Conduct yourself professionally over email: a guide for postgrads

Conduct yourself professionally over email: a guide for postgrads

Have you seen this cartoon on social media lately?
Cartoon by Jon Youshaei, founder of

Judging by the number of likes, comments and shares it’s had on LinkedIn alone, there are a lot of us who can relate. But why does it matter? It’s only email, right?

The cartoonist, Jon Youshaei, had this to say:

‘I’m embarrassed to say this cartoon is based on a real experience from my first months at Google. I sent that lengthy email. Afterwards, my boss said: ‘You sound like you’re fresh out of college.’ To which I replied, ‘But I am fresh out of college!’ And he said: ‘Right, but doesn’t mean you should sound like it.’ He taught me how to be less apologetic. In talking to friends, I realised that I’m not alone. It’s easy to be submissive when you don’t realise it. But you don’t need to be senior to speak like it.’

Are you guilty of these common email mistakes?

While they may not seem that important, writing effective, appropriate emails is an important skill to master as early on in your career as you can – you’d be surprised how important these messages can be in building your reputation and relationships at work.

When you’re new to networking or approaching a new professional contact, it’s natural to not want to sound pushy or entitled. You want people to think that you’re respectful; polite; a nice person. But it often has the opposite effect. Trying too hard can make you appear insecure, timid and junior, which can make your recipients more likely to ignore your emails. Here’s how to fix it.

How senior staff write emails vs how junior staff write emails

What do professional, well-received emails tend to have in common?

  • They’re short.

Concise emails get to the point quickly, and cut through unnecessary fluff. We’re all busy, and our time is valuable – short messages show consideration for the recipients’ schedule. Brevity isn’t rude. You can be polite and professional at the same time, but if you do so in a concise way, your reputation and response rates can only benefit.

  • There aren’t any apologies.

A common observation among senior staff is that young staff often begin interactions with ‘I’m so sorry to bother you’ or variations thereof. It’s not necessary. If you haven’t done anything wrong, stop saying sorry and politely get to the point.

  • They’re confident.

There’s one word confident people don’t use when composing emails – ‘just’. This hedge word can undermine everything that follows it, and make statements appear weak. Saying things like ‘just thought I’d check in’ or ‘just wanted to ask you something’ minimises your request. Be confident with your words. Remove ‘just’ from your emails and see how much more professional they sound.

Mastering the art of email-writing

Here are some strategies to try:

  • Stick to one point per email

While a productive meeting means getting through as much as possible, the opposite is true for email. Lengthy emails don’t tend to get read, so the less you include in them, the better. If you need to communicate with your recipient about another project or point, write a separate email about that one thing.

  • Put yourself in your recipients’ shoes

When writing emails, think about how what you’re saying might be interpreted by your reader. If you were to receive this email, how would it make you feel, and how would you react? It could be a simple tweak, but it can have a great impact on how people respond to you.

  • Include a clear call to action

It’s important to let people know what actions you’re hoping they’ll take, and options within this. Structuring your request as a question and asking if that works for them allows you to do both – your recipient knows what you need, by when, and can offer either their input and / or a more suitable alternative if necessary.

Want more tips?


Image: Home Office by Life-Of-Pix CC0.1.0