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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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Published on September 16, 2020

12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

Today, with many companies going remote—at least until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine—technical proficiency is a vital skill for every interviewee to master. You may be asked to interview for a job on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The way you handle yourself in the online interview (your interview skills) will say much about your ability to work from home efficiently.

Does your workspace look clean or cluttered? Is the area free from noise? Is your home office well lit?

Once hired, you may be asked to organize meetings on Zoom and other platforms. Along with mastering the technology, you will have to learn to follow certain protocols.

Now is the time to get up to speed on your technical skills. Learn which interview skills are needed for the particular job for which you are applying and practice them.

Online learning sites, such as LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, offer courses for free or a nominal membership fee. If you are a DIY type, make use of training videos offered through your particular digital tools.

Additionally, demonstrating that you have these 12 interview skills will help you land your dream job.

1. Organization

When you work in a brick-and-mortar office, some of the organizing is left to others. Your direct supervisor may host a Monday morning quarterback meeting where each worker reports on the progress on their tasks.

When you work from home, much of the organizing will be left up to you. To a much greater extent than before, you will need to develop a schedule and stick to it. Some tasks may be faster to complete from your home office where you don’t have other workers competing for your attention.

Conversely, you may find that some tasks that would have gone quickly in an office seem to take forever from your home computer. Your phone may ring a lot, which can distract you, or you may have kids and a spouse who inadvertently disrupt your schedule.

To do: Set a schedule and stick to it.

To discuss during your interview: Be specific. Point to the interview skill you utilized to create a schedule for a complex work project and followed it.

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2. Flexibility

You set a schedule for the completion of your tasks, but your prospective boss gets their work done between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 a.m. Your West Coast partners are three hours behind your East Coast partners, and one of your partners lives in England while another lives in Australia.

Feedback and collaboration (see point 3) may need to happen asynchronously. Be the flexible candidate—the person who is willing to occasionally disrupt their schedule for the greater good of the team.

For extra credit: don’t just look up time zones, look up whether they observe Daylight Savings Time.

To do: Be flexible about meeting times.

To discuss during your interview: Highlight a time when you worked on a team where members lived in different time zones. Discuss your processes.

3. Collaboration

As recently as six months ago, before the pandemic raged around the world, collaboration wasn’t quite as essential as it is today. In a remote office setting, collaboration doesn’t just mean working well with others—but actually sharing documents and editing them online on time.

Several cloud-based tools, such as Google Drive, Basecamp, and Trello, enable the type of collaborative teamwork that most companies want today.

To do: Download the correct software and practice using it.

To discuss during your interview: Discuss how you worked remotely with a group. Share how you overcame certain challenges.

4. Poise

Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

When things do go awry, keeping your wits about you will demonstrate your consummate professionalism under fire. This will show your future bosses that you will be able to work well under the pressures of remote work.

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What could go wrong, you ask? You might be muted without realizing it—your Internet connection may not be robust, your headphones may blip out, your cellphone may ring, Zoom could have an outage. The list goes on and on.

To do: Make sure you have the most up-to-date versions of Skype and Zoom uploaded.

To discuss during your interview: Consider highlighting a time when a project did not go as planned. Demonstrate the interview skills that allowed you to rise to the challenge.

5. Communication

Your ability to handle online communication is one of the top critical skills you will need to thrive in today’s remote workplace. Download Slack if you haven’t already. Get used to toggling to a different form of online communication if one of your tools fails.

When it comes to the preferred format for your online interview, demonstrate proficiency by offering several different options. Give your phone number, Google Chat Hangouts name, and Skype ID.

To do: Familiarize yourself with video conference and online chat tools, such as Slack, Fleep, or Workplace by Facebook.

To discuss during your interview: Be prepared to share the online communication tools you’re using and examples of how you use each one.

6. Good Computer Hygiene

Setting up a backup system for your computer files is one of today’s crucial requirements for working in the digital age. Storing documents that can be shared by team members is also an efficient way to work together on presentations, articles, and reports—although studies show nearly one-third of employees avoid them because of the time it takes to find documents.

Be prepared in your interview to indicate your experience utilizing this technology, describing how you organize and store files using cloud-based collaboration tools. How do you keep track of links and tabs? Do you use Dropbox? Google Docs? Confluence? Others?

To do: Take inventory of the cloud-based document sharing and storage systems you know and use.

To discuss during your interview: Describe the document sharing tools and backup systems you utilize—both for personal protection and professional file sharing.

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7. Proper Meeting Etiquette

Today, presenting yourself virtually has its pros and cons. While you only have to show a professional persona from the waist up (make sure to straighten up your office space behind you), you must boost your energy to show that you’re engaged in the discussion.

Make your voice as upbeat as possible. Have your talking points at the ready and be careful not to ramble on, as long virtual meetings easily become tiresome. Use the mute and chat features to avoid interruptions.

To do: Once you know the meeting platform, make sure you have it mastered before your interview.

To discuss during your interview: Offer to share your screen to show an example of a work project— while at the same time demonstrating your prowess with video conferencing tools.

8. Respecting Feedback

In the age of working remotely, there may not be as many systems in place to obtain feedback (such as yearly performance reviews). Workers may need to ask for feedback, while managers may need to give more feedback than usual as the team adjusts to working off-site. Respecting feedback is on top of the interview skills list that you should learn.

Taking a proactive approach with giving and receiving feedback and incorporating it into your work style is a desirable quality that your employers will note.

To do: Reflect on the positive feedback you’ve received from past employers to bolster your confidence.

To discuss during your interview: Share a time when you received feedback that made you grow in the job. If you’re a manager, share a time when you gave feedback to an employee who needed to better their job performance.

9. Project Management

Staying on task with projects has evolved far past a to-do list, with electronic tools that can track time, manage team workloads, and even do the client billing. While your prospective employer may have its preferred project management program, your experience with any of the various options—whether it’s Basecamp, Teamwork, Smartsheet, or another—will be applicable.

To do: Know which project management software is likely to be used by the industry in which you’re interviewing, and familiarize yourself with its features.

To discuss during your interview: Highlight a project management feature that is particularly useful in helping you excel in your work, and explain how you utilize it.

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10. Staying up to Speed

Employers expect their remote workers to be technically proficient so that technology runs smoothly and doesn’t create work disruptions. Bosses count on remote workers to know enough about their systems to manage them without relying on the help of overworked IT staff.

To do: Make sure you have a fast internet connection and have a back-up plan, such as a second computer or other tethered devices.

To discuss during your interview: Note that you are diligent about keeping your computer and software up to date.

11. Attention to Cybersecurity Issues

“Virus” is a loaded term these days. Spreading a computer virus in your company, however, will not only bring productivity to a halt, but it will also make you a pariah. While working from public places using free Wi-Fi (with uneven security provisions) has waned, in pre-pandemic times, coffee shops accounted for 62 percent of Wi-Fi security breaches.

To do: Keep antivirus software updated and don’t download software without verifying its authenticity.

To discuss during your interview: Emphasize your awareness of cybersecurity risks and your care in taking necessary safety measures.

12. Teamwork

Work relationships now mostly happen in virtual settings, yet employers value team-oriented workers.

Being a part of a team gives you a sense of connection and shared purpose. A well-honed team understands how mutual reliance makes the sum of its parts greater than when individuals act on their own, improving the end product.

To do: Take stock of your attributes as a team player and where you can cultivate skills that will enable you to work more collaboratively.

To discuss during your interview: Inquire about the company’s culture and how it encourages a sense of community despite working remotely.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for remote positions available in today’s job market will mean honing your interview skills to highlight your technical abilities as well as your adaptability. By adhering to these To-Do’s and perfecting your online interview skills and charisma, you will rise above the competition and win over any prospective employer.

More Tips to Improve Your Interview Skills

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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