by Teri Fritsma  

These days, using e-mail effectively isn’t just a nice thing to do — it’s a critical part of managing your career.  Why?  First, because e-mail is a dominant form of communication and we often use it to talk to people we don’t know well, or even people we’ve never met in person.  This means people may form opinions of you based mostly or entirely on your e-mail style.  Second, e-mail forms a permanent record of communication, so if you’ve used it poorly, it could come back to haunt you.  Finally, e-mail lacks those helpful interpersonal cues that come across in phone or in-person contact, making it easier for miscommunications to occur.  This can compromise people’s impressions of you or even jeopardize a job interview.


So, what are the biggest e-mail faux pas?  To answer this question, I conducted an informal survey here at ISEEK, asking my coworkers to tell me about their e-mail pet peeves.  Here’s what they said.


  • Avoid sending long, wordy e-mails.  Do you skim your e-mails looking for the bottom line?  So does everyone else!  If what you have to say is complicated or can’t be conveyed in a few lines of text, you’re probably better off talking in person or over the phone.


  • Don’t misuse the “Reply All” and “CC” options.  Send e-mail only to people who need or want the information.  This is especially true when you’re replying to a message that was sent to a large group of people.  If you receive a group e-mail asking for an RSVP to the company picnic, for example, you don’t need to respond to the entire company to say that you’ll be coming with your grandma’s three-bean-salad recipe.


  • Include a personal greeting.  Address your recipient(s) by name, for example, “Hi Sally”, or “Dear Joe” — depending on your relationship with the person.  This is especially important if you’re sending an e-mail to several people.  Addressing your recipient(s) by name lets them know that you’re talking to them and (if appropriate) that they need to take some action and/or respond.


  • TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK!  Did it feel like I was shouting at you?  That’s how it feels to read e-mail that was written in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.  


  • Respond to e-mails quickly.  Even if you can’t answer a question or complete a task right away, it’s nice to send a quick acknowledgment to let your contact know you got their message and when you’ll be able to address their question or request.


  • Make an effort to “warm up” your e-mail.   Some people unintentionally come across as cold in their e-mails.  You might be really friendly in person, but the nuances of friendliness sometimes disappear when things are written rather than spoken. Add a little warmth to e-mails by saying “thanks!” or simply adding, “Have a great day” to the end of a note.  (On the other hand, don’t use exclamation points if your e-mail is of a serious nature.)



And here’s a final tip: don’t let e-mail completely take the place of good ol’ fashioned face-to-face interaction.  You may be in the habit of sending e-mail for everything — but in general, that’s not how you’ll build relationships with your boss or co-workers.  Make sure to make the effort to get a little face time with those around you every so often.

One thought on “Want to advance your career? Clean up your e-mail etiquette.

  1. I loved this particular post, particularly the advice about having an appropriate email address, which can be a more common problem among young workers who are entering the job market for the first time. Thanks.


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