It’s been a while since I got an inappropriate email– I work with graduate students, after all. Most of them are extremely polite, nice, good-hearted people with a passion to change the world in a positive way. Even when I worked with undergrad business majors at a public university in New York City, I rarely got an email that was really unacceptable– though I sometimes got ones that needed grammar and spelling assistance, which I was glad to give.
But recently, I got an email that inspired me to go back to the basics and cover email etiquette and its place in the job search, and in professional life in general.
A student sent me an email, which not only had foul and offensive words in it, but also included slang terms like LOL. I’m not that easily offended– I lived in New York City for 13 years, after all– but this was just a shock to me. So I wrote a curt response, only to get a complete non-apology, in which the student dug his/her grave even deeper by claiming that this email wasn’t meant for me, that he/she had meant it for someone else but had accidentally hit the reply instead of the forward button. As an educator, it’s my job to teach people the sometimes hard lessons about how to become a professional adult. I had no choice but to provide some consequences, while I explained some of the following points:
1. Email is a matter of public record. If you work for a state institutition, like I do, email can be extremely easily requested by any member of the public through a freedom of information request. RU sure U want yr EM 2B printed in the NY Times?
2. Even more than a handwritten note that can be passed around class to someone you don’t want it to be seen by, email can be forwarded. I actually CCd the Assistant Dean, faculty program coordinator, and student life director on the email I sent to the student. Before you hit send, RU sure u want this message 2 live 4ever?
3. Grown-ups don’t use LOL in email to other grown-ups. In fact, many grown-ups don’t know what LOL means. Once you hit the real world, you cannot continue to use short-hand email slang terms. INMHO, they make you look like you are 12 years old. RU sure U want yr EM 2 make yr boss ROFLOL, then say CUL8R?
4. learn to capitalize and use punctuation marks!!! wen you hit the reel wrld emailz r sent 4 business and NOT personl reesonz n they need 2 look like professional biznez correspondenz !! you r representin yr employer to otherz in the communitee &U might also b representin’ yr skool 2 the employer if your in a job search!! make sure yr email looks like a business letter n not like this paragraf, LOLZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
5. Learn the difference between Reply, Reply All, and Forward. Even the government gets this mixed up sometimes. I heard that the State Department email system was recently almost crashed because someone sent an email to all the people in the entire department through a giant reply-all. Read the To line carefully. If you use an email system with auto-complete emails, read the to, CC, and BCC lines extremely carefully. A smart tip from Lindsey Pollak, author of Getting from College to Career, is to fill in the To line last, after proofreading your email, before you hit send. A million other great tips from Lindsey are available at her blog.
6. Clean up your online presence. Check of the videos at HowToNailanInterview.com to see what happens when someone neglects to do this. You should Google yourself, take down those beach party shots from Facebook, and you should google the employer too. I’ve seen some pretty badFB profile pics in my day– and I hope that the employers didn’t see them too. Everything they find is fair game.
7. How about picking up the phone? It’s so much quicker than email much of the time. If you have to write more than 2 sentences, it’s probably better for you to either get up off your chair and walk over to the person in question, or just call them and talk. And it’s much more personal that way.
8. Never, ever send an email when you are panicked or angry.
9. If you are having trouble with any of the above issues, it is also quite likely that you might not yet have a professional phone manner. Take the time to learn how to professional answer the phone, leave voicemail messages, and have a professional voicemail greeting on your cell phone. Do you really want your future employer to hear your ringback tone? Unless you want to go work for MTV that is.
10. One last thing. Please, please, I beg of you, don’t forward those awful email rumors, petitions, and urban legends. And for the love of all that’s holy, please don’t tell me I’ll be cursed if I don’t forward those “inspiring” pap emails to ten friends.
Seriously, folks, the one about PBS going under has been floating around since 1996! Take a second to double check these email by going to Snopes.com, which, though it has too many popups, will provide accurate answers about whether you might have inflammatory breast cancer, whether that picture of Sarah Palin totin’ a machine gun in a bikini is real, and whether you can get leprosy from a soda can. I’ve got a lot of work to do. In fact, I receive over 300 emails a week, and I write about 250 per week, and that’s just my work email; it doesn’t count our generic email inbox, which gets at least 100 emails a day, my Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Govloop, or personal email). Do you really have to make me read more?