13 tips for E-mail Etiquette: It Still Counts in a Mobile Generation

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In today’s world, e-mails are often rapid fire communication with little thought behind them. Yet, they still make an impression – your e-mail approach is part of your personal brand. It affects your reputation when you are in the job market and continues to be noticed once you have secured a job. It’s important to remember e-mail etiquette and also that in certain instances, e-mail may not be the best method of communication.

Here are some important things to remember to make a good impression and avoid being “that person” with an annoying e-mail personality:

1. Consolidate. You wouldn’t walk into my office or call me eight times in an hour; you shouldn’t send me 8 e-mails during that time frame either. If you have multiple topics to discuss, consider consolidating them into a status update e-mail, scheduling a conference call or requesting a meeting.

2. Let the recipient know what they need to do in the beginning of the e-mail. Begin the e-mail with your request for action, whether it’s requesting their input, approval, or assistance with a project.  This ensures that messages that require action will be noticed. Busy people often don’t read beyond the first few lines of an e-mail.

3. Do not use e-mail for sensitive or emotionally charged topics. It is much harder to convey how you feel in writing. Since you can’t hear a person’s tone of voice, words on a screen can often seem cold or be misinterpreted. E-mail also creates a record that could be used against you later if you send an e-mail before you have a chance to calm down. When in doubt, take a few deep breaths and pick up the phone rather than clicking send.

4. Keep it short. If your recipient is a senior level executive or a recruiter who receives a high volume of e-mails every day, being concise is important and appreciated.

5. Consider your audience. 

  • Composing messages: Send your e-mail only to those who will find it relevant and are at the appropriate level to know the information you are conveying.
  • CC: Do you really need to CC the entire office? Be particularly careful when copying management – even if you are just trying to keep them in the loop, some co-workers might perceive this as “throwing them under the bus”. Further, managers and senior executives receive enough e-mails – try to only include them on issues that are truly at their level, or you will find that your messages may not get read when they really do require management action.
  • BCC: Use this field with care. If the person doesn’t notice that they were in the BCC field and replies to the e-mail, your recipient will know that you blind copied someone and feel you are trying to hide something.
  • Reply all: If the person who sent you the e-mail failed to consider their audience, use “reply” rather than “reply all”.
  • “Thank you” e-mails that say nothing in addition to “thank you”: Some people appreciate these. Some people hate them. If you work closely with someone, learn if they prefer not to receive them.

6. Subject lines matter. Make sure the content of your e-mail relates to your subject line. Depending on your audience, you may want to put “reply requested”, “action required” or “FYI” in the subject line to indicate what you need from them – but be careful that this does not come across as overly demanding. If the subject changes over the course of the conversation, create a new e-mail. Never put the entire message in the subject line or send a message with “no subject”.

 7. Be professional in your presentation and set up automatic spell check to run prior to messages being sent. Avoid using multiple fonts or colors, bolding or italicizing too many words, misspellings, writing in all capital letters, poor grammar, slang, emoticons or text acronyms. Consider your formatting and remember to use a closing remark, such as “thank you” or “sincerely.”  This is especially important when communicating with clients, customers, recruiters and hiring managers.

8. Set up an auto-signature and make sure it is included in e-mails you reply to as well as e-mails you compose. There is nothing more aggravating than having to search for someone’s contact information when you need it. Avoid unnecessary quotes or pictures in your signature.

  • Mobile phone signatures: If you are composing an e-mail from a mobile device, create a mobile signature and leave the line that indicates the message was sent from a mobile device. This helps to explain any inconsistent formatting and prevents the reader from thinking you were intentionally sloppy.

9. Remember your attachments. Always mention your attachments in your e-mail to ensure your reader notices them and make sure to remember to attach them prior to sending. Zip large files to minimize size – many mailboxes have a size limit.

  • Job seekers: attach your resume in Word format to the e-mail rather than pasting it into the body!

10. Use the high priority icon with care. Simple enough. Mark messages as urgent only when they really are urgent; or else the icon loses its significance.

 11. Avoid becoming the office spammer. It’s fine to send links, videos or occasional personal requests to friends within your office. However, there is a difference between office e-mail and Twitter. Sending all of your co-workers daily inspirational quotes, pictures or other non-work related information can quickly become annoying. Frequent requests to chip into fundraisers can make co-workers feel uncomfortable or pressured.

12. Respond in a timely manner, but do not expect an immediate response. Respond to e-mails within the same business day when possible. If you don’t have the answer to the question posed by the sender, respond to acknowledge you’ve received the request and are working on it. When sending e-mails, don’t expect an instantaneous response – many people are in meetings or working on projects. If it is urgent, make a phone call or stop by the person’s office before sending the e-mail, rather than e-mailing them and then calling to ask if they got it.

13. Use a calendar invite for meetings. If you send an e-mail with a meeting date and time, it may not be recognized as an appointment request and could be overlooked.

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