I've gone to a few weddings in the past few years. Each time I put a lot of effort into picking out a very thoughtful gift, carefully wrapped it to look like a storefront display, and dropped it off with pride at the gift table. Then I watched as two, four, six months went by without a single thank you note! And even worse: when I finally did get that thank you note, it was so generic that I'm not sure the wonderful couple even knew which carefully wrapped gift I had given them. For all I know, they may have even hired someone to unwrap their gifts and generate a thank you note. Ugh! I was so off put by those few experiences that I rarely put in the same effort to pick out the perfect gift and card anymore.
Suffice it to say: thank you notes matter. When it comes to playing the residency interview game, you need to stay one step ahead of your competition if you want to be ranked high. Well written and strategically timed 'thank yous' can really give you an edge. But not all thank you notes are created equal. In what follows, I’ll provide you with my “Thank You Action Plan” to give you a leg up on the competition.
WHO?: Everyone you interview with.
Round 1 of the “Thank You Action Plan” is to thank everyone with whom you interviewed. I like to thank all the faculty members that I interviewed with, the program director, the program administrator and any residents who played a big role in the interview process. Make sure that during the interview you ask everyone for either their card (with an email address) OR ask the program administrator for their email addresses/contact information.
WHAT?: Touch on the specifics.
'Thank Yous' DON'T have to be long. In fact, a few sentences will do. I always like to follow this general format (with general variations so it looks very personalized):
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me on interview day last week. It was such a pleasure getting to know you and your team. I especially enjoyed hearing about [specific thing you talked about]. This, in addition to [another specific attribute to this program] has really impressed me about the X University [specialty] Residency program and I intend to rank your program very highly. Thank you again for the opportunity to interview with you. I look forward to the opportunity to working with you in the future.
After the interview, make sure you write down the name of the interviewer and a few things that you talked about that you think will make a good specific talking point in a note. As for the "I intend to rank you very highly" commet: I wrote this in every thank you note. It's just a part of the game, people.
That said, you should NEVER lie in your note about the actual order. "Ranked highly" is a relative phrase so you can fudge a little. Remember, these programs are going to do very similar things with you; it is in your best interest to position yourself well. Ultimately, your note should be succinct, respectful, personalized and well written.
WHEN and HOW?: Phase 1 and Phase 2
Phase 1: Emails
Some people may disagree with me on this one, but hear me out. Remember how long it took for my friend to send me her thank you note and how I just waited around and then forgot about it until it was conspicuously late? This is why I believe phase 1 should be sending a good email. I like to drop an email to everyone within a week and a half after my interview. This gives the interviewer time to digest the interview; they may have even slightly forgotten about you now that they are getting on with their life, until BAM they get a lovely email from you reminding them of what a stellar applicant you are. These emails should be short, polite and as described above.
Phase 2: Hand written note
No matter when you interviewed with a particular program, it can be very easy to get lost in the mix. You may have WOW'ed the PD on interview day, but it is ESSENTIAL that they know about your continued interest in the program at rank time. And what better way to say "I'm interested!" than a handwritten note.
The purpose and content of this note is essentially the same as the previous emails, but this time you can tell them "I have ranked your program very highly!" And if you ranked this program #1, let them know! Theoretically, it is in everyone's best interest to rank based on genuine interest in the program/candidate. But remember, we are human and not only does it feel better when someone likes you back, it can often influence your ranking! Buy some generic thank you notes and send these to the program director of EVERY PROGRAM you will be ranking. Some think this is excessive (and it may be) but doing so is the professional and courteous thing.
There are two reasons I believe these notes should be handwritten. Firstly, a handwritten note appears much more thought out than an email. An email can be sent from your phone on the toilet at a bar; a thank you note takes a little more dedication and attention to detail. A skilled writer may be able to write a thank you note on a toilet in a bar… but I really don’t recommend that from a public health standpoint.
Second of all, you are not the only one sending this program director an email! This is an incredibly hectic time for these individuals and an easy way to get their attention is to send them something they don’t get very often these days: a lovely hand written thank you note. These notes should be sent around mid-January when everyone is finishing up interviews. This will put you fresh on their minds as they make their final ranking. And on that note, please be sure to VERIFY the address!
Why go through all of this, you ask? Because good things come to those who go the extra mile! During the interview process there are so many variables that can determine whether you will be ranked by a program. Give yourself the best chance you can! This is 4+ years of your life and in some cases half a million dollars worth of investment. A thank you note might make all the difference between ending up where you want to be… or ending up anywhere at ALL!