Most professionals spend a good part of their day sending emails. What you write and how you format and send your message can make the difference between your email getting read and responded to or trashed. While some people need a brush up on basic email etiquette, others make mistakes simply because they're overwhelmed with the sheer volume of communications.
During your job search, you'll likely send many emails, including cover letters, thank you notes, and messages to job search-related connections.
Take the time to avoid making embarrassing errors, such as misspelling someone's name, and make sure to write notes that get a response.
Review examples of greetings to use to start your emails, how to start your messages, and mistakes to avoid when sending professional email messages.
Use a Clear Subject Line
Strive for clarity in your subject line. Choose something direct that identifies the purpose of your email, like "meeting time changed" or "quick query about your proposal."
Avoid dangling a carrot with a teaser like "I need to inform you..." that tries to lure the reader into opening the email to get at your intention. People often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line, so choose one that clearly states your purpose.
Use a Professional Greeting
Include an appropriate greeting for the circumstances and recipient. Certain greetings work in an email but are not used in a regular letter, while some greetings work for both.
Choose a greeting based on how well you know the person to whom you are writing and the type of message you are sending. For example, if you write to someone you know, "Hi Jim" is appropriate. "Dear Mr./Ms. Smith" would be appropriate when applying for a job or writing a business letter.
Avoid opening an email with "hey," which sounds very informal and generally not used in the workplace. Also, shy away from "Hi folks" or "Hi guys," even if the nature of your email is casual.
Email Greeting Examples
Here are some examples of greeting to use when writing professional emails.
- Dear First name Last name (this works well if you don't know the gender of the person you're writing to)
- Dear First name (when emailing someone you know)
- Hi First name (When emailing someone you know)
- Dear Mr./Ms. Last name
- Dear Mr./Ms. First name Last name
- Dear Dr. Last name
- Dear Human Resources Manager
- Dear Hiring Manager
- To Whom It May Concern
Use the proper punctuation after your greeting. For more formal emails, use a semi-colon after the name. For people you know or more casual correspondence, use a comma after the greeting name.
Avoid Common Mistakes
When writing an email, the following errors sometimes happen when people rush to dash off a message quickly. Take the time to review your message and perform the following steps before clicking send to avoid easy-to-make mistakes.
- Add the email address last. If you don't have the option to unsend an email, add the address last if you tend to have a quick trigger finger. Insert the recipient's name only when you're sure your email is ready to go.
- Avoid the "reply all" error. Watch your trigger finger when hitting "Reply All." Consider whether everyone on the list really needs to read what you have to say. Also, be mindful of older emails in the chain that you might not want someone on the Reply All list to see.
- Go easy on the humor. Humor can be hard to discern in an email since your tone won't necessarily shine through. Without body language, facial expression, or cadence, humor can fall flat or even unintentionally insult a reader. Play it safe and leave it out.
- Proofread. Don't make the mistake of thinking that people will forgive typos in informal emails or that mistakes will be tolerated if you're typing on your phone. You may be judged harshly by mistakes in your email, especially if they're rampant. Don't rely on a spellchecker which can often choose the wrong word for you.
Proofread your emails just like you would any important document. In particular, always check and double-check that you've spelled people's names correctly.
- Don't use emojis or emoticons. More and more, email messages have started to resemble text messages. Workplace messages now sometimes include "thumbs-up" emojis or smiley faces. Even though they're becoming more common, avoid emojis and emoticons in formal correspondence. If your email greeting includes a person's last name, that's a sure sign you should leave off emojis and emoticons.
- Remember that email lasts forever. Think twice before emailing something personal or confidential, firing someone via email, disparaging someone, or answering with anger. Even deleted emails can be resurrected from data backups. Those kinds of interactions might better be done in person. A good rule of thumb: Don't write anything in an email that you wouldn't be willing to have shared publicly, such as in a deposition, or on social media, for example.
Apply the 24-hour rule. If you're not sure whether you should send the message, wait until the next day to decide.