Subject: Reality Check (A Few Pointers on Office Email Etiquette)

To: My Ego

From: Corporate America

Subject: Reality Check

Never before having worked in a corporate setting, my internship this summer certainly provided me with a crash course in general office and e-mail etiquette.  Here are three questions that I figured out the answers to, and the ramifications of, during my brief 10 week stint in Corporate America.

Oh, you mean confirming an Outlook meeting request doesn’t actually mean you’re planning on attending the meeting?

One of the hardest realities that I had to come to terms with is that appointments in an Outlook calendar are not set in stone. The relief that you feel when an upper level executive accepts your meeting request via Outlook should only be momentary.  You can give yourself a quick pat on the back, but don’t go too overboard yet; the real test comes on the day of the scheduled meeting.  If the upper level executive does, in fact, show up, go ahead and continue your celebration.  If he or she doesn’t show up, don’t retract that pat on the back just yet.  Did he or she e-mail you or change the date of the meeting?   Or did he or she not contact you in any way? Sure, sometimes things happen and more important issues arise, but still, the feeling of being stood up isn’t a nice one.  Don’t worry, I learned that after the second or third time this happens, the sting gets a little easier to handle.  You have to get right back on your computer and request another meeting.

So let me get this straight… you’re never planning on responding to my e-mail?

Think about how many e-mails we get on a daily basis here at Bentley. Multiply that by at least 10 and that is probably how many e-mails anyone in Corporate America gets on any given day.  Your e-mail must be pretty important to get the attention from someone high up in the company’s ranks.  Sure, they may read your email, but getting them to respond to it, and to respond to it with the information that you are looking for, for that matter, is the real task.  To make it more likely that your recipient will respond to your e-mail, try to keep it as concise as possible.  Make sure to give your e-mail an irresistible subject line, and if your e-mail is very important, think about marking it as “urgent.” The three key elements of irresistible subject lines can be found in this Copyblogger blog post.

Other related pieces of e-mail advice:

  1. Be careful not to send too many e-mails.  It’s kind of like crying wolf.
  2. It can never hurt to have a peer read an important e-mail before you send it out.
  3. If someone isn’t responding to your e-mails and you need to talk to them, go do so face to face. They may be able to ignore your e-mail, but they can’t really ignore you if you’re standing in their office door.

Wait, did someone just accidentally send an e-mail to everyone in the global contact list?

When sending an e-mail at work, you really can’t be too careful.  I would always double and triple check that I had the right recipient listed.  One person, however, wasn’t so careful.  Instead of scanning a document to herself, she mistakenly scanned a document to everyone listed on the company’s global contact list.  This resulted in a frenzy of people clicking “reply all” to inform her that she had mistakenly addressed her e-mail.  These e-mails led even more people to once again “reply all” saying “please stop pressing ‘reply all.’” This e-mail bombardment lasted all day, and resulted in over 700 unread e-mails sitting in my inbox when the day was through.  The moral of this story is to be extremely careful with the “reply all” button, as you never know who you could end up sending your e-mail to.  Oh, and another word of caution, company e-mails are usually monitored, so don’t say anything in them that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.  Making plans with other interns to go out to bars isn’t really something you want to do over company e-mail.  Additional e-mail etiquette tips can be found in this Everything in Budget blog post.

Cartoon

I hope these three questions serve as a framework that will provide you with some helpful bits of advice to take with you into your Corporate America debut.  If you are able to schedule and keep meetings with coworkers, receive relevant e-mail responses, and avoid sending e-mails out to the wrong people, you’ll be in pretty good shape.  Oh, and performing your actual job well won’t hurt either.

-Kristy Callahan

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