After years of study, progressing to an academic interview can feel like a big step. Whether this is your first academic interview or if you've had some before there is always something additional that you can do to improve your chances.
The idea of sending a thank you note after an interview is nothing new, but to many interviewees it can feel like a slightly awkward gesture to win the interviewer’s favour. If this is your only reason for sending one I suggest not writing one at all. If however you want to add something to the process that offers further insight into your experience and suitability for the role or department, read on.
Peter Steyger, Professor of Otolaryngology at Oregon Health & Science University told me that “sending a thank you note is a good courtesy to have, but in practice I find does not and should not sway the interviewer. However I do think that it helps to reinforce an interviewer's initial opinion of the applicant. It can also help to refresh the interviewer’s memory whilst helping to alleviate any worries that they may have about fitting into the department. If in doubt, do write.... it won't hurt, that's for sure.”
Who should you send one to?
Before you even sit down in front of an academic interview panel, you should already know who you'll be interviewed by. This will help you to prepare your answers by tailoring them to their individual specialties and areas of interest. Knowing who's on the panel will help you to partly prepare your thank you note prior to the interview. This will mean that you can get it sent off in record time. Be sure to send a personalised note to each interviewer and don’t forget to include the HR representative that will more than likely be present as well.
How quickly should you send a thank you note?
Ideally you should send off your thank you notes the day of the interview to ensure it has the most impact. As mentioned above, the best way to do this will be to put a bit of prep in prior to the interview. Address each note, include bullet points about their specialties and relate that to your own. Doing this will not only help when you write the thank you note for real, but it will also help you to prepare for your interview.
How should you send it?
This is entirely up to you and there is no right or wrong answer. I have heard some individuals say that they email thank you notes after initial phone, Skype or group sessions and some prefer to send a hand written note after panel interviews. I always think it’s best to get a bit of direct insight about what they would prefer. To do this you could talk to the head of department that you are hoping to join to see what method they prefer.
What content should you include?
Content wise you need to keep it clear, concise and tailored towards the individual in question. Keep it under a page to increase the likelihood that it will be read and digested. Peter Steyger goes on to say that when it comes to content it’s a good idea to mention an “appreciation of the time taken and to paraphrase discussion from the interview to help clarify any poignant information. It’s also a good idea to reiterate your existing and proposed research to refresh their memory of your discussions. Relate your research to their specialties to show the mutual benefit for both applicant and interviewer or department. If it’s for a teaching position reiterate your skills and experience and include any achievements in that area or include information about particular pedagogical approaches that may be of interest.”
As a final note he also warned that there is a fine line to walk to ensure it comes across in the best light. “Don't be sycophantic; be sincere and genuine as interviewer's see a lot of sycophants and flatterers!”