As a millennial, you are the grand master of short messaging. You text. You tweet. You rely on emojis to get your point across. And short is good, right? Sure it is, when you’re deciding where to meet up with your best bros. But now, as you enter the work world, you may discover that you’re missing an essential business skill — email etiquette.
Although this world is transforming quickly, the rules of email etiquette are well established, and they’ve remained unchanged for quite some time — and I’m talking about even in the most progressive of workplaces. So unless you are absolutely sure that your workplace encourages Internet acronyms and SMS abbreviations, or eliminating punctuation altogether (and guess what— I’ve checked around and none of them do), it’s safest to stick to the traditional rules of letter writing for now.
Here are 15 things you must know and do to avoid rookie email mistakes and gain the polished image that usually comes only with job experience.
1. Reply in 24 hours or less:
Do not allow email to accumulate in your inbox. Answer the easy ones immediately, and if you require more time, then acknowledge receipt of every email, even if you just say, “Thanks.” You may be busy, but do it — it’s simply good etiquette. Now let’s say that the email you received requires some research before you can fully respond. In this case, it’s important to say something like, “I’ve read your email and I’ll get back to you as soon as I finish my analysis.” That way, your co-workers (or, God forbid, your boss) won’t think you’re blowing them off — which would never be a good career move.
2. Begin with a salutation:
Unless you’re emailing a bud you talk to every day, or your favorite office mate who sits right next to you, don’t start out with a casual “Hey.” Use a salutation that reflects your relationship to the recipient — perhaps “Hello, Mario,” “Good Morning, Jennifer,” or “Dear Ms. Green.” Forget about “To Whom It May Concern” — too impersonal and way too old-fashioned. And “Dear Sirs” — ouch! (Luckily, I haven’t seen that one in years, and I doubt anyone plans to revive it.)
3. Introduce yourself:
Again, unless this is someone you email on a daily basis, don’t assume the recipient knows who you are. Always introduce yourself briefly. You can use something simple like, “Hi, it’s Ophelia at this end,” or you may need to take it a step further and remind the person where you met or what your connection is. Be sure to make it easy on the recipient — it’s the polite thing to do.
4. Show the topic in the subject line:
Business professionals can get hundreds of emails each day. If you don’t want yours to get lost in the shuffle, write a clear subject line. For example: Update on the contract negotiations. Materials for tomorrow’s meeting. New information regarding the budget. Specific, and to the point — make that your rule. This also helps if you’re saving and filing your correspondence — it’ll be much easier to find it later.
5. Avoid joking and sarcasm:
Believe me, I hate to ruin anyone’s workplace fun, but jokes and sarcasm are just too dangerous in emails. It’s easy to misinterpret the tone of an email, and you may think you’re being funny, only to have your joke taken the wrong way. Same thing with sarcasm. Always be polite, professional, and straightforward, and save the jokes for after-work meet-ups.
6. Make sure grammar, spelling, and everything else is perfect:
Your email is a reflection of you. It’s a statement of your professionalism. Misspelled words, sloppy grammar, and other mistakes may be okay if you’re dashing off a quick email to your best friend. But in the world of work, it sends the message that you don’t care about what you’re doing. Or you don’t know any better. Turn on your spell check before sending any email. And then, re-read the whole message carefully, looking for missing words or other errors spell check can’t find.
7. Don’t use text lingo:
I know. Even our grandmothers are saying “OMG” and “FYI” these days, but trendy abbreviations aren’t appropriate in business email — especially in a diverse, multi-generational office. Lest you think I’m being a killjoy here, let me explain why: simply put, there’s a chance they will be misunderstood. Sure, the recipient could look them up, but who has time for that? Spell out every word and make it easy on everyone.
8. Avoid all caps:
Writing anything in all caps will come across as unnecessarily strong — it’s like SHOUTING! RIGHT IN YOUR EAR! Not only that, a subject line in all caps can easily get re-routed to the SPAM file. If you must emphasize a word or phrase in order to clarify your point, use italics. (Much nicer, don’t you think?) And while we’re on the subject, ditto for bolding, underlining, or a gazillion exclamation points!!! Way too loud for general correspondence.
9. Be careful what you write:
Unlike your personal email, your professional email, much like your desk and your chair, actually belongs to the company you work for. Your email — for better or worse — may be used by the company to prove “who knew what, and when” in lawsuits, or simply to establish the trademark rights on a new product you’ve helped develop. So never say anything in an email you don’t want the world to read—or anything that could be damaging to you, your boss or co-workers, or your company.
10. Close with a sign-off:
An email is like a conversation. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Be sure to end yours with your name, title, and contact info — or whatever format is preferred in your workplace. And a quick “Best regards” or “Best wishes” makes your email more friendly. Nothing wrong with being friendly.
11. Take 5 to review your message before hitting “send”:
I’ve already talked about proofreading your email for mistakes. Next, if at all possible, let your email message “rest and relax” a few minutes before you send it. Review it closely to make sure it’s what you really want to say, and that it’s completely clear and understandable. Sometimes you can hit an “Unsend” feature, but it’s not always available (or reliable). To be safe, fill in the recipient’s name in the “To” line only after you’ve deemed your email ready to go.
12. Don’t overuse “Reply All”:
In fact, just plain don’t use it unless you absolutely have to. No one wants to receive hundreds of emails on topics they long ago lost interest in — or weren’t involved in to begin with. This is the fastest way to clutter up people’s mailboxes. If a co-worker doesn’t need to hear or know your reply, don’t include them. Also, while we’re on the subject of cluttered mailboxes, don’t forward silly jokes, cartoons, or anecdotes. And yes, I love puppies as much as you do, but sorry, no cute puppy photos, either. It’s bad professional form.
13. Keep it short:
Since I’ve already crowned you the grand masters of short messaging, you’d think that millennials wouldn’t have a problem with this. But unless you’re very disciplined, you could have the start of the Great American Novel and not even notice it. So no blabbing, digressing, or running on and on (and on). Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs—and you’re done. And, as additional motivation, remember that many people are reading your emails on their mobile devices. Think brevity.
14. Don’t send negative messages via email:
Don’t trash anyone’s idea or project, fire anybody, reprimand anybody, complain about your job, or badmouth the company or (are you crazy?) your boss. Emails live forever and you don’t want to go on record saying something that could haunt you later. Plus, remember that your emails belong to the company, so keep your content completely professional.
15. Keep a thread:
When you receive an email that you need to respond to, don’t reply in a brand new email with a new subject line. Instead, hit the “reply” button and continue the thread. That’ll make it easier for everyone to track the progress of a project or assignment. And when that conversation is complete, don’t use the old thread for a new subject. Start a new thread.
So, as you transition from school, short-term summer employment, and temporary internships into your career, exercise caution and observe what your co-workers are already doing before you launch into abbrevo-speak, or decide that punctuation is just way too yesterday. This is not the time or place to be a trailblazer. Like it or not, you will probably need to wait for things to change before asking your boss for an “F2F,” or signing off emails with “L8R.”
As with so many things, these guidelines are all about the simple concepts of politeness and courtesy—old-school, but always in style. HAG1, muh babes.
Image courtesy of TrendiMe
By Denise Dudley, Career Guru and author of Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted
Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for the latest fashion jobs, career advice and fashion trends!