They say you have seven seconds to make a positive first impression.
When you’ve scored the interview, or are meeting someone in-person for the first time, those seconds are key. But, in our tech-saturated world, rarely do you make a first impression in person aside from a career-fair, a workshop or seminar, or afterwards at the bar.
These days, most people reach out to new contacts and connections via email.
If you’re job hunting right, you’re likely doing a combination of meeting people in person and reaching out via email to connections through your school or friends.
So, how can you make a positive first impression via email?
1. Use a professional email address.
Time for an email audit. First, make sure your email doesn’t end in .edu. Getting an email from someone who still uses a school email means either A) They are still in school and therefore not eligible to work or B) They are not tech-savvy enough to figure out how to make their own email. In the world of networking and job searching, both are signs of inexperience. Prevent these conclusions by using an email hosted by a reputable place like Gmail. (Note: Hotmail? Is it 1999? No.)
Actually, I’ll go a step further and say that you should just use Gmail.
Here’s why. Several thousand workplaces (and maybe even your college) use Gmail as their primary email client. Not only is in increasingly likely that your recipient is using Gmail (giving you more control over how your email will appear in their client), but being familiar with it will give you an edge if your future workplace does.
As for your handle, use your real name. If it’s a common name, adding something easy like numbers or a short word can make it unique.
While this is obvious, it bears repeating that you clearly shouldn’t be using an email handle that you’ve had since you were a pre-teen (weRallstarz1994) or the same you’d use on okcupid (sexytexan12) or one that is clearly not you (danthepirate).
I’m not saying you have to close your personal account, but do open a professional one too and then set it up to manage both.
2. One more time. Use your name. Your real name.
When you set-up your account, you’ll have the option to write what name you want to come up. This is what is usually displayed in the recipient’s email box. Just write your real name, or the name that you usually go by. (Email isn’t your social security card. Go with what people will know you as.) Also, don’t write your name in all caps; it looks like you’re SHOUTING EVEN BEFORE THE PERSON HAS OPENED YOUR EMAIL. Do send yourself a test email to see what it looks like.
I found this out the hard way. Confession time: In school, I signed my name with an exclamation point. In 8th grade, I was fed up being one of many girls named Sarah, and to my surprise, my teachers and friends encouraged (or humored) me all the way up through college. Like Madonna, I could just go by Sarah! everywhere. It was amazing. After graduation, I understandably dropped the exclamation point in daily correspondence, but I forgot that I had put it in my email name. Even worse, it was to my surprise that I only discovered this last year. Who knows how many people got emails from Sarah! Croft in the past ten years. (Maybe it made me more interesting?)
The good news was that I had followed my own advice (see #1) and made a Gmail account that was just my name, and I synced them together so I’d never miss an email. Hopefully most of my professional emails and networking came from that more professional email address, but I don’t know for sure. Like I said, it pays to double check.
Literally. Once I open your email, if I am using a Gmail client, I will see your picture in the upper left corner. Again, with Gmail usage in workplaces climbing, it becomes increasingly likely that your recruiter or contact will be also be using Gmail and see your picture too. You can add or change your picture in your Account Settings in the upper right corner.
Like your name and email address, your picture is an important first impression.
Here are three common picture mistakes people make on their professional Gmail.
While you’re a really cute couple, leave these pictures for your Facebook profile.
Unless you’re gunning for artsy photographic jobs, don’t be this person.
The moral of the story is that it does pay off to make an email address just for professional purposes so you don’t need to worry about any of the above. Then, you can keep your cute or artsy or anime photo on your own email.
A pro tip: use the same picture as your LinkedIn profile for consistency. Also, no picture is almost as bad — it’s a missed opportunity to look professional and tech-savvy.
4. Use a signature
This tip saves you a little time and also is a resume hack. Sometimes when you’re reaching out to someone you haven’t met, it might be a little early or forward to also attach your resume, especially if you’re just asking for coffee or to learn more about their work. That’s why you can use the email signature to your advantage.
In addition to putting your phone number, put your LinkedIn URL. Be sure to customize it so it’s short, but it’s like subtly including your resume without actually sending a separate document. If you have a kick-ass twitter account, include that too. Don’t include your email (you just used that email, and I’ll just hit reply, duh). Leave out fancy titles or your major or a Pinterest-worthy quote.
Let’s look at some examples of signatures with the (fictional) Dan Smith.
Major: Philosophy, Minor: Maritime Law
“Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”
In Gmail, you can set your signature in your Settings. (Click on the cog wheel in the upper right, and then click on Settings. Scroll about ⅔ of the way down to signature.)
Ours here at Koru is a little stylized with links to our LinkedIn, Twitter, and company website. If you know a little HTML or design, you can do that too. If not, hot links are just fine. Even if you don’t work for a company yet, there’s no reason you couldn’t also have a professional signature too.
Good work! Now, you’ve got a fantastic first impression, all without having written a single email.
But what you say IN your email is now up to you. Good luck out there.
Sarah Croft is Koru's Director of Instructional Design. She studied Japanese and Astronomy at Williams College and got her masters in education innovation from Harvard. She loves developing awesome, useful, and fun educational programs and experiences.