One of the most emphasized soft skills is communication. Without clear, strong, and healthy communication in the workplace it makes being productive a whole lot more difficult. The depths of communication hit upon several distinct areas, showing how complex it actually is to develop this soft skill. One aspect is how well you listen, another is how well you share ideas, and yet another is how well you articulate conflict.
When we talk about all of this together, perhaps our impulse is to assume this is all verbal communication. Yet, one of the most frequent ways people communicate, especially in an office, is over email. (Even if you’re not in an office you most likely will email with a hiring manager or recruiter at some point, so keep reading.) Making sure your electronic communication is unambiguous is just as important as working on your verbal communication.
With email, you lose that in-person factor, which takes away tone of voice, facial expressions, and quickly being able to correct yourself if there is a misunderstanding. Wherever you are in your career—looking, interning, just beginning, or advancing—always make sure your emails remain professional.
With most jobs, you will receive a work email address, so be sure to use it when sending anything related to work. It looks unprofessional to send work correspondence from your personal account and managers might wonder what you’re doing checking personal email during work hours.
If you’re looking for a job, use an email that is just your name without any numbers, if possible, or extra symbols. You might need to create a new account that is just for job searching.
Use subject lines that immediately let the recipient know what your email contains. Don’t be ambiguous with things like “Question” or “Later on” or “Application” as that doesn’t indicate what your email specifically covers. Be respectful of people’s time and let them know upfront why you’re sending a message.
Time Sent and Urgency
Unless your work hours are outside of the traditional 9-5, try to keep your emails within this timeframe. Many people actively aim to create a work-life balance and don’t need to be receiving emails before 9 or after 5. It can create an impression of moving outside of the work boundaries into personal time. Is the email really that urgent? Do you really need to mark it as a high priority email? Most likely not.
If you want to send an email outside of the work day, make a note to yourself and send it the following day.
You don’t have to be a grammarian, but try to maintain the basics with things like their, there, and they’re; too and to; and proper comma and capitalization use. Further, avoid exclamation points or keep it to down to one. Too many exclamation points is unprofessional.
CC or BCC
In general, you can ‘cc those who must stay in the loop, but might not need to jump directly into the conversation. As for ‘bcc, you can use this if you’re sending an email to the entire company. It’s mostly a privacy feature, but can also keep the email looking clean if you’re sending a general message to a large group of people.
Signature and Signing Off
When ending an email, keep your closing professional with something like “Thank you,” or “Sincerely,” instead of something casual like “Bye”. In an office, it’s especially good to develop a professional signature. This includes your name, official title, and contact information, such as address of the building where you work, office number, and email (even though you’re sending an email from your work address).
Signatures not only inform people outside of your company what you do, but it also lets people you work with know your exact title.
Word Choice and Tone
Remember that you’re talking to people at work when you send emails, so you don’t want the tone to be too casual. Even if you’re sending a note to someone you’re friendly with at work, keep the tone of the email professional. This includes not writing in shorthand or using slang.
You proofread your resume and cover letters when you applied to jobs to make sure important names were spelled correctly and you had the right information listed. This is just as important for an email, even if it’s a quick note. You don’t want to accidentally insult someone by misspelling their name or asking them for incorrect information.
It’s best to keep any jokes out of emails for the reason we mentioned at the beginning—you’re not talking to someone in person, so you lose all verbal and facial cues. It’s easy for something you intended as a joke to come across as sarcastic or overly acerbic.
Consider anything you send over work email as public knowledge. Don’t email secrets, gossip, or inappropriate content. Don’t send an angry email and don’t send a love note. Most employers have the right to monitor your work email, so send with caution and imagine that whatever you say is something your boss might read.
Sometimes you’re inundated with emails. Your inbox looks insurmountable and is growing quickly. If this is the case, highlight the emails that need your immediate attention or need a reply by the end of the work day. It’s okay that you’re busy at work—everyone is busy—but do your best to not leave people waiting too long for a reply. If they’ve sent you an email, they most likely need your help or feedback or have assigned you something to do.
If someone has sent you an email, be sure to reply, even if it’s just quickly acknowledging you received their message. You don’t want people wondering if their email got through or if it somehow went to your junk folder. Also, as with most other areas of the workforce, when communicating, be sure to say thank you. An email is still someone taking time out of their day to communicate with you and it’s best to thank them.
Short and Concise
When writing an email, keep it to the point. If you find yourself almost completing a novel, it’s time to edit. What are you trying to say? What was your subject line and does everything in the email relate directly to that? It should. If you have a lot to talk about, you can mention in an email that you would like to discuss things more in person.
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