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A Young Professional’s Guide to Email Etiquette

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When I was a freshman in college, I remember a time I emailed a professor, asking about a due date. Little did I know that I would receive a response from her that said something along the lines of, “You are not texting..I am not your friend..this is not the proper way to address a professor.” I am sure that after receiving this email I was terrified and intimidated because 1) I was 19 and 2) I was unaware there was proper “email etiquette.”

Looking back, this was a defining point as a student and as a young professional. Had she not said anything, I would have probably sent a few more “casual” emails quite a few more times until someone else said something, or, even worse, never been taken seriously by professors or potential employers. By the way, this professor turned out to be my mentor and friend!

One of the pillars of the NASBA Center for the Public Trust (CPT) is working with students: developing ethical leaders on college campuses across the country. However, we often receive a phone call or email that goes something like this:

CPT: “Hello, thank you for calling the CPT”
Student: “Yeah. I need help with the online thing.”

While we have numerous collective strengths here at the CPT, unfortunately, mind reading is not quite one of them.

I recently found an article by the University of Colorado that outlines some useful and concise tips in regard to addressing professors. The most important thing to consider with email etiquette is that the habits you create as a student will inevitably seep into your professional life after graduation.

As a business professional with eight years of experience, these are my top five tips on email etiquette:

  1. Respect the “To:” Field: After accidentally sending unfinished emails more times than I can count, I don’t fill in the “To” field until the very end, when I am ready to hit send. It may sound a bit extreme, but even when replying to an email, I err on the side of caution and copy paste the email address into the body of my content until I am fully ready to send. Use at your own discretion as there are exceptions for this rule such as the person you are addressing and the topic covered. I once typed “La” in my “To” field, assuming it would autopopulate to my boss’s email address and sent her an email telling her I had a check from so and so ready for her. Except it didn’t go to her. Instead, it went to another “La” who was a vendor we had not ended on good terms with. Save yourself an awkward conversation and respect the “To” field.
  2. Write a Specific Subject: Back in the day, I would title my emails with “Hello,” or leave the subject area blank. Not good! If you are contacting someone you recently met, or if it is an urgent matter, you want to make the subject of the email is very clear. I recently compared my 2015 email marketing open rates with that of 2016 and consistently found that the more specific I was, the better my traffic rates were. The important thing to remember is you only have one sentence, so don’t get text happy. Also, be cautious of how your subject may be misconstrued. For example, you don’t want your HR manager to read a subject of “New employment opportunity” and have him or her panic before getting a chance to open the actual email and see that you were only referring a friend, not quitting!
  3. Keep the Body Concise: Sometimes you may have a lot to say and an email may inevitably become text heavy. However, you may get a better response if you are upfront about what the conversation will be about and ask for the best time to discuss the email information in length. For example, last September I was at a trade show and generated multiple warm leads. While sending out an email that detailed my products would have been quick, I knew that writing a re-introduction email that also asked about their availability for a call would allow me to avoid dumping a bunch of sales jargon upfront. Use this method at your discretion. If a person specifically asked for information, make sure he or she is sent detailed information.
  4. Include Contact Information and/or a Call to Action: Signatures are so important! All email accounts should include updated and formal signatures. Imagine contacting a potential employer without relevant contact information. Yes, you are emailing them from your personal account, but you don’t want to turn them off by not giving them your contact information. I recommend including your name, a phone number and a website (LinkedIn, portfolio website, etc.). Consider ending the email with a call to action. Are they calling them? Do they have the best number to reach them? Use at your discretion: If they have already told you they would contact you, make sure you are not asking something they may have already responded.
  5. Revise: I love the internet quote that says, “There is a difference between saying: Let’s eat grandma, and let’s eat, grandma.” I typically write many emails a day and this type of mistake is common. You don’t have the benefit of the face-to-face you have with an in-person conversation, and because of this, so much can get lost in translation when an email is received. You may mean to be perfectly polite, but the other person could misread your tone as standoffish. Use your discretion: proofread based on who is receiving the email and the content covered.

With the end of the semester quickly approaching, we challenge you to find a professor you trust or a mentor you are working with to critique an email you recently sent.

Are you a young or seasoned professional? What recommendations do you have for students getting ready to start an internship or job applications?
Email us at [email protected].

Alexia Kammer
Business Development Specialist, NASBA Center for the Public Trust

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