Residency Interview Thank You Notes: What you need to know

Originally published 16 October 2016, Updated 27 September 2020

Continuing on our theme of “things I wish I had known when I was interviewing for residency,” let’s talk about thank you notes. Everyone tells you that you need to send thank you notes every time you interview, to every person who interviews. Let’s talk a little bit more about how to write effective thank you notes, and what role they play in the interview process. Ready?

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Wait, what? I’m supposed to write thank you notes??

Yes, it’s pretty much an expectation at this point that you will write a thank you note to each person who interviews you, at each program where you interview. Annoying? Yes. Just like the interview suit, writing a bland thank you card isn’t going to set you apart from the crowd, but not writing them might hurt you, and a really well-written note might help!

When should I send them?

Aim to write them within 2-3 days of the interview (while you still remember the details of all of your conversations), and to mail them about a week after your interview, so they will arrive a 1-2 weeks after your interview, right as people are starting to forget about your batch of interviews and think about the next round.

How many should I write, and to whom?

At a minimum, you should send a thank you note to:

  • The program director
  • Anyone who interviewed you

It’s also not a bad idea to consider sending thank you notes to:

  • Other residents who you had significant interactions with (people who led the tour, people who drove you to a dinner, people who you talked to a lot during the dinner or lunch, etc)
  • If a meal was hosted at a resident’s house, send the host a thank you card
  • The program coordinator, who put a lot of work into the interview day

Do they need to be handwritten, paper cards?

Paper cards are nice, but an email is probably sufficient in most programs. Several people that I talked to sent emails to residents and paper cards to faculty. Your mileage may vary. Do what feels right to you. If you have terrible handwriting, either take extra special care to make sure your cards are legible, or send emails. An email invites a response, so if you want to ask a follow-up question, email is better.

How do I choose the right cards?

Simple, classic, inoffensive. Don’t try to be funny. Target and Amazon both have a good selection of boxed thank-you cards. Quality matters, so don’t cheap out. I’ve used these blue ones from Amazon (which come in a pack of 100, with 4 different styles). These ones from Papyrus (also Amazon) and Hallmark (Amazon again) are also a safe bet. ,Some suggestions from Amazon are below. Get a couple of boxes of a couple of different motifs and have at it.

What do I say?

The thank you note is your chance to remind the interviewers (who met a whole lot of people in one day) about something you want them to remember about you. It can be helpful to talk about something you discussed during your interview, especially if it was unique. For example, if you talked about a hobby, you could mention that you really enjoyed chatting about xyz (hiking/ cooking/ basketball/ etc).

The thank you note also gives you a chance to mention something you really liked or learned about their program or the location, or to mention things that happened after the interview. “I really enjoyed spending the weekend after my interview exploring the area. It was a nice change from where I’m living now because _____. I would love to spend the next 4 years in Cityville!”

You could also mention things you are looking forward to doing if you match there, like participating in a special program that they have.

Are there things I should avoid saying?

Of course! For one, the thank you card should be short and to the point. There is a reason why the thank you cards that you buy at the store are so tiny – you aren’t supposed to write the Great American Novel in them.

Other things to avoid:

  • Any promises about how you will rank the program. Unless this is your last interview of the season, how could you know how they will stack up against the other places you go?
  • Negative statements about the program, of any kind
  • Reminders or explanations of anything awkward that you said or did in your interview. Just leave it be and move on.
  • Repeating your CV

How do I actually mail them?

You have two options:

Option #1 is to put the cards all in one big envelope addressed to the program coordinator. That person will be able to distribute the cards appropriately. The upside to this is that it’s usually cheaper to send a single big envelope than to send 5-6 smaller envelopes. It also ensures that all of the cards arrive together, so there is no risk of, say, the program director getting their card several days after the residents. The downside is that you have to actually weigh the big envelope and make sure you put enough postage on it. 

Option #2 is to simply put a regular stamp on each card individually. I chose this option. It’s a bit more expensive (probably on the order of $10-20 for the whole interview season), but it meant I could stamp and send my cards when I was ready, no scale or post office necessary. I just bought a roll of stamps and I was good to go. 

Where should you send them? Some places will give you a business card with a mailing address, which you can use. If you didn’t get a card with an address, look at the department’s website and that should give a mailing address. Send the cards to that mailing address, c/o the program coordinator. For example:

Dr. Program Director
c/o Program Coordinator
Department of Internal Medicine
123 Hospital Road
Cityville, AK, 12345

If I had a teleconference interview, do I still need to send physical thank you cards?

In a word, yes! Thank-you notes are still a way for you to express your gratitude to people who are taking time out of their day to interview you, even though they aren’t taking you on a tour or feeding you lunch.

What else do I need to know?

When we sit down to make the final rank list, thank-you cards don’t really come up in discussion. What does come up is if an applicant has reached out to residents since the interview day and thank you card. Did they email someone with more questions? Did they ask to come back for a second look? Those demonstrate special interest in a program, and it’s worthwhile to take the time to reach out again to your top few programs as the interview season draws to a close (you can read more about how to do this effectively here). 

On a silly note, get some good pens that write well in a non-obnoxious color. Black gel pels like these are great for non-glossy cards, and quality ballpoint pens like these are good for glossy cards (gel ink tends to smear on glossy paper). Pink and sparkly is a no-go, and the free hotel pen is usually also not a good plan. If your pen runs out mid-card and you have to switch to a different pen that isn’t an exact match, just toss it and start over. This is another reason why I buy my pens by the dozen: I got sick of throwing out cards because my pen ran out of ink, and by having multiple identical pens, I could just pick up the next one in the pack and keep going.

Alright, I know it’s a boring subject, but I hope that gave you the information that you needed to get out there and start writing those dreaded thank you cards. I probably wrote an average of 6 thank you cards per interview, or about 100 cards by the end of the season. Dull, boring, but all part of the process. 

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