I was interviewing for a job a couple of years ago, and over lunch with two of the interviewers I had a unique insight into a generational gap that most of us don’t think about.  The two professionals were discussing their frustration at the lack of form and etiquette that they regularly see in emails.  To them, emails are modern forms of the old hand-written or typed letter.  They commented about how students and individuals right out of college were lacking in basic communication manners and this alone was a death knell for job applicants, as it made them seem unprofessional.  We may not notice these things, because for many of us, email is not the evolution of letters – we never really wrote letters.

However, in order to make your emails to potential employers, and then once in the work force, seem more professional, please keep the following pointers in mind:

  • Use a concise but descriptive subject line.
    • Never be that person that includes your entire message in the subject line and then puts nothing in the email itself.  This irritates the receiver intensely.
    • Don’t use long subject lines.  Find a quick and easy way to get their attention.  Are you applying for a job?  How about simply: “Application for the Position of XYZ Job.”  Are you responding to a request for information?  Then you can simply say something like: “Response to Request For Information On XYZ thing.”
    • Don’t forget that the subject line sets the tone.  Don’t simply say “Hi” or “Your Job” – say something and make sure the receiver has an idea of what they will be reading.
  • Always use a salutation.
    • Here is where we truly start to forget that an email is a modern letter.  Most younger people think, “well, the person I am sending it to knows who I am sending it to, so why should I address the email?”  The answer is simple – etiquette.  If you take the time to use a salutation, it sets a professional tone and sets you apart.  If you are lost, please feel free to try any of these two standards:
      • Dear Sir or Madam,
      • To Whom it May Concern,
  • Try to find an actual person to address.
    • While it is easy to send an email to HR@XYZJobCompanyIsHiring.ca, thus effectively sending it to someone, anyone, in the Human Resources department, finding the hiring professional who will be evaluating your application or the person on the other end of that email address and speaking to them specifically makes your email more personal and also shows that you’ve put some effort into this email/application/whatever it is you are trying to get across.  If you find that person is Jane Smith, then address the email: Dear Ms. Smith.
  • Use full sentences, correct grammar, and check your spelling.
    • It should be a no-brainer, but apparently people send emails to professionals that they do not know using partial sentences, poor grammar, and easy-to-fix spelling mistakes.   Don’t be that person – its an automatic negative impression.
    • Don’t use texting-speak.  There should be no “LOL,” “U r looking for a nu employee rt?!??,” or anything similar.  Spell it all out and format it like you are writing a paper that is supposed to impress an English professor.  This is not the time to try to save time by using fewer letters or showing off your text-pertise.
    • If you want to seem like a true professional, use paragraphs and transition words and phrases.  Give the email flow and a form.
  • Use a professional sign-off.
    • Don’t ignore the sign-off, for the same reason you shouldn’t ignore the salutation – a sign-off sets a professional tone.
    • Don’t use anything casual, even if you think you might know the person.  No: “Peace!” or “See you at the toga party,” or anything like that.  Stick with the classics:
      • Sincerely,
      • Respectfully,
      • Best Regards,
      • Kind Regards,
      • Thank You,
  • Finally, take a look at your email address.
    • Does your email address reference how much you like fluffy bunnies, glitter, guns, how much you like drinking, your nickname, or anything like that?  You really might want to consider getting a personal email address that is just for professional correspondence, and be careful about what you name it.

Overall, if you treat your email correspondences like professional letters that you would type-up and send in snail mail, then you will stand out from the crowd and make a good impression even across generations.