Email not working well for you? I've been using e-mail since 1981 (yikes!), so I've probably made or received every e-mail mistake possible. It has definitely given me some insight into e-mail etiquette -- what works and what doesn't.
1. Make the subject short, interesting, and relevant.
Think of the subject as the "headline" for your email message. The message's subject line should tell enough about the message to encourage the recipient to open the message and read it, particularly if the recipient doesn't know you.
Leaving the subject blank can be a fatal error, causing spam filters to spring into action, dumping the message into a junk mail folder or deleting it. In addition, spam filters will often kill messages with subjects like "Important!" or "Hi, it's me!" because those are used often by spammers.
2. Make sure the first paragraph grabs the reader's interest.
Continuing the newspaper analogy, the first paragraph of an email message is like the first paragraph of an article in a newspaper. It must grab readers' attention or the rest of the message probably won't be read. Next to the subject line, the first paragraph is the most important part of an email message.
3. Focus on one "action item" per message.
If you want the message recipient to do something as the result of reading the message (answering a question, doing a task, etc.), focus the message on that one thing. A message that requests the recipient to do more than one thing often fails.
Don't put that action item in the last paragraph where it is most likely to be missed. Put it at the top of the message, perhaps in the first paragraph where it will more likely be seen and read.
4. Don't send an e-mail message about something you wouldn't put in a voicemail.
For me, the prime example of this was receiving -- in the office- - a message telling me that a good friend had just died. I happened to be reading my e-mail when a phone call came in, and that message was the one I opened just as I answered the phone. Blew me completely out of the water! I had to quickly and semi-gracefully terminate the business call while fighting tears.
The person who sent that message would never have been so insensitive to leave that bad news in a voicemail, but e-mail seemed an efficient and less emotional way to convey the news to the many people who cared.
If a message is inappropriate to leave in a voicemail, don't send it in an email. It will leave a permanent record, and it may not be "heard" as intended when someone is reading your words on a computer screen. Were you smiling or snarling when you wrote "Thanks a lot!"?
5. Watch your language.
Don't hit that "SEND" button when you are angry or upset. For many of us, typing words into an email message makes it easier for us to "say" things we wouldn't say in a face-to-face conversation. If you absolutely must write that nasty email, leave the "TO:" field blank, and don't fill it in for a couple of days (if ever).
Sending a nasty email creates a permanent record of your questionable behavior that can be used in performance reviews, lawsuits, and other very awkward situations. It can also be forwarded many, many times, greatly increasing the damage.
Also be cautious about using "cute" texting acronyms like OMG and WTF -- not everyone thinks they are harmless.
6. Limit the use of CC: and, especially, avoid BCC:
Email is great for keeping many people informed about a topic. In a job search, you can keep in touch with HR, the recruiter, the hiring manager, the person who referred you to the job, and hundreds of other people at the same time.
The real question is who should -- and who should not -- be included in the distribution. If the people all know each other or, at least, know that the others are involved. For example, in the hiring process for a job, including HR, the hiring manager, and perhaps co-workers in the CC distribution of a message to the job seeker could be appropriate. Think about how each person will react to being openly included, and also think how the others will view the name you are adding.
I don't recommend use of BCC. I think it's too easy to look sneaky or ill-informed. If you feel that someone not on the public distribution list must see the message, forward it to them after it has been sent.
The most appropriate time to use BCC is when you are sending the same message to people who don't know each other and shouldn't have their names and email addresses exposed. But, I can't think of a business situation where you would want to do that. Sending the same message to people who don't know each other feels like spam.
7. Proofread very carefully to eliminate typos, bad grammar, and misspellings.
You can quickly and easily blow away your credibility with a "minor" mistake in spelling or grammar. And, unfortunately, it is very difficult to find your own mistakes because your brain "knows" what you expect/want to see. Spellcheck software helps, but it's not perfect.
I recently did some research on misspellings in LinkedIn profiles, and the number one mistake was the word "manger" in place of "manager." Unfortunately, "manger" is a real word -- but it's not usually part of a job title. To see the data and learn about more misspellings, read "The Simple LinkedIn Mistake that Is Killing Your Job Chances."
More About Using Email Effectively:
- Get that Job Interview with a Great Email Message
- Email Mistakes that Can Damage Your Job Search
- Keeping Your Resume Out of the Spam Filters
Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com. In addition to HuffingtonPost.com, Susan also contributes to LinkedIn, YouTern.com, NextAvenue.org, and BrazenCareerist.