Ah, the dreaded professional email… full of conundrums: how to greet the other person, what to put in the subject line, to use or not to use (smileys), how to sign it, what would be most likely to get me a response, etc. Fear not, I am here to help you out!
First tip: Make sure your contact information is correct in your signature, your greeting, your contact card, etc. We all had that one embarrassing phase where we decided to go by initials or “coolsmartcuzimadevilangle” in our contact card. Take it out. That is the height of being unprofessional. Make sure it clearly states your name (which your actual email address should as well). First impressions, they count.
- This holds true even if you already have a job and are writing an internal email. It is still extremely important to appear professional at all times.
- Maybe avoid the punny one-liners in your signature. If you work in a creative industry or you truly think it brightens your recipient’s day, go for it. But in my experience, it just leads to an eye roll and an audible groan.
Second tip: Keep the subject line short, yet descriptive. No need to go spilling all your deepest secrets right off the bat. The subject line should give the recipient an idea of what you want to discuss without being the body of the email. Think of the subject line like a movie trailer. Would you want to go see the movie if the whole plot is in the trailer?
Third tip: When you don’t know the person all that well (meaning you are either applying for the job, or have just started, or the person is powerful in the organization), use Mr., Mrs. or Ms. “Last Name” when addressing your email.
- Use “Hello” or “Dear” depending on if this is a job application or an internal email. Not “Hi” or “Hey.”
- In addition, use Ms. if you aren’t sure about the marital status of the person you are addressing. Nothing is worse than assuming someone is married when she is not.
- Also, make sure that the person to whom you addressed the email is the person to whom you refer in the body. That confusion can lead to some seriously awkward situations!
Fourth tip: When it comes to the actual content, keep it short and simple, but with enough information to elicit a glance and a response.
- The key here is clarity and consistency.
- Make your point as clearly and quickly as possible.
- Underline, bold or italicize key points.
- Leave extra space between different thoughts to allow for a break and to show that they are in fact separate thoughts.
- There are apps and websites out there to help you with this part. Boomerang Respondable for Gmail will analyze your draft according to several criteria, including: subject length, word count, question count and reading level to tell you how likely it is that you will receive a response to that email. The truth is, it’s not always right, since it definitely cannot account for human behavior.
- LinkedIn has several articles on this topic to help you refine the body of your email.
Fifth tip – Attachments:
- If you include an attachment, make sure to make reference to it. It should be clear that you had a reason for the attachment.
- If you write “refer to attachment,” make sure the attachment is actually attached. You do not want to have to send another email because you forgot the attachment. Nowadays, Google has a “Labs” feature, which will remind you to upload an attachment when you write “see attachment” or “please find attached” in the body of your email.
Sixth tip: Be careful when using smileys and abbreviations.
- Smileys are generally not professional. As always, there are exceptions to every rule, but it is best to err on the side of caution. So, do not use smileys.
- Abbreviations like “BTW” (by the way) have no place in professional emails. Spell it out!
Seventh and final tip: Don’t worry about it too much. Careers are not made or broken on email — despite what the last Presidential election might cause you to think. So relax and be yourself, even in your emails. Whatever you write will probably end up sounding like you — just your best you!