Debra Swersky
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Back in the day when I was starting my career at Inside Sports & Entertainment Group I wrote an article for Events Solution (a now defunct publication). It had national distribution to event planners across the country. The invitation to write for them was an honor, and aside from my local Meeting Professionals International chapter newsletter (NYC!), it was the first time that my writing was praised and not redlined or graded. 

The article was titled, “There’s No ‘E’ in Invitation.” In the article I talk about the importance of keeping the USPS in business and delivering mail. The actual useful stuff… like invitations! It was a good (not great) article that spoke to the five senses and how it was hard for digital media to compare to all of the other options for invitational art. I felt passionate about handwritten notes and used the quote from Florence Isaacs’ book Business Notes: Writing Notes that Build Professional Relationships to convey my point. Here’s the quote: “What’s missing in e-mail is the warmth of human contact and the expressive quality conveyed on a piece of paper… Notes slow us down and say, ‘This is important. You are important.’”

May 2008. The date of my article. A lot has changed since then, yet I still write handwritten notes. And having just written a batch, I find myself struggling. I struggle with follow-up. 

“Hi. My name is Debra. I’m a follow-up-aholic.”

To this day, eight years later, I still value handwritten notes - thank you or otherwise. But, I struggle with the follow-up. (Lo and behold, there is an ‘E’ in Handwritten.) To use an example that everyone is familiar with: follow-up thank you notes to an interview. It’s common knowledge that the best follow-up thank you notes are handwritten and mailed… within 24-hours. But what if you’re applying for a role where a large part of your responsibility-set includes follow-up, follow-through, or managing tasks? (What role doesn’t these days?) When do you send your follow-up to your thank you note? And given your responsibility set and the importance placed on timely e-mails, when do you send a follow-up e-mail? And what does it say? (Without repeating yourself obviously.)

As a follow-up-aholic, I have always struggled with this component of staying on top of the application (being persistent) and also being respectful of the handwritten note (which takes time for the recipient to fully appreciate). But it wasn’t until I recently found myself in this situation that I intentionally addressed this conundrum. Why was I following up? Why did I feel the need to follow-up so urgently? Was following up immediately the best “move” in the long game? And, what was the long game?

In my little spoon approach I not only learned to identify the above fear/urgency vs. proactive/good moves, but was also forced to figure out my long game and play it… correction: crush it. By talking through the strategic predicament I was also able to help myself justify my position and what it was that I was learning by engaging with the moment. 

Handwritten notes. They’re still the way to go. Identifying if not when to follow-up on them is the problem. You’re the only one that will know the solution. 

Debra Swersky