Career Tip of the Month

Professional Email Message Guidelines

Whether you are emailing an employer a resume and cover letter, a thank you letter, or are asking for a letter of recommendation, you should always make sure your email is organized and professional. Every interaction that you have with a potential employer or another professional should be conducted in a professional manner - and that includes emails. Spelling mistakes and poor grammar will not make a good impression.

Here's what to include in your email messages, and what not to include:

Subject Line: The subject line should concisely convey your purpose for writing. Your subject line can be as simple as "Thank You" or "Mary Smith Resume" but should be specific (Recommendation Letter Request). Always capitalize the first word. Many people prioritize answering emails on the basis of the subject line. A blank subject line is not useful to the reader and if the email address is unfamiliar, the message may get mistaken for a virus or SPAM and deleted.

Greeting: Even if you are writing a very short email, include a greeting. Do not begin your email with, "Hey, Mary". Address your email with the person's name. Unless you are on a first name basis with the person, always use their title ("Mr. Jones", "Ms. Smith", "Dr. Grant").

Email Body: Keep messages brief and to the point; use formal conversational style. Put your main point in the opening sentence. Include only one idea per paragraph, and try to keep paragraphs to three sentences or less. Do not use abbreviations unless they are already common to the English language ("FYI"). Don't assume that your reader will know what they mean.

Length: Keep your email as short and concise as possible - only a couple of paragraphs at the most. The average reader is only going to scan your email for a couple of seconds to see if it pertains to them.

Font Style: Avoid fancy or colored fonts because they will only distract the reader from your message. Use a standard font like Times New Roman 12 or Calibri 11. Overusing bold and italics will make an email look cluttered. Do not write in all capital letters because this will be translated as SHOUTING, but don't use all small letters either. Always follow the standard rules of English grammar and punctuation.

Emoticons: Do not include emoticons in a professional email; save these for personal correspondence.

Spelling and Grammar: Always double-check your spelling and grammar and edit your email carefully before sending it. An error-free message tells the recipient that you are a professional and your email should be taken seriously.

Closing: Finish your email with a brief "Thank you," or "Sincerely," and then your name. Most email accounts let you embed a signature with your name, title, and contact information into every email. This is a great way to make each correspondence more professional.

If you are writing a thank you email after an interview, some experts recommend following it up with a brief hand-written note and your business card. The extra effort will get you noticed!