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Email Etiquette for the Job Seeker

February 28, 2012 by Careerminds

Jennifer Fry
Careerminds Consultant

In this, the age of digital everything, job seekers are constantly being reminded of the special rules and unspoken expectations on the Internet, particularly when it comes to social media– editing your profile, making good connections, posting industry-specific information, etc. But it is equally important to return to some Internet basics every now and then. Often, the simple act of going online leads people to drop all formalities; email has become an extended tweet or text message, complete with abbreviated vocabulary and emoticons. While that may be ok when emailing back and forth between friends or family, a professional message requires a bit more propriety, especially when that email has to power to get you an interview or land a new job.
When browsing company websites, you may find that some employers request resumes and cover letters via email, as opposed to a job search board or something similar. You may decide to email an employer before submitting a resume to inquire about open positions, to introduce yourself, and so on. Regardless of the purpose, an email sent from job seeker to employer should follow a general set of rules.

  • Making First Contact: Remember to do your research before contacting a potential employer. If you’ve written to ask them questions that could easily be answered on their website, you will likely come off as lazy and unsavvy. Additionally, make sure you have found the appropriate contact. “I’m not sure if you’re the right person” will not paint you in a favorable light.
  • Responding to Employer Emails: If an employer contacts you, it’s likely that you’re welcome to email him/her back. Just be sure to read the message carefully in case you are instructed to respond to another person or via a different platform (i.e.: call this phone number, submit your application on this website, etc). Assuming you are asked to respond via email, leave the subject line as is, leave the original message at the bottom of the text box, and type your response on top.
  • On the Subject of Negotiations: Typically, negotiations are best made verbally, that is over the phone or in person. If you’re negotiating salary or you have questions about your benefits package, at least take the time to make a phone call. If the employer cannot be reached by phone, try sending an email indicating that you have questions and that you’d like to set up a time speak to them directly.
  • Make Good Use of the Subject: Use clear and meaningful subject lines– under no circumstances should the subject line be left blank. Indicate briefly who you are and why you are writing. For example: “Application for senior associate position”; “Experienced accountant inquiring about available positions”; “Follow-up to our meeting at job fair XYZ on Thursday 3/1”; etc.
  • Keep it formal: It’s best to always err on the side of formality, especially upon first contact; stick to business style writing, and proper letter-writing format (standard spacing, greetings, salutations, and so on). Eventually, you may be able to follow cues from your email conversation partner as to the formality he/she expects.
  • Additional tips:
    • Always begin with an introduction and a statement of your purpose.
    • Keep your message concise.
    • Spell check, spell check and spell check– grammar too!

The traditional pen and paper letter may be out of style, but business etiquette is not. No matter the format, it is important to remember that your professional email messages are not particularly long texts, and that the recipient will be use the content and style, in addition to your resume, cover letter, etc. to judge your fit in an open position.


Careerminds provides scalable, strategic solutions to organizations seeking affordable, web-based outplacement services. Using a Web 2.0 e-learning platform that delivers affordable, online career transition services, Careerminds provides a high-tech and high-touch blend of on-demand career transition education supported by senior-level career consultants to help displaced workers reenter the workforce quickly.

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