e-Etiquette: Writing Tactful Emails

Posted by Cara Scharf on June 19, 2011
e-Etiquette: Writing Tactful Emails

Gone are the days of thumbing through classifieds and snail-mailing resumes. Now, almost everyone finds and applies for jobs online, and with good reason. "Email is immediate, less likely to be lost on someone's desk, and a quick way to establish rapport," says Susan Ireland, resume guru and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Resume. Here are her tips for writing successful application emails.

Use appropriate subject lines and filenames.
"You want to simplify the recipient's job," says Ireland. A snazzy subject line can be eye-catching, but if a recruiter can't quickly identify what they're receiving, they're likely to hit delete. Instead, summarize content using single words ranked in order of importance. For instance: "Resume: job title, your name, date." The same goes for filenames; just omit the title as the recipient will probably drop all resumes for that position into one folder. Also, not everyone has the latest version of Word, so save documents in a generally accessible format.

Maintain letter-writing conventions such as a formal salutation, easy-to-scan body, and sign off. Emails are quickly read (and just as quickly deleted), so grab attention by addressing a person and immediately identifying your desired position.  The body should be neat as well. "People often type in one big block, but that's unreadable," says Ireland. Use anchor points like bullets to draw the reader to important information, and make paragraphs short and distinct.

Be brief, but not curt. 
Because you have to quickly engage the reader, try giving two or three of your unique qualifications in under 10 words. "Knowledgeable Harvard MBA," is one example, or "effective communicator and strong supporter of Company A's mission." Just make sure your brevity isn't misconstrued as haste. Tone is hard to convey electronically, so having a friend read your message is helpful. 

Don't use abbreves, kthx.
It seems like a no-brainer, but it's worth mentioning: abbreviations (lol, omg, etc.) belong in text messages, not formal emails. Equally imperative are good spelling and grammar. A great way to avoid mistakes is to type in Word, spell-check, then copy into the email. "It's worth taking extra time to perfect your correspondence," says Ireland.
And finally, three easy steps before hitting send.
First, do a thorough sweep for errors and tone. Second, copy yourself on the email for your records. Last, check (and double check) that you've attached your documents.

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