How many emails do you receive in a week? And how many of those are notable for being particularly bad – or even cringe-worthy?
Over my 24-year corporate career and now in the entrepreneurial world, I’ve received a fair number of emails. I’m afraid to count, but I’m guessing it’s over 1 million. And these have included a multitude of no-no’s, mistakes, and perhaps even sins.
The thing is, every time you send an email, you’re communicating part of your personal brand. So, at a minimum, it pays to make sure your emails are not undermining you.
Emails Errors Can Become Career Limiting Moves
There are the obvious “Career Limiting Moves” that we all want to avoid.
For example, I had to fire a junior analyst who breached the firm’s Code of Conduct by forwarding an email from a friend at another investment bank that contained confidential information. She did it without thinking, as the email also contained a joke, which was what she was seeking to share.
Or writing an email that you expect to remain confidential but ends up on the front page of the newspaper (or its online equivalent), pressing “send” on that angry ranting email that you later regret, or getting into a heated debate over email and, worse yet, replying to all when you do.
The Less Obvious Errors Can Undermine You Too
But it’s those more subtle errors that can creep up on you and quietly limit your career. Often, it’s those things you do (or don’t do) on a daily basis, especially when it’s part of your daily routine, that you don’t realize are tripping you up. And email happens to be one of those things that we take for granted and do without thinking.
I’m sharing this because these mistakes are extremely easy to commit yet can make you look bad. And I don’t want you to be blissfully unaware in scoring what’s called an “own goal” in soccer (a.k.a. football outside the US).
Unfortunately, I’ve made these mistakes myself, and know just how easy it is to fall into these miss-able traps.
Three Big Email Mistakes That Quietly Limit Your Career
When it comes to emails, here are the three types of worst offenders in my book.
The easy thing is to write what comes to mind, without organizing your thoughts into a coherent storyline. That’s how some people write emails – in a stream of consciousness as it comes to them.
Basically, it’s the lazy person’s approach. Or, worse yet, it gives the impression of a disorganized mind, and someone who isn’t a strategic thinker. And none of these are helpful to your career ambitions.
Instead of making your reader untangle the various strands to make sense of it all, take a step back and figure out which items are most important, and lay out your case in a logical fashion. You’ll make a better impression, and increase the odds that your reader will “get” your point or request, and act on it.
Another mortal sin in emails is to say too much. These are information-packed emails that require lots of scrolling. And they’re often formatted as one big chunk of text – super long paragraphs, no extra rows in between, and no bullet points. They’re hard to look at and not at all inviting to read.
For me, these kinds of emails tend to come out when I’m deep into the details and emotionally attached to the work. Surely, people need all the gory details to comprehend the situation? Wrong.
Instead, when there’s much to convey, get in the habit of writing an executive summary of 3-5 lines, perhaps with bullet points. And make sure to have the “ask” clearly labeled. Then, leave the rest for a “background” or “context” section below your signature for those who want to know more. Be sure to break up the section into chunks, using sub-headings or bullets to make your points easy to grasp.
That way, you show you’re a strategic communicator who’s also on top of the detail.
I’m always surprised when people neglect to communicate with the level of professionalism and seniority that they aspire to.
For example, I’ve received emails from early and mid career people who want to earn promotion to bigger roles, yet their emails are strewn with text language (“how r u?”), emoticons, and spelling or grammatical errors.
What am I supposed to think? If this is how they communicate with me, then what makes me think they will shape up when they connect with other senior people? I can tell you that I am not going to use up any personal capital introducing them to people I know. There’s just too much risk.
So, take that extra few minutes to check things over (and no, spell check is not enough – it won’t catch mistakes in grammar and word usage). As you read your own email, ask yourself whether you would be happy to send it to the head of your organization or a potential client.
You never know when one of your email recipients may be in a position to recommend you for that big opportunity. So put your best foot forward, even in those daily emails.
Make it easy for the reader
Email can play an important role when it comes to being an effective communicator and managing your personal brand. What’s tricky is that it has more downside than you think.
So even though you’re busy, it’s well worth the effort to make sure your emails are supporting your brand, and not working against you.
That means doing more of the work so your reader has to do less. And if you need to create more time to do this, try writing fewer emails, but make the ones you do write easy for people to look at, read, and absorb.
The payoff comes when your professionalism leads people to conclude you’re worth supporting.
I’d love to know what you think, so leave a comment below.