It’s one of the more mundane things you’ll ever learn how to do, but knowing how to write a professional email is also one of the most useful. The right kind of email is succinct but not stilted, friendly but not vacuous, formal but not archaic.
Friends in college ask me fairly often what I do when it comes to writing professional emails (as a journalism student, I probably write at least one every weekday, depending on my workload). It’s definitely something to be aware of— these days, whether for internships, jobs or grad school, email is often the first way we contact people. The other option is, of course, calling… and that can get awkward fast. Keep an eye out for a follow-up article on making professional phone calls.
It’s often the hardest part. Which kind of salutation should you use? Do you go for first name or something more formal? As a general rule of thumb, I stick with “Hi [insert name here]” because “Dear” has a tendency to imply a relationship that isn’t there. Simply writing a person’s name is also fine (preferable for cover letters, in fact) but I tend to prefer something a little more friendly. Choosing the formality of the person’s name can be a little trickier. If you’re in serious doubt, always err towards formality, there’s nothing more embarrassing than being corrected via Gmail. I tend to start with Mr. or Ms. (also be careful about uses of Miss and Mrs.) and then on a reply to slip into something more informal. If you’re more comfortable with the person you’re corresponding with, use their first name, but if it’s someone you’ve never met or a potential employer, it won’t hurt to be more formal. Above all else: get the spelling right; otherwise, you’ve completely wasted your time.
Here’s where you have the most opportunity to fall apart. Make sure you keep a formal tone and keep it brief. No one wants to read a manifesto via email and you need to realize that there’s no obligation for someone to read your email. If your subject line is inane or misspelled, it’s probably game over. Introduce yourself, get to the point and get out. Example,
Hi Mr. Smith,
I am a junior journalism major at Ithaca College with a strong interest in multimedia journalism. I am interested in interning with [organization name or “your organization”] this summer. How should I go about doing so? I have attached a resume and cover letter for your consideration.
This is simple. Say “Thanks” or “Thank you for your consideration,” write your name and get out. To make sure the person has a way of contacting you again, you can add something like:
If you’ve had an interview or sent an email and haven’t heard back in three days, I recommend you follow-up with the person. In the case of the former, it makes you look good and for the latter, persistence is key. Be aggressively polite and friendly. And don’t be too proud to grovel a little. Sample follow-up:
Hi Mr. Smith,
I’m just following up on my email from earlier this week. I realize that in the capacity of your work, you are extremely busy, but I would really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about my strong interest in interning this summer with [organization name].
None of these rules, of course, are hard and fast but making a good impression before you meet someone is a good way to have an in before ever interviewing. And don’t forget the most important rule of all: proofread. Even if you never proofread your papers, proofread your emails.
Christine Loman is a junior journalism major at Ithaca College.