Ted O’Connell, MD
The topic of thank you notes following residency interviews gets a fair amount of attention, so I thought I would weigh in and offer some advice. The questions about thank you notes, as well as some key information that selection committees tend to talk about, fall into just a few categories.
When should you write thank you notes after an interview?
This one is pretty straightforward. Thank you notes should be written as soon as possible after your interview day while your thoughts are fresh in your mind and so you stay on top of the process. You will visit a lot of residency programs during interview season, and you don’t want to fall behind or start to mix up details from different programs. Getting the thank you notes out in a timely fashion will also send the message that you are professional, organized, and efficient, all qualities that you want residency programs to associate with your application.
To whom should you write thank you notes?
You ideally should write thank you notes to anyone who spends a significant amount of time with you such as the interviewers for the day. This does mean that you will have to write several thank you notes for each program where you interview, but the time it takes to do this is a relatively small commitment in the big scheme of things. If you have a panel interview and are not meeting faculty and residents individually for interviews, this gets a bit more complex. You can still write individual notes, though a single note to the interview committee is also acceptable.
If you have had any significant interaction with the residency coordinator, you may want to consider dropping a note to that individual as well. Residency coordinators spend a lot of time scheduling interviews and organizing your interview day, and they also sometimes provide input to the selection committee, so a note is a solid investment of your time.
Should you write thank you notes on stationary or do so via email?
This question is a bit less clear cut and you will receive a variety of opinions about this topic. A thank you note written on a card or on nice stationary provides a personal touch that may make a more significant impression on the recipient. If you are writing the note on a card, make sure that you have enough room to include some details unique to the residency program (see below for more details). Also, make sure your handwriting is legible if you are going to hand write the note. Although a handwritten note is a nice touch, in this day and age, everyone is comfortable with email, so this is also a completely acceptable approach.
One big error that I see frequently with email thank you notes is that the same email may be sent to multiple interviewers. Or a similar email with one or two unique sentences may be sent to multiple interviewers. Keep in mind that the interviewers may forward the emails to the residency coordinator to be reviewed by the selection committee, or they may share the emails with each other so that everyone knows what type of communication is coming in from applicants. Seeing the same or very similar emails being sent to multiple people signals both a lack of effort as well as a possible lack of sincere interest in that particular residency program. Neither of those are signals you want to be sending.
What should you include in the thank you notes?
In addition to a nice greeting, there are two important items that you should include in your thank you notes. The first is one or two items that you and your interviewer discussed and that you found interesting and enlightening. Something like “I enjoyed the opportunity to tell you about my mission trip to Nicaragua and also enjoyed hearing about your interest in global health and your research on mosquito-borne illnesses.” This level of detail shows that you have good interpersonal skills, enjoyed the conversation, and remember details about the discussion.
The second item to include in the thank you note is a few details about the residency program that are particularly attractive to you that you think make the program a strong one. Something like “I am particularly attracted to the autonomy the residents are provided while at the same time being supervised and taught well” or “the surgical volume at your residency program makes your training program stand out as exceptional” or “your residency program’s 100% board pass rate makes it truly unique and is a testament to its outstanding training.”
As you go through your interview day, make sure you write down the names of all of your interviewers so that you will remember who should receive notes. You should also jot down some notes about some of the details from each interview so you will have that information for your notes. Finally, either during or soon after your interview day, write down some of your impressions that you have gathered from the interview experience as well as from the residency’s website. All of this information will allow you to write personalized, high-yield thank you notes that are certain to make a positive impression.