Skip to main content

For most of us Gen Y Millennials and Gen Z Centennials, email is ancient news. But historically speaking, it’s still brand-spanking-new. Modern email as we know it has only emerged within the past two decades, which means the art of emailing hasn’t exactly been fine-tuned through several generations.

I’ve been in the tech start-up world for a while, and in my current role I email all kinds of people—from schmoozing with venture capitalists to smoothing out customer service tickets. I recently had the honor of visiting my alma mater to speak on a panel. After the discussion, I received several emails from students who had attended and wanted to connect. While some of them thoroughly impressed me with their incredible email savvy—others, in their rookie mistakes, reminded me of my younger, clueless self.

From five-paragraph essays to jarringly short replies, it reminded me that whether we’re fresh graduates or a decade into our careers, we can all learn from these seven common email mistakes.

01. Email moves fast.

Academia moves slowly. Businesses move quickly. Professors may be used to the slower pace of well-considered and often long emails, but when messaging with extremely busy entrepreneurs and clients, for instance, you need to get to the point and be prompt. In my first job as an account executive at an advertising agency—while perhaps an extreme example as it’s the account executive’s job to be constantly communicating—I couldn’t believe how quickly emails were fired off back and forth.

If you really want to get somewhere with a person, offer an informative but brief email and don’t wait too long to reply. Responding shortly after they respond to you won’t come across as over-eager. Waiting a while in order to appear busy or important could kill the momentum of the exchange.

02. Follow-through is key.

Say it with me: No response is not a rejection. Emails move at the speed of light, so if you’re trying to get a busy person’s attention, sometimes it takes a nudge (or two or three). For me, it took a great deal of growing up and gaining perspective to realize that people usually didn’t respond for one main reason: They were simply caught up in their busyness. (Read: It’s not because they hate you). If you’re truly interested in connecting with them, give it a week and then follow up. That said . . .

03. If you really want a meeting to happen, send a calendar invite.

You finally got that response and set a date and time? Don’t expect that the person is going to remember, especially if you’re the pursuing party. Send that Google Calendar meeting ASAP. Include specific details on who calls whom at what number, and remind them an hour before the call: “Looking forward to chatting with you at noon.” If they still forget? Be friendly in your voicemail. They don’t owe you anything and will most likely get back to you if you persevere.

04. Simple words > big words.

Don’t use big words to sound smart. It will backfire, always, as most people don’t like the extra work. Be concise. Surprisingly, using simple language makes you sound smarter. To make my point, I’ll end this here.

05. Friendly is good! But chill on the exclamation points!

Maybe you really are that excited. But nothing screams amateur more than exclamation point overkill. Don’t get me wrong—a finely placed exclamation point can add a lot of personality and punch (which is something you want to keep). But try to limit it to one per email.

06. At the end of a meeting, always send a recap and provide next steps.

Did you have a great conversation? Sweet. It’s time to summarize the gist of what you talked about. Depending on your timeline, this doesn’t need to be immediate. But it makes you look like you’ve got it together (even when it feels like you don’t). If applicable, close your email by briefly outlining what’s going to happen next.

07. Don’t over-apologize. Express gratitude instead.

We’re not perfect. Just like table manners, we all occasionally sneeze, accidentally slurp, or spill red wine on a freshly laundered white tablecloth. It’s OK. If you accidentally fire off an email with the wrong name in the greeting or without the attachment you said would be there, don’t belabor the apology, as it risks you running into awkward territory. Move forward gracefully with a brief follow-up. Thank them for hanging in there with you.

Follow these rules, and you’ll be firing off professional and efficient emails in no time.

Photo Credit: The Onion