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10 Email Etiquette Tips To Build Your Professional Image

10 Email Etiquette Tips To Build Your Professional Image

In my daily work as an academic advisor in higher education, a large percentage of my professional communication is composed via email correspondence. Though it is a part of daily routine, email correspondence from students who are training to enter the work world as competent professionals are often littered with barriers to effective communication.

Whether you are a student making the leap to the “real world,” applying for jobs, or a new professional, what can you do to project a more polished image?  Start by considering these 10 common pitfalls in professional email etiquette, and learn how each may be damaging your professional image.

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  1. Know when email is appropriate. Is great detail or explanation required? Can tone be easily misconstrued? Is the subject matter time sensitive? If the answer is yes to any of the previous questions, email may not be the appropriate venue. However, if you are contacting someone who is difficult to reach in person or by phone, asking a simple question, or providing informational items, email is probably most appropriate.
  2. Don’t assume the recipient knows you. Especially if the email is your first contact with the individual, or the recipient will be receiving a high volume of emails, don’t assume they know you. I may be the only person by my name who is an advisor at my institution, but there may be dozens of similar first names in the hundreds of students I have contact with each semester. This problem is compounded when the institutional email or an email without identifying information (like allstar29@mail.com) is used. Refrain from any use of a personal email address if an institutional or business email is provided. If a personal email must be used, keep it clean and practical (joesmith@mail.com).
  3. Don’t assume the recipient knows all the details. “I need to drop that class,” is a common email request I will receive. Certainly worth honoring, but such a request is inherent with an entire host of issues. Namely the absence of key details. Whose class am I dropping? Which class? This goes for any form of professional communication. Take the time to provide as much detail as possible on the front end. This will eliminate time and effort taken later in the “back and forth”, and convey that you are organized and pay attention to detail.
  4. Include full contact information. Consistent with your professional image, be sure and sign off with not only your full name, but also any contact information that may be helpful for the recipient in getting back in touch with you. The content of some emails may be involve a request to contact you by phone or through another form of communication.
  5. Don’t use text speak. Just because you may be composing the email on a mobile device or tablet, does not mean it is professional to use “text speak” in a professional email, ever. When you are composing emails from these devices, it is imperative to proofread before hitting send, as most now contain predictive text technology that may incorrectly finish words and change the message or tone entirely.
  6. Forget about backgrounds, crazy fonts, and colors. Keep it black and white, and simple. Extra colors and backgrounds only serve to make it more difficult to the reader, and make them less likely to respond or take the email seriously as professional communication – especially in an age where scams are prominent. Fonts that are not standard are distracting, hard to read, and make you come across as silly.
  7. Use “out of office” correctly. This can be an important feature in email, especially if you are planning to be away for any extended period of time outside of normal anticipated working hours. Rather than just say you are away, include alternative contacts so those who are trying to contact you can still conduct business if needed. Use it with discretion though. I once had a student who had their email set full-time to auto-reply with “I will consider your message and respond accordingly.” He would then never reply. You can only cry wolf so many times.
  8. Beware of auto-fill. I often receive emails not intended for me because of this very issue. Most email systems will begin to generate options to auto-fill the “To:” field as you begin typing the address, based on previous emails you’ve sent to. Be sure to read these options carefully, and review before clicking send. It may be the difference between sending an email to your wife or the President. You don’t need to be told these are entirely different audiences.
  9. Don’t say things you wouldn’t say in person. Some of the more intriguing email exchanges I’ve experienced include those from individuals who will display more aggression or unprofessionalism in an email, but will never correspond that way in person. Don’t act in a way or say things that you wouldn’t normally in conversation. First of all, it won’t do you any favors in getting a response, and second, it may damage your rapport with that person in the flesh.
  10. When in doubt, err on the formal side. Using “Mr.” or “Ms.”, or the full first name instead of assuming a shorter form should always be done in cases in which you are unsure. When applying for a job, stick with the formal “To Whom It May Concern”. As communication progresses, certain formalities may be dropped, but initiating contact informally sets the bar below a professional standard.

Featured photo credit: Focus/Financial Times photos via imcreator.com

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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