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by Kaitlin McManus | December 19, 2019

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Writing a thank you note after an interview can sometimes feel rote, perhaps even old-fashioned. But let me assure you that the gesture is worth the effort. In part because, frankly, you are expected to write a thank you note. It’s common courtesy to do so after an interview, and your interviewers will notice if they do not receive one from you. It’s also a way to help you stand out in your interviewer’s mind. When they receive that thank you email (or if you’re really looking to impress, handwritten note), it will remind them of how great a candidate you are. Whether you’re in the middle of 1L interviewing,  wrapping up OCI, or breathing a sigh of relief after a long day of callbacks, make sure to send your gratitude—it can make all the difference.

Four Parts

Thank you notes should never sound like a form letter, but the good ones do follow a similar formula:

  • The address
  • The personalized thanks
  • The plug
  • The send-off

That’s it, really—thank you notes are, first and foremost, brief (three to four lines of an email). But they are so crucial to leaving a lasting good impression. So, what do these four parts look like in practice?

The Address: Striking the Right Tone.

How you start your thank you note largely depends on how your interview went—not in the sense of how well, but in how formal it was. Some interviews are extremely formal, with lists of questions and panels of interviewers; others are more casual, conversational one-on-ones. There are also different levels of formality in firm cultures—from white shoe firms to firms boasting a “startup-like” environment, and everything in between. It’s important to keep firm culture in mind when writing a thank you note.

For example, say you’re interviewing at a firm known for being very formal and professional—starting off your email with “Hi Susan,” would be a big mistake. “Dear Ms. Smith” would be much more appropriate. Similarly, if you just left an interview with a very casual firm where everyone seemed to be on a first-name basis, “Dear Ms. Smith” may read as a little on the stodgy side. I wouldn’t advertise starting any professional thank you note with “Hi,” but knowing whether to refer to your interviewer by their first or last name is important—you want to start your email off on the right note and keep that tone throughout.

Also, be sure to spell your interviewers’ names correctly. Misspellings happen more often than you’d think, and they’re very rude, regardless of how formal or not the firm’s culture is.

The Personalized Thanks: Be Specific.

The body of most thank you notes will start off with something along the lines of “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today.” And that’s fine—it’s a perfectly sincere expression of gratitude. The personalized part is what you use to make your note stand out. You don’t want to just say thank you for their time, but also for something that’s unique to that interviewer: their perspective, their insights, and their opinions, for example. Think back to something substantive you discussed in the interview, or something that really seemed to click with your interviewer. Did they light up when giving an overview of their practice area? Did you discuss a case in your writing sample in detail? They’re worth mentioning specifically: “I really appreciated your perspective on how the emergence of telehealth is impacting the health care legal sphere,” for example. Each of these details should be unique to whichever interviewer you’re writing to—it shows that you were actively listening during the interview and that you’re not writing the same note to everyone you spoke with that day.

The Plug: A Pitchman Is Always Pitching.

Your thank you note is one more opportunity to remind your interviewer, briefly, why you’re such a good candidate. You don’t want to oversell it—this note is about acknowledging the other person’s efforts, not tooting your own horn—but a quick touch on your best merits can help keep you on your interviewers’ radar.

For this section of your note, think back to your interview. What were the qualities in which your interviewer was most interested? What qualifications did they seem to think were the most important in a summer associate? Say, for example, it was time-management skills and a willingness to work on a variety of projects. Your plug might look like: “I’m excited for the opportunity to jump feet-first into the summer associate program—I never shy away from hard work, and I think I’d be a great fit with the teams that summers work with.” If your interviewer seemed particularly impressed with one of your accomplishments, that may also be worth bringing up again. You know your strengths; flaunt them.

The Send-Off: Ask for What You Want.

You know the expression “You’ll never know unless you ask”? It can be tough, when interviewing, to be firm and assertive about what you want; it’s natural to want to please everyone and good to be flexible and accommodating. But, in my experience, coming out and asking for the job is also a good move, as long as you do it tactfully. Consider the enormous difference between “Thank you for your consideration” and “I hope to further discuss the value I can bring to the summer associate program with you soon.” The first person leaves the matter up to fate. The second all but explicitly states that, if offered a spot in the summer associate class, she will take it and work her hardest at it. These are entirely different messages, and it’s pretty clear which is the stronger. You’re applying to a career in law—demonstrate that you know how to close a deal.

Another possible send-off is asking about next steps. If you know the next steps, mention that you anticipate that occurring (e.g., “I hope my references can provide you with another dimension to my character.”) If you don’t know what the next steps are, then express your interest in learning them (e.g., “I look forward to hearing from the team about any next steps in the coming days.”) It is important to be grateful for the interview, but you want to demonstrate that your interest extends further.

Final Notes

The summer associate interview process can feel like a stressful whirlwind—one in which it is easy to make simple flubs. Failing to write a thank you note should not be one of them. It’s a relatively simple gesture that can mean a lot when hiring partners and recruiting teams make their decisions. Make sure that yours is brief, polished, and sincere, so you can stick the landing and nail that position at your dream firm.

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