The art of the thank-you

Jan 29 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I have vivid memories of my thirteen year-old self sprawled on the living room carpet--long, lanky legs, limp perm, retainer--grumpily eyeing two piles in front of me. The first was a colorful assortment of envelopes, fancily-wrapped boxes, and ribbony gift bags; the second, a neat stack of notecards in my theme colors, peach and turquoise (hey, it was 1989).

The rule was that thank you notes had to be written as I opened my presents. And so with each check or bond or engraved Cross™ pen and pencil set  that I opened, I dejectedly pulled another card off the pile, and began scribbling.

"Dear relative I probably haven't met,

I'm so glad you came to my Bat Mitzvah. It was nice to see you. I hope you had fun. Thank you so much for your generous check/bond/Cross™ pen and pencil set. I'm sure I will put it to good use.


Gosh, but I was an ungrateful, miserable, young woman*. I hated writing thank you notes then, and I hate writing them now only slightly less, but alas, they are a part of basic etiquette--especially when you've been on faculty interviews.

Have you just returned from an interview? Congrats! I'm sure you rocked their world. To rock their world further, I'd recommend waiting no more than 3-5 days to send a few thank you's out. The chair and your host, for sure, and maybe if there's anyone you especially enjoyed talking to. I do not think these need to be actual paper snail-mail cards, but use your judgment--if you met someone you think would particularly appreciate a little old school gesture, by all means go right ahead and dig out a stamp. Personally, I think email is fine, and perhaps even preferable for its guaranteeable-ness and instantaneousness. Who knows what gets lost in the bowels of a research institution's mailroom, you know? Certainly several of my rejection letters.

But what do you say in a thank you note? That doesn't make you sound like a robot? Well. To put it succinctly, say things that are nice, and also specific. And try your best to be genuine! Don't be post-Bat Mitzvah Becca**. What did you *really* like about the department? Did you find that there was a happy, community-like feeling? Say that! Did you have fun with the students (so far, this has been one of the highlights of both my interviews)? Say that too--even research-heavy programs want you to care about the students, and not just be all give me my sweet-ass lab, bitches! If you're writing to someone you could see as a future collaborator, say something about how well your research interests jive, and again, be specific! The more personal these notes are, the better they will like you and the more they will see you as a potentially awesome colleague. Which is, if I'm not mistaken, the goal here, no?

*according to Jewish law

**You could instead, of course, always just quote Wayne Newton, although the decision to call the department chair "Darling" should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

9 responses so far

  • gerty-z says:

    excellent advice! Sending notes out to folks that you spoke with is a good idea. And they don't have to even be of the "thank you" genre (though those can be polite and useful). There are generally things that you could follow up on from the interview. Did someone ask a question you didn't know the answer to? Find the answer and send it along! Was someone interested in a paper you mentioned? Shoot them a copy of the pdf! Have you been pondering a question that came out of a conversation you had? ASK IT! Sending these little notes make it clear that you are enthusiastic, and an interactive colleague. It also sends a message that you are genuinely interested in the department. Sending these messages make it easier for faculty that want to advocate for you to stand up in the meeting and make a case that YOU should get the job offer.

  • daGA says:

    Ug. I feel like I may have made a terrible faux pas when I did not do this for my grad school interviews. I didn't even think about it until a year later when the new students were asking us the best way to write thank you e-mails and I was like, "... SHIT."

  • As I was reading this blogge poste, a thank-you e-mail from someone I interviewed for a faculty position last week hit my inbox. HAHAHAHAH!

    And BTW, while it certainly is courteous and nice to send a thank-you e-mail--and it can be useful from the bigger picture networking standpoint--whether you do or don't send one has absolutely zero effect on your prospects for getting the jobbe.

  • anon says:

    I considered doing this myself when I was interviewing. I asked my Dept chair at the time his opinion about this. Like CPP, he thought they were nice, but they don't make any impact whatsoever on the search committee's decision on who to hire.

  • Nicki says:

    I only did this by accident when I made my funding application for my doctorate - and I thought it was actually a bit awkward sending thank you cards to the academics who had helped comment on my proposal, so I'm now hugely happy to read this and see it's standard practice! Phew.

    Although I'm not sure it makes too much difference, even in a social setting, as one of the academics I thanked for his help (and have worked for previously) entirely failed to recognise me at a conference last week.

  • GEARS says:

    I can't agree more. I actually think the thank you note makes a big difference in the grand scheme of getting hired. Getting a TT is hard! Use everything to your advantage. If takes a few hours to write very good notes, do it.

    There's soooo much that it can help you with, it's worth it. For instance, all you need to do is write one sentence after each interview as a memory jogger. Then, when writing your notes, you can refer back to that by saying "I know we didn't totally agree on teaching methods but I'm glad to get a new perspective on things."

    It will give you the chance to show you're willing to learn or, if a particular interview went totally wrong, give them a chance to see you are at least professional (no one likes a sore loser). You might even get some emails back from a prof you interviewed with that you know you bombed but they might not see it that way. Plus, I tend to think thank yous are for old people. Well, there's a lot of profs that are old! I think they do appreciate a hand written note rather than an email. At worst, if you're tied with another candidate for the position, it can give that extra nod.

  • Dr. Cynicism says:

    Damn good advice, as always Dr. Becca. One of my recent applicants set themselves apart with her recent thank yous to me, her host, and some of the other faculty. Simple stuff like this goes a long way.

  • Namnezia says:

    I still have some of the Cross pen/pencil sets from my Bar Mitzvah...

  • Pat Bowne says:

    Back in the eocene when I got my job, we science folks never got good advice like this. But I was living at home while job searching, and my mom gave me some books with a business slant, which emphasized thank-you notes. Accordingly, I wrote two thank-you notes after my interview -- one to the dept. chair, and one to the dept. secretary who had arranged everything.

    I never heard whether the chair was impressed or not, but I gathered later that my thanking the secretary stood out.

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