Ask Dr. Tech: Proper email skills necessary for stronger career paths

Dr. Jon Dorbolo

Proficiency with email is power and a skill set that can propel your career, while immature email practices will deal hard setbacks.

My experience is that many students do not view email as a primary communication tool and so do not practice using it effectively.

That is a disadvantage for job seekers and career builders because the business and academic world runs on email.

If you have read this column for a while you know that I am enthusiastic about the power of social media and emerging communication forms, but the facts show that email is and will be the lingua franca of the working world for at least the next decade.

If you aim to succeed you had better add “mastery of email” to your quiver.

The first thing to do is to buy a copy of “Effective Email” by Natasha Terk, read it and keep it handy. Terk lays out a clear path for strong communications via email.

I’ll address the dark side of email and what to avoid; in these matters I speak from experience.

Email is public and every message that you send may be shared in ways out of your control. Be strategic in your email as you are in every career choice.

Keep your personal and work email accounts separate; a principle that Hillary Clinton may now regret having ignored. It is not hard to run two email clients, one for work and one for personal, simultaneously.

“Reply All” is powerful email feature and with great power comes great responsibility. Be thoughtful how you use this feature and other addressing features of email because who you include on a message is a political act and office politics is dangerous.

One practice that backfires is answering an email that you do not like by ccing superiors in reply in order to gain witnesses to a conflict. This is a hostile tactic that is likely to escalate in ways that your superiors will not appreciate. Add people to an email trail only if they are part of the solution to the problem posed.

Even worse is sending a private or privileged email to Reply All. Boulevards of broken dreams are littered with misbegotten Reply Alls from former politicians, CEOs and junior employees.

Google “email disasters” for examples of what not to do and note that these are emails that should not have been written in the first place, much less sent to the wrong people.

You will include attachments and links in your emails and some of them will be wrong. You can recover from that, unless your attachment is an abject embarrassment, but it is powerful to get it right the first time. The key is testing. Construct your entire email with attachment, links and everything then open the attachments and links to make sure that’s what you intend to send. I play it even safer on critical communications by sending the email it to myself for evaluation before I send it to others. Intentional communication is the motive power of a career on wings aloft.

The subject line is your friend and you should compose it with loving care. It is the first part of your message that is visible in the busy inboxes of your clients, co-workers and supervisors.

Your subject line is you saying “this is worth reading.” Treat every communication as important by constructing it with the careful attention important messages warrant.

A behavior I observe in much student email is to reply without altering the subject line. This leads to a repetitive string of “my idea”; “Re: my idea” “Re: Re: my idea” ad infinitum.

Every single time that you communicate by email you should shape the subject line to your advantage. Try leaving the “Re:Re:Re: my idea” but add a new element indicating your new thought at the end, for instance “Re:Re:Re: my idea – a different angle.” Opportunities abound, my friends, but often are squandered by the multitudes with abandon.

Include your contact information with every email. This is where your diverse online identities flourish. An email asking for help but lacking a name and phone number is not actionable and drops to the bottom of a busy reader’s to-do list.

Emails have “signatures” that you create to be inserted by default at the end of every new email. I craft my OSU email signature with the full range of links to my Linkedin, Facebook, Skype, Twitter and much more including my blog at where you can get all of the references for this article.

Take your battles offline. Email battles are ugly and escalate by inserting other people who don’t want to be involved. At the least be sure to conduct your conflicts in a communication space that is not your official work environment. If a co-worker infuriates you consider challenging them to a pvp duel in World of Warcraft instead of email. Also consider how that approach worked out for Alexander Hamilton.

The most important advice I can give about email is to go slow on the send button. When an email angers you, do not reply immediately; do not.

Go ahead and write your scathing reply with all of the refutation and venom that it deserves but do not send it; do not.

Let it rest and come back to it the next morning. I am confident that you will take a different view of the matter and construct a more measured response. Make sure to delete the mean email.

Even better, compose your angry messages in a word processor so that you do not inadvertently hit send.

If you are uncertain as to whether an email is an attack or not I suggest that you simply ask the sender. If they are your enemy then asking will not make them more of an enemy and if they are not an enemy it is wise to avoid making them a new enemy by launching a ballistic email. It pays to be chill or at least to be seen as such.

Write every email as evidence that you genuinely care about the reader. Your care will be conveyed by a collegial tone and by showing respect for the reader’s time by organizing your email logically and economically.

Treat each email as a strategic move in your career success game-plan.

Learn good email practices by reading about them from credible sources and studying examples of effective email.

You may practice your skills by writing to me with your ideas about technology, OSU and philosophy at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in Dorbolo’s column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Barometer staff.

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