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Email Correspondence

Using email correctly in your job search will help you stand out from the crowd

By Valerie Anderson

You probably use email everyday, to type a quick note to a friend or professor, or maybe to write home and ask for some extra spending cash. But as you move from the academic world into the professional arena, the way you use email must change. Ignoring capitalization and using incorrect grammar has become acceptable for personal emails to friends and family, but writing workplace emails in this style is viewed as unprofessional.

As you begin your job search, email will also be an invaluable tool for communication with potential employers. And before you even step foot into their office for an interview, it will be a chance for you to prove how well you can communicate in text.

So while email can be a helpful when looking for a job, if you use it carelessly, it can also show prospective employers that you are an irresponsible, careless job prospect. Use email wisely because it might just be what either sets your resume on top of the stack or tossed into the wastebasket.

Getting It Right

In general you should treat any professional email like a hard copy letter or memo. But remember that emails are meant to be brief, so get to your point quickly. You should always use a professional salutation, proofread your email thoroughly, and run spell check before you hit "send."

When emailing in the professional arena, never use shorthand like: BCNU (be seeing you) or ROTFL (rolling on the floor laughing). From now on you will have to actually use all the letters to spell out each word!

Here are a few more general guidelines to sound professional when using online communication:

  • The subject line should be clear, concise, and specific to the content of your message.
  • In general, CC people who would be interested in the message that you are sending to the primary recipient. (You can also CC yourself to make sure you retain copies of the email for professional purposes. BCC is to be used sparingly.)
  • Don't start the email with, "Hey" or "Hi". Address the recipient as Mr., Ms. or Mrs., and always verify the correct spelling of the recipient's name.
  • The email message should be concise and to the point. The general rule is one main topic per email. Also, do not include a lot of questions for the recipient to answer.
  • Always keep the tone of the email businesslike but pleasant.
  • Do not use emoticons (smiley faces) or strange colors or fonts.
  • Avoid using slang or shorthand, as discussed above.
  • Closings should also be professional and respectful: "Best wishes" or "Sincerely."
  • Sign your email with your full name.
  • Remember to always proofread and spell-check your emails.

Sending the Wrong Message

Poorly written emails send one message loud and clear: That you're poorly organized, unprofessional and unqualified. When you're dealing with employers, there is no such thing as insignificant communication. Your emails say far more about your abilities than you might realize, and it is important to always present a polished, professional image-even if you are just emailing your phone number and a time when you can be contacted. If you are sloppy and careless in an email, this seemingly trivial communication can reflect badly on you.

Always keep issues of privacy in mind when sending emails. Remember that emails are easy to print out or forward to people you might not have intended to see your message. If you wouldn't say it to a person's face or to your boss, don't send it in an email. Never write an email when you are angry; you will almost always regret sending it later. Also remember that company email accounts are company property not yours, so your boss can read your email legally.

Applying for a Job Via Email

The easiest way to apply for employment using email is to simply copy and paste your cover letter into the email message, or write your cover letter in the body of an email message and attach your resume as a Word document. Use the title of the position you are applying for as the subject line of your message.

If the employer does not accept attachments, you will have to paste your resume into your email message. In this case, since you can't be sure which email program the employer is using, it is best to remove any formatting and use a simple font for your resume, but don't use HTML. Send the email to yourself first and to a friend to test that the formatting works and that everything looks presentable.

Cover Letters

Well-written cover letters should introduce your best self to prospective employers.

In your letter you should mention your specific major and how it applies to the job you're seeking. Also discuss the jobs, internships and co-ops you've worked at in the past, and briefly describe some of the transferable skills that you have acquired and will be able to use in your new position. Your resume is the place where you will get into specifics about your educational background or particulars about your job history, but you should include some information on important positions you have held at organizations and extracurricular activities that you've been involved in. This will give the employer a better idea of your experience, skills and abilities.

Towards the conclusion of the cover letter, you can suggest a time to meet for direct communication, like a face-to-face meeting or a phone conversation.

Thank-You Notes

Thank-you notes are another area where many job seekers slip-up. Therefore, a great way to stand out from the crowd after an interview is to remember to send a thank-you note.

According to McIntosh Staffing Resources (, One of the best ways to make sure your interviewer remembers you is to send a brief, specific thank-you note immediately after your meeting with them. According to McIntosh Staffing, they've interviewed over 13,000 applicants since 1987, and only a few hundred people have ever sent a thank-you note! So those that remember this important detail definitely stand out.

McIntosh says that emails are also okay if you are short on time, but a handwritten note really makes the most favorable impact.

However, according to, "Emails are appropriate and even preferred if you know the company needs to make a decision fast. And if you're going for a job, a letter may seem downright antiquated... The best way to solve this conundrum is to ask during the interviews how best to follow up with them."

When writing a thank-you email, focus on specific job-related issues that you discussed during the interview, and use them to remind the recipient of how your strengths and skills match the position. Don't be afraid to be enthusiastic, but don't veer into an unprofessional tone. As always, keep the quality of the email businesslike and focused.

How to Wind Up on Top

While well-crafted email correspondence probably won't be the sole reason you wind up getting your dream job, you can be certain that an email full of errors will result in your application being disregarded. So use these guidelines to your best advantage. This skill will give you an edge over other job seekers who are not aware of how to use email professionally.

Valerie Anderson is the senior editor of Graduating Engineering & Computer Careers magazine.

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