Thank you notes after an interview: Are they a waste of time?

On an interesting twitter conversation Dr. McInnis (@DrMcinnisDIT), Single with Scalpel (@singlescalpel) and I were mentioning thank you notes after interviews (Note: both are excellent follows on Twitter). Our views each differed slightly and as with a lot of my ideas for blog posts – I had more thoughts on the subject than 140 twitter characters would cover. 

So thank you notes after interviews? Do they matter and are they a waste of time?

To start there is clearly growing opinion that thank you notes are not necessary after interviews in medical school, residency, or fellowship. In fact at more and more institutions, they are formally asking interviewees not to write thank-you notes. If the program/medical school you are interviewing at says ‘no thanks’ to thank you notes, the answer is simple: DON’T. Doing so against their requests, even with the most genuine intentions, may be a red flag that you likely don’t follow direction well (a key in med school/residency).

But if there is not a formal policy, the next logical questions is should you take the time to send them? Many of you will be interviewing at 10-20 programs, some may interview at even more. Sending even email thank you notes to that many places is time consuming and at many institutions I’m guessing these are simply read by coordinators (and rarely passed on to the members of the admissions committee). Chances might be a little better those notes make it past coordinators for residency spots, where they may interview less than 100 or so applicants, compared to what can be multiple hundreds to thousands of spots for medical schools. Matter of fact, I would say for medical school interviews the thank you note is likely not significant at all. 

So should you worry if you decided not to spend your time sending these thank you notes out? As Dr. Mcinnis put in a tweet: “Can anyone honestly imagine the committee checking an applicant’s file and saying, ‘Well, she didn’t send a thank you.. so don’t rank her!'” – I can’t. Not today. Not even as competitive as medical school and residency spots are. Not sending a thank you note almost certainly won’t in any way harm your chances.

However, my point in the twitter conversation and on here is this: I ALWAYS send thank you notes for interviews. I did it for medical school, I did it for residency, and I did it for the two jobs I interviewed at last spring. Part of why I send them is I was brought up to send thank you notes – for Christmas, gifts, interviews, shadowing opportunities, you name it – my parents always strongly encouraged it. It’s polite and highlights thanks for someone taking time to give you a gift or opportunity. I think it’s important from that perspective. However, the other reason I send them is selfish: I think it’s an advantage!

A thank you note may not help or hurt you from a purely admission standpoint – but it carries forward a conversation. And that conversation is about YOU. This is key in networking, whether to get into training program, a job, or even via discussions I have for this blog. Keep the conversation going and keep yourself in the minds of those who have something you are interested in. If you were a strong candidate, being remembered is likely an advantage come final rank day. If you were a borderline candidate, finding a way to be remembered may be a HUGE advantage in getting yourself to stand out from others that were also borderline. 

As I often try to do on this site, I’ll give a personal real life example. When applying to residency spots, I had two spots I really fell in love with. One was highlighted by it’s location, the other a little more by the residency program itself. Otherwise, spots 3-5 were basically even, and I was happy but not in love with any of them. I was torn between the top two right down to the rank list day. However, by that day, I was nearly positive I would match at either of them. And part of my confidence (and significant stress relief) was due to a follow up email from a thank you note I had sent. 

I had given my typical thank you, but highlighted with how much I desired to match at the program and how strongly I felt. The program director himself replied and mentioned they very much enjoyed having me and if I had any further questions about the program. I noted on a follow up email that after my interview, I had found they offered just a few advanced spots along the categorical spots I was aware of. I simply asked about the spots and if they felt there was any advantage to listing either higher, as I wanted to set myself in the best matching position possible. His reply discussed why they had decided to offer just a few advanced spots after the fact and then ended the email like this:


My interpretation of that reply was that I was golden. Clearly they were as interested in me as I was their program. What a major stress relief during match season! After that day, I felt very strongly that worst case I would match at either of my top two programs. All from a little thank you note. I could probably dig out another couple emails from various times in my life that the thank you note carried forward a conversation that led to more information or opportunities that I wouldn’t have received otherwise. 

So do those thank you notes matter? In many ways, not at all. I’m confident not sending one won’t hurt you a bit. But are they A WASTE OF TIME? Not at all. Because even if you don’t gain anything in 9 out of 10 of them, the 1 time you do may lead to an opportunity or job that makes them all worth the while. They are simply polite, and in my experience, they’ve been some of the most important pieces of communication I’ve ever sent out. 

 

What do your think? Have I been wasting my time all these years? Are thank you notes ever necessary? Anyone you know ever been helped by them or hurt by not sending them? Add your thoughts in the comments section. 

Read some of the other helpful hints for interviews here:


 

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6 Comments

    • Great question! I would try to stay away from “form” than you notes where the words are the same with only the program/names changed. Keep them unique!

      That said I always tried to include a sincere thanks. Then mention a few things specific to the program. Lastly, if I truly felt so – I’d mention to my few top programs that they were highly desired spots for me to attend.

      If you have additional questions, a thank you note is a good place to do it. However, I would not ask questions to simply ask – make sure they are something important or can’t be found easily elsewhere. The focus of the note should stay as THANK YOU!

  1. I appreciate you addressing the issue but that wasn’t a helpful analysis. Either they are useful or not. Your example did not change anything for you. They were going to rank you highly and you were going to do the same regardless. The fact that you write thank you notes because you were taught to do so is inconsequential. This article is not helpful.

    • As I pointed out in the article, I believe thank you notes will have very little effect on how a program ranks you. If that is your ONLY goal for a thank you note – they are as inconsequential as you feel this article is. But, the bit of information I received above was VERY consequential to me at the time – not because it changed a rank order but because it allowed me to sleep at night much more confidently through the end of the match.

  2. Most Program Directors have started to openly acknowledge how screwed up the residency application process has become, mainly due to the hyper-neurotic, over-analytical “games” that applicants try to play to give us an advantage over others. It is grimy and utterly unnecessary.

    This HAS to stop.

    As such, most of these same PDs (at least in internal medicine) have outright stated that they DO NOT WANT to see post-interview communication from any of the applicants, and this includes simple emails. They will not influence anyone’s rank list and, unless you are genuinely thankful for something they did to accommodate you (held your luggage, were understanding of travel delays, other specific requests during your interview day), they often REEK of desperation and/or gamesmanship. So to all of the applicants reading this, take what you read here and everywhere else online with a grain of salt, and don’t be THAT APPLICANT.

    • Oh wow where to start this comment from “someone”…

      First you’re absolutely right it’s could be seen as a game and I certainly suggest any contact be sincere as well as without any hint of begging/desperation. But I’d say only a fraction of programs are currently asking not to send follow up. In fact, the same tactics you are bashing by Med students are played equally by programs – I bet in the last two weeks before rank lists were due I received emails from 50% of programs I interviewed at. Many of the those emails were guised as “any further questions” but were not subtle in their encouragement to see me matched there. Until programs step up as a whole to stop communication post interview – the “game” will continue. And in those famous words… “don’t hate the player, hate the game!” I think sincere thank you notes are fine, maybe even helpful, until asked not to send them.

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