7 Costly Email Mistakes You Don’t Realize You’re Making

Lily Herman
7 Costly Email Mistakes You Don’t Realize You’re Making

Email etiquette is a tricky thing for anyone to master. Are your emails giving off the right vibe? Are they making people click the trash bin icon right away? It’s hard to tell.

Below are 7 common email mistakes that people make all the time. The good news? There are easy fixes for each one that you can implement right away, and they’re guaranteed to make every person email you back.

Mistake #1: Your Email Is Too Long

You may think that writing a long, hyper-detailed message is the way to make people respond. After all, you’re giving them a lot of important context, right? Wrong.

Long emails (as in, ones that are three or four paragraphs, or worse, walls of text) make people’s eyes glaze over upon opening them, and it’s hard for someone to pick apart your email to find your intent.

What to Do Instead

Make it easy for people: If you’re reaching out for the first time, keep your email to around 5 sentences and use one of our helpful email templates. If you’re emailing people you already know, keep your email short and ask to speak on the phone or meet for coffee if your ask can’t be explained in a couple of sentences.

Mistake #2: Your Ask Isn’t Specific Enough

Asking people if you can “pick their brain about some things” gives no indication of what you need, nor does it make your professional contacts feel like you’re coming to them for something in their wheelhouse.

What to Do Instead

If your email is the recommended 4-6 sentences, your ask should come right at the beginning after a brief opening line. Make it easy for people to figure out what you need, and make sure your ask is something that is simple enough for people to say yes to.

Here are 3 requests that are too big and/or vague:

  • “I need your help finding a job.”
  • “I wanted some help with this thing I’m doing at work.”
  • “Can you get me a job at your company?”

Here are 3 requests that are specific and actionable:

  • “I wanted to talk to you about how you found your first job in public relations; in other words, how did you break into the industry?”
  • “I’m not sure if I’m using the best wording in my technical resume, so I wanted to run it by someone in the field to see if there’s something I should be saying differently.”
  • “I remember you saying that you’re good friends with John Smith, and I was wondering if you could e-troduce us so I could hear his thoughts on working at a large advertising agency?”

If you’re looking for some tips to make your emails as specific and actionable as possible, check out our multiple email templates here.

Mistake #3:  Your Subject Line Is Vague or Misleading

You may think you’re being clever by making your email subject line something like “You’re DEFINITELY going to want to open this email!” or “Really need your advice now!!!!!!”

However, both types of subject lines are just annoying your contacts and not adding any context. You’re making it that much easier for them to press “Delete.”

What to Do Instead

There are many schools of thought as to what makes an engaging headline, but often straightforward is the best way to go. Here are some examples of how to skip the random subject lines and keep it simple:

  • “Recent Grad Looking for Marketing Industry Advice”
  • “Possible Introduction to John Smith from XYZ Advertising?”
  • “Quick Technical Resume Question”

All three of these subject lines give whomever you’re emailing an easy indicator of what he or she is walking into by opening your message.

Sending someone an email that needs a quick response? Feel free to write “URGENT” or “ACTION NEEDED BY [DATE]” at the beginning of your subject line, but only use these if your situation is actually urgent, not just because you want a fast answer.

Mistake #4: Your Email Has Lots of Typos

It’s one of the worst feelings: You send an email to a professional contact, wonder why he or she isn’t getting back to you, read over the message you sent and realize that it has 5 typos in it. Ugh.

While typos happen to all of us, they can also make you look unprofessional, especially if they pop up constantly in your writing.

What to Do Instead

The fix for this one is pretty easy: Proofread! Take an extra 5 minutes to read over your sentences, or use the Grammarly app if you’re bad at catching your own mistakes. Read your email from the last sentence back up to the first. If it’s an extra important email that you don’t want to screw up, send it to someone else to proofread too.

Another important tip: Never send emails late at night or when you’re distracted. Rarely do you catch every error, and you’ll look back at the message later and go, “Ugh, I should’ve seen that…”

Mistake #5: You’re Not Following Up the Right Amount

There are 2 types of people in this world: Those who follow up way too often and those who don’t follow up enough.

If you send an email and then proceed to follow up every 5 minutes, you’re trying too hard. If you wait 3 months before sending a “Hey, did you get my first email?” message, you’ve taken too long.

What to Do Instead

Whether you’re following up on a job application or emailing a professional contact, it’s usually best to follow up if you haven’t heard anything after 5-7 days. Worried you won’t be able to remember to send your follow-up during that time? Use the Boomerang app to schedule emails in advance so you won’t have to keep track of anything.

What should a follow-up email look like? Here’s a quick template you can use for virtually any situation:

Hi [name],

I wanted to make sure you received [what your prior email was about] that I sent on [date you sent your first email]. Let me know if you have any questions, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Best,

[Your name]

Here’s what this looks like in practice:

Hi Laurie,

I wanted to make sure you received my job application for the marketing specialist position that I sent on Thursday, June 10th. Let me know if you have any questions, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Best,

Lily

Mistake #6: You Spell the Person’s Name Wrong

Ever notice how peeved you get when the barista at a coffee shop spells your name incorrectly? The same goes for emails.

While spelling someone’s name “Sara” instead of “Sarah” or “Matthew” instead of “Mathew” may seem trivial, it’s one of those tiny things that can leave people feeling annoyed before they even read your message.

What to Do Instead

Before sending out an email, especially to someone you don’t know, make sure you double-check the spelling with their WayUp or social media profile. That extra look never hurts.

If you’ve already sent the email and realized you spelled someone’s name wrong, it’s not the worst thing in the world to let it be, but if it’s really bothering you, feel free to address it if you get a response with something like, “So sorry I spelled your name wrong in my first email! Should’ve definitely proofread an extra time before sending.”

Mistake #7: Your Tone Isn’t Appropriate for the Person You’re Emailing

Often people new to the workforce aren’t sure of the tone they should go for in emails, and it’s easy to be too formal or too casual. While your email doesn’t need to be written in Shakespearean English, you also don’t want to be telling professionals how “lit” or “woke” their jobs are.

What to Do Instead

Striking a balance of being professional but approachable is tricky, but here are several best practices:

  • Keep your sentences as short and simple as possible. Leave out any fluffy prose and run-on sentences.
  • Stay away from emoticons or emojis, especially for someone you don’t know well and don’t have a rapport with.
  • Don’t use any internet slang like “IRL.”
  • Not sure what to call someone you don’t know in an email? Play it safe and use that person’s first name. Using Mr., Ms., or Mrs. can be tricky for multiple reasons, including the fact that you could very well misgender someone (for instance, referring to a man named Taylor as “Ms.”).

Most importantly, however, be thoughtful and intentional before you send an email. If you’re not sure how your message comes across, feel free to have someone else give it a read before you send it to make sure you’re hitting the right tone.

The great thing about email etiquette is that there are always easy, straightforward ways to improve. Add these tips to your arsenal, and soon people will be copying your flawless emails.

Cover image courtesy of Women of Color in Tech.