I previously wrote a blog post on writing thank you notes following residency interviews. Then, during this interview season, I received one of the most thorough, well-written, sincere thank you notes I have ever received in over a decade as program director. I asked this particular student, Alec Ludwig, if he would be interested in co-authoring a blog post on a topic that would be beneficial for other medical students. I am happy to share with you this excellent article that Alec has written. We hope you find it helpful.
Hi everyone! My name is Alec Ludwig, and I am a fourth-year medical student from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. The purpose of this post is to give you all some helpful tips and tricks for following up with residency programs after your interviews. Coming fresh off the interview trail, I thought I would share my experiences with you, especially the ones from which I received positive feedback. I would like to disclose that I applied to Family Medicine, however, the advice presented here is information that everyone can use regardless of specialty. I would like to also let you know the following information contains my opinions and reflections based upon my experiences, so I encourage you to form your own opinions and be creative with your follow-up correspondence with residency programs to show your interest. Let’s get started!
The best way to go about preparing for your follow-up thank you is to ensure you have done your homework. Making sure you have information about the residency program you are interviewing with prior to your interview can really help you later on. First off, looking over the residency program website should be something you do prior to showing up for your interview. Additionally, some residency programs will tell you with whom you will be interviewing before your interview date or the day of your interview. It’s a good idea to look up your interviewers and see what their interests are so you can focus your conversation on things you both enjoy or you can ask questions related to their clinical interests. I would generally write down the person’s name, and next to it I would record a few things that I would like to talk with them about, what we have in common, or specific questions I had for them.
Make sure to jot down notes either during or after your interview in order to remember exactly what you discussed. It can be as simple as jotting down a word or two about the topic discussed to help guide you when writing a message later. I personally brought a notepad into the interview with me. At the top of the page, prior to my interview with them, I wrote down the name of the person with whom I would be interviewing. Once our conversation started and the interviewer brought up a topic from my CV or answered one of my questions, I would take a moment to write one word about the topic or question at hand in order to jog my memory later. The LAST thing you want to do in a follow-up email or thank you note is indicate that you discussed something in an interview but actually didn't. It is very easy to forget details of your conversation after having multiple interviews. A good rule to go by is if you don’t remember exactly what was said, don’t include it!
Once you have all of the information you need to start writing your thank you note, the most important aspect of interview follow-up is to be genuine and honest in your message. Particularly, if you felt a program does an excellent job reaching out to the community, has the procedural training you desire, or has an enriching research curriculum integrated into the program, make sure to include that! But do not say something to a program if you don’t genuinely believe it.
ALWAYS send an individual thank you to at least everyone you interviewed with if you were one-on-one with them. If you were a part of a group interview, your note should be sent according to the number of people who interviewed you. I did not personally participate in any group interviews, but after talking with my colleagues who did, many of them said that for large group interviews for specialties such as orthopedic surgery and otolaryngology, they simply sent messages to the program directors. For small groups, it would be appropriate to send an email to each person who interviewed you. It is also a good idea to send one to anyone else with whom you felt you had a strong connection or anyone who spent a significant amount of time with you such as during the tour of the hospital or at an interview dinner.
Email vs Hand-Written Letter
I personally only did email. My reasoning for this is that my handwriting isn't the best, and I wanted my messages to be comprehensive without the limitation of the thank you card. Writing a thank you letter by hand and sending it in the mail is always a great way to show your genuine appreciation, so whichever you do should be fine.
Send the thank you as soon as possible
Within a day or two of the interview is ideal, and the latest should be a week from your interview date. When I was on the interview trail and traveling a lot, I would get to the airport a little early or go to a coffee shop near where I interviewed and spend some time writing my email right away. Doing that helped me keep a lot of the details in my head about the conversations I had, and I think it demonstrated punctuality to my interviewers. There were a few times when I fell behind on sending thank you emails, and I can assure you that it was much harder to remember details of conversations I had! DON'T procrastinate with this!
Things to keep in mind to ensure you make a great impression
DO NOT send identical thank you notes to interviewers. That looks like you did not put time into thanking them and will paint a disingenuous picture of you as an applicant. However, where I feel it is acceptable to use similar phrasing is the introduction and the conclusion of a message. Considering these paragraphs are mainly to remind them who you are and to give your final thoughts about the program and your interest, respectively, there isn’t much difference in things you may say. The body paragraphs in between should be COMPLETELY unique and showcase your genuine appreciation for the conversation you had with the interviewer, aspects of the program you think will help you achieve your career goals, and things you had in common. I also found it helpful to have a “master list” of thank you emails I had sent. This made it easy for me to look back at examples I had sent to other interviewers and gave me a nice template to work with to start a new thank you email. I’m someone who likes to have a template to work from and then edit it from there, so if you work better from scratch, that absolutely works too.
Now that we’ve set the groundwork for who to send the thank you notes to, when you should send them, what it should include, and how to present yourself professionally, I thought it would be beneficial to use an example of a message. This was a format that worked for me, so keep that in mind while using this tool to help you. I will provide a brief explanation of each section, and then provide you an example to use while you are writing your messages.
Introduction of the Thank You Message:
It is always good practice to re-introduce yourself to the person to whom you are writing. With all of the different applicants from all over the place, reminding the interviewer of who you are, what school you attend, and what date you interviewed can be very helpful since programs will share your thank you notes with their selection committee. Having a direct reference to your interview day will make sure they remember you. I also included a small blurb about how I enjoyed my time at the institution.
Dear “insert the name they introduced themselves as,”
This is “insert name”, the student from “insert school name” whom you interviewed on “insert date”. I wanted to personally thank you for the opportunity to interview with you at the “insert name of program” Residency Program. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about your program and I honestly had a wonderful time meeting everyone during my time in “insert city.”
Body Paragraphs of the Thank You Message:
Depending on how much time you spent with the individual, the length can be different based on your discretion. For instance, for program directors with whom I interviewed, I would generally include two to three paragraphs depending on the topics we discussed, the connection I had with them, and whether or not I personally interviewed with them. With other interviewers who mostly asked me questions during the interview, I would include one body paragraph. This is the time to focus on the specifics of your relationship with the individual who interviewed you and to comment on the details of your conversation. That could be things they asked you from your CV, questions of yours that they answered for you, commenting on their specific accomplishments that impressed you, or interests you have in common.
Specific Type of Interviewers
The Program Director (PD) has a lot of say in your rank position, so making a strong connection with them is important. Depending on the program and specialty, the PD may have a different level of involvement within the residency program as well as the selection process, however, it is difficult to know that from an interview. My experience was that PDs gave presentations about the program, individually interviewed me, provided a Q&A session with all of the applicants, gave a tour of the clinic/hospital, or a combination of some of those things. A very important aspect of your message should include what exactly they did during your interview day. For instance:
The presentation you gave about your program was not only comprehensive, but also demonstrated passion and clear pride in the wonderful program you are leading. “Insert statement about a unique aspect of the presentation that resonated with you.” For Example: The amount of community involvement/research experience/procedural training/operating room experience from the start of residency is extremely inspiring and clearly showed me your commitment to serving the people of insert city/developing residents who are competent in producing outstanding research projects/nurturing residents to have the technical skills needed to be successful physicians/surgeons. Particularly, the focus on integrating residents into the “insert community service project/specific research project/specific procedures or surgeries” is something I know I would love to have as part of my residency curriculum.
It is also important to show the program director why their program will provide you the training and experience to achieve your specific career goals:
I also want you to know that the way you described the type of residency program you have created is one directly in line with the type of physician I want to become, a “insert your top 3-4 career/training goals you have for the future that their program provides training in.”
If the program director personally interviewed with you or were present in a group interview, it’s good practice to comment on the aspects of your conversation that you enjoyed, but also if they answered any of your questions:
In addition to providing me information about your program as a whole, I appreciated your expanding on how your program may offer avenues in “insert topics discussed in interview,” all of which I am interested in pursuing in my residency training.
If you specifically interviewed with a faculty member or resident, the most important thing to do is to comment on the specific topics you discussed in the interview or other aspects of the interview day that you interacted with them:
I want you to know that I really appreciated chatting with you about your involvement in “insert what they discussed.” I was incredibly inspired to hear about how you “insert something they do that you would like to do as well.” Additionally, I really liked hearing about your journey from “insert place they grew up, went to school, or trained in residency/fellowship,” and how you have thoroughly enjoyed your time at the residency program. Lastly, I appreciate your asking me about “insert question topics they asked you about your application.”
Program Coordinators have A LOT of variables to juggle during interview season. It's important to reach out to them individually to thank them for setting up your interview day. It will help you stand out, and they will appreciate hearing some positive remarks after all of the time they have spent making sure your interview experience was well received. They are also your go-to person for any interviewer’s email address you may have not received in your interview packet information. Some programs also solicit input from the program coordinators about applicants, so being polite and gracious with them can go a long way to helping you achieve the ranking you desire.
Conclusion of the Thank You Message:
The conclusion is the place to establish a few key points. First, this is where you really want to showcase your interest in the program using expressive phrasing to show your interest. This is also where you want to give any final thoughts about aspects of their program that you appreciate.
I am extremely interested in a residency position with your “insert specialty” program and regardless of the outcome, it was an absolute pleasure meeting you, and the rest of your residency recruitment team. “Insert the one thing that stood out to you most.” For example, hearing how much your program has invested into serving the people of “insert city” is incredibly inspiring.Thankyou so much for the chance to share my experiences with you and for answering all of my questions.
The interview trail is long and arduous but also a lot of fun. Keep in mind that the people you are emailing or sending a letter could one day be your colleagues, your superiors, people you see at conferences or conduct research with, or a plethora of other possibilities. Maintaining a professional relationship with people you meet on the interview trail, even at programs that do not particularly interest you, will only help you in the future. To properly communicate your interest in programs, keep in mind the steps above, but most importantly, just be genuine with your responses. Also, make sure to have fun in the interview process. This is the perfect opportunity to explore new areas that you may never have the chance to visit again, meet new people who could one day be your colleagues, and solidify where you will complete your training as a physician!
Best of luck in the coming interview season!