are a few easy ways to get rid of it.)

5. Invest in an automated watering system.

DIY watering rigs are inexpensive, but if convenience is your main concern, it's hard to beat a product that was designed just for this purpose. The Christmas tree watering bag from Elf Logic senses when your tree needs water and replenishes it automatically. Plus, it hangs on a branch like an ornament, making it easy to tuck away.

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