20 Email Mistakes that Can Kill Your Job Chances

WorkCoachCafeOn the employer’s side, understand that your messages are usually viewed as typical of how you would perform as an employee.  So, demonstrate your understanding of email etiquette, your good judgment, and your ability to communicate clearly with colleagues and customers or clients.

Tip: Expect that your emails may be saved and searched so be sure to include keywords important and relevant to your job search in your messages as well as in your resume and other job search documents.

Some of these mistakes are fatal all by themselves (see 1 thru 4).  Others may be tolerated if your message is read, you don’t make more than one or two of them, and you are the only qualified candidate.  Best to avoid the whole list!

These are 20 most common mistakes: 

  1. Bad FROM: address.
    Use a professional, private, not-related-to-your-current-job email address, not full of numbers (particularly not your birth year), and not “cute” like HotChick@whatever.com or BigGunner@whatever.com.  A Gmail or Yahoo mail account is usually good.  Add accurate, relevant, and tasteful personal marketing to your name, like MJSmithCPA@…, MJSmithMBA@…, MJSmithMarketingManager@… , or MJSmithMIT2012@…  
  2. Bad TO: address.
    Typos, incorrect information, and format errors can all blow away a message.  The system is very unforgiving, and you may never know.  So be careful. 
  3. Bad SUBJECT:
    Relevance, interest-generation, clarity, and keywords are critical. So is brevity. The subject is the “headline” of your message – the reason someone will click on it and start to read it.  “Subject: Your Branch Manager job opening in Quincy (#165-06)” is specific and contains important keywords.  And it doesn’t look like spam.
  4. Bad opening.
    Double-check the gender and spelling of the name before you click Send, particularly if you have typed “Dear Mr. (or Ms) Whoever”!  When the name is wrong in the opening, it’s obvious the sender doesn’t know what is correct, doesn’t care, or is in too big a hurry. Not impressive! “Dear Sir or Madam” feels like spam.  When accurate, a better opening is “Dear [first name]” or “Hello [first name]” or “Hi [first name]” if you have met the person, spoken on the phone, or have some prior connection.  Addressing medical doctors, college professors, and generals/admirals usually requires use of the formal title rather than the first names.  Err on the side of being too formal rather than too informal in your job search.
    [When responding to a message, I often take cues from the message I'm answering.  If someone starts out "Dear Mrs. Joyce," they are probably expecting "Dear Mrs. Smith" in response, and someone who starts out "Hi Susan" should be OK with "Hi Mary Jane" in response.]
  5. Bad closing.
    “Hugs!” or “Cheers!” is much too familiar to use in a business message, particularly to a stranger or almost-stranger.  More conventional closings like “Best regards” or “Sincerely” are more appropriate. 
  6. No signature.
    In business email, the very bottom of the message, below the closing, is an excellent location for additional information, restrained self-promotion, and keywords. Type your target job title – or, if employed, type a standardized version of your current job title – below your name, plus your job search contact information and your LinkedIn Profile URL.  A business email without a signature block below the closing looks very informal and inexperienced to me.  Most email software makes it easy to append this to the bottom of every message.
  7. Too much signature.
    Typically, 4 to 6 lines are considered appropriate. Longer may be ignored or look a bit self-obsessed.
  8. Most important point saved for the end/bottom of the message.
    This is a common mistake and a fatal one.  The first paragraph is where the most important point should be, with the supporting information below it – not above it.  Email is more like a newspaper article than a research paper.
  9. Too complicated.
    K-I-S-S!  (Keep It Simple S…)   Email is typically read on a computer (or smart phone!) screen by people in a hurry, which means most people scan it.  Something complex may be mis-read, misunderstood, or ignored (see # 10).
  10. Too long.
    The simple goal of email is to convey a message.  But the message is only conveyed if it is read.  A message longer than one printed page may be too long.  For some people, a half-page may be too long.  Remember those tiny smart phone screens!
  11. No context.
    Sometimes a response gets separated from the message or conversation that triggered it, and the message’s meaning is lost because the context is unclear.  “I will meet you there” is a nice, short message, but without specifying where or when, the outcome could be bad.  When responding to a message, include the complete message or the portion to which you are responding.  Make sure the relevant details are documented for the reader of your message. 
  12. Too pretty.
    The patterned and/or colored background may not look as great on someone else’s monitor (or smart phone screen), and most business email does not use a colored background.  Stick to plain white for most situations.
  13. Too similar (cookie cutter).
    Sending the same message to different people can be a good idea if you want to get the same idea across and the people are not apt to compare messages.  But, particularly in a job search if you are thanking several people or sending your resume to several people in the same organization, customize each message to the person receiving it
  14. Bad language.
    Use of swear words and other potentially offensive language can end an opportunity very quickly!  So, don’t.
  15. Too many acronyms/texting shorthand and cute stuff.
    A business email is not a text message to your BFF! If only!  LOL!  ;-) 
  16. Bad timing.
    Try to time your message so it will not be lost in an avalanche of other messages or when the recipient won’t have the time or interest to read it.  Friday afternoons and Monday mornings can be very poor times to send email to people working in offices. 
  17. Missing attachment.
    My personal favorite, given how many times I’ve forgotten to include the attachment.  My colleague and Career Coach Cafe team member Chandlee Bryan calls this “attachment disorder.”  When the attachment is your resume or other job search document, it pays to double-check to be sure it is there (and it is the correct version!).  Attach the .doc version of your Word document rather than the .docx version, enabling more people to read it.  
    [Note to Microsoft: Shouldn't smart email software notice use of the word "attached" and the lack of attaching anything?  Just saying...] 
  18. Bad grammar.
    You know this one is not good! 
  19. Bad spelling.
    Avoid this one, too.
  20. Typos.
    Ditto.
And, of course, NO YELLING IN YOUR JOB-SEARCH EMAIL!
 
Bottom Line:
You are “on” when you send email in a job search.  So, take the time to demonstrate your understanding of good business email as well as your ability to communicate effectively.  Show them what an asset you will be to the organization smart enough to hire you.

For More on This Subject

Don’t Trust Your Job Search or Career to Email

What Are Keywords and Keyword Phrases on Resumes

Email Basics for Your Job Search (Job-Hunt.org)

Making Email Work for Your Job Search (Job-Hunt.org)

Finding and Adding the Best Keywords for Your Resume (Job-Hunt.org)

 

© Copyright, 2012, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.

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About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .

Comments

  1. Love the “Attachment Disorder” warning. It’s so easy to forget to attach the document without realizing it. Then you wonder why you don’t hear back from the employer. Or if you realize you’ve forgotten the attachment you have to resend, which doesn’t look cool.

    So, excellent warning to double-check that everything is in place, including that attachment, before clicking Send.

  2. I’ve also learned that typing in the recipient’s email address is the last step. I don’t know how many times an email was sent before I was ready.

    • chandlee says:

      Sarah,

      That’s a great point. Thanks for sharing it; I’ve made that mistake myself.

      One note, though: I do think that sometimes these email mistakes won’t kill your chances. I once sent a fax that didn’t finish — and the hiring manager called me up to tell me it didn’t go all the way through. She was the best boss I ever had — because she owned up to mistakes when you made them, and expected you to do that, too! And she understood that was a normal part of work!

      Thanks, again.

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

  3. If an employer does not require a formal cover letter, would it be appropriate to treat the email like a shortened version of a cover letter to go along with the attached resume?

    • chandlee says:

      Hi Maggie,

      Yes, it would be appropriate to treat the email as a shortened cover letter. Make sure you mention —

      1. Where you heard of the job,
      2. 1-2 ways the job aligns with your background
      3. Why this job at this company — be clear on why you are interested and show that you’ve done your homework

      Good luck!

      Best,
      Chandlee

  4. I have had 3 interviews in the last week with 3 potential employers. The job that I really want interviewed me 3 days ago. They seemed very interested. However, I received an offer from my first interview with a company that is my least desirable position. If I accept their “trial basis” work offer, I have to sign a contract that says I must give 2 weeks notice in the event I decided to leave. If the company I really want the job from offers me the job, they expect me to begin immediately. What should I do? The offer from the first company is for part-time trial basis work.

    • chandlee says:

      Let the employer with the job you “most want” know of your offer and follow up with them. Say you know it is unlikely that you can speed up their decision making process — and you would not expect them to change their timeline based on your needs…But, that — at the same time, you are very interested in the position.

      Good luck.

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

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