OK, class. Today we’re going to learn how to communicate via email.
“Oh, please,” you’re thinking. “I already know how to communicate with email. You write “Hey So and So,” throw in some emoticons and exclamation marks! And Bob’s your uncle!”
No, see, I’m talking about a professional email, focusing, of course, on the sort of email you write when you want someone to hire you, but also just a professional email in general. It may or may not be a cover letter. It might just be an introduction.
When you write an email to introduce yourself to someone, your opening words are the first impression you’ll make. Then, of course, your closing might be the deciding factor in whether they’ll get back in touch with you. It should be easy, but a lot of us have trouble with this. I know I do, and I spend a lot of time researching this stuff.
Here are some general tips.
1. Name it. Whenever possible, find out the name of the person to whom you’re addressing our missive. Experts always say this, but in reality, it’s not always possible. What to do if you can’t find a name? I usually resort to a simple “Hello,” as it seems less ridiculous than “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager.”
2. Watch for spelling errors and typos. Should go without saying but hiring managers are always listing this stuff as pet peeves. Brad Hoover, CEO of Grammarly, informs me that, according to a study, female job seekers make an average of four grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes in their resume, while male job seekers average more than six mistakes. No kidding? Pay attention.
3. If you must err, err on the side of formality. After all, you might totally blow your chance with an overly casual approach (Hey Boo!) but you’re less likely to do so with a respectful “Dear So and So.” I personally get super irritated when people I have never met start emails with “Hey.” (Take note PR people: starting your email with “Hey Elizabeth! ” is a surefire way to guarantee I’m not reading it).
Lynda Zugec, managing director of The Workforce Consultants, agrees. She says, “Being overly casual in your emails may work against you as you could be construed as less serious, not only in life, but more specifically, on the job. It is best to address all people you do not know formally.”
Start it with “Dear Mr. Smith” or simply “Mr. Smith.” Skip “Hi Mr. Smith” and “Hey Mr. Smith.”
4. Get to the point. Dianna Booher, corporate trainer and author of E-Writing: 21st Century Tools for Effective Communication, says your job seeking email “should open by stating immediately what position you’re interested in and why-what skills and/or expertise you can contribute to the prospective employer. In other words, why should the employer be interested in you?” Don’t waste time. People are busy.
5. Watch your tone. It can be hard to convey tone in email. So, if you’re going to crack a joke or something, read it out loud and make sure it comes across the way you want it to. True story: I once got let go from a contract in an email that began, “Hi Elizabeth!” I was stunned. How this idiot kept her job while I lost mine nags at me to this day.
You know what? Avoid exclamation marks altogether. Also, this too should go without saying but do not use emoticons.
6. Choose an appropriate sign off. Someone on Twitter recently commented that she’s sick of seeing people close with “Best.” I like “Best.” What drives me bonkers is “Cheers.” I also just received an email today that was signed “Warmest,” which I’m thinking of stealing.
Booher says, “‘Sincerely’ or ‘Thank you’ is a safe middle-of-the-road sign-off. ‘Talk soon’ is too casual. ‘Yours truly’ sounds stuffy. ‘Regards’ has become old fashioned.”
Of course, we mean “Best regards” or “Warmest regards” but everything is truncated in email. See above: “People are busy.”
7. REPLY. Within reason. A friend points out that she gets 450 emails a day and can’t possibly be expected to respond to every request for her comments or every student looking for an internship. She’d never get her job done. But if you are on the receiving end of an email from someone looking for work, help or comments, please try to remember that your response means a lot to them. I have to send out a lot of cold emails in my work and am always shocked at the number of people who don’t bother to reply. I keep a mental list, so if they need something one day, I’ll be sure to ignore them too.
8. Don’t be afraid to follow up. It’s OK to follow up in week or two if you don’t hear anything. There’s a good chance they forgot about you. Even better, if you’re looking for a job, Booher recommends maintaining control of the next action.
“End with what YOU will do to move the conversation forward,” she says. Like, “After you’ve had time to review my resume, I’ll follow up with a phone call to see if we might schedule an interview. And then do so. There’s nothing like action to show that you’re a person who takes initiative and follows through on your commitments.”
OK then. That concludes today’s lesson. L8er Sk8er. See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya.