Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Most Marketable Skill

This post is written in partnership with Webucator, an online training company which allows you to take personalized training courses at your own speed. Check them out here! In honor of the class of 2014, Webucator is hosting the Most Marketable Skill campaign to help their students develop critical skills for the workforce.

No compensation was received for this post. I am honored to help the class of 2014 with whatever expertise I may have!

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As an academic advisor at an university for three years, I was given the opportunity to learn first-hand what skills employers look for in new employees. Experience, resumes and networking are all important skills of course, but the skill I consider most important is very basic: writing a professional email.

During my tenure as an advisor, I received hundreds if not thousands of emails from students. More than I wish to admit contained poor grammar, misspellings and run-on sentences. Sometimes, I could not even decipher the student's request through their "word mud"! Perhaps it is my background in public relations, but I believe in our technology soaked world, emails are an important first contact you will have with many working professionals. It is the first impression you give many people. What does a poorly written email say about you?

Let's take a look at a poorly written email example by a student and see what their words communicate about them.
Subject:  U GOT HELP ME OUT, PLEASE 

HI DOCTOR, U TOLD ME AM GOING TO MAKE A  "B" EVEN WITHOUT  DOIN THE FINAL BUT UNFORTUNATELY U GAVE A "C" WHICH IS OF NO GOOD TO ME.PLEASE DOCTOR CHECK MY COURSE COMPASS,MY TEST AND MY FINALS OUT AGAIN PLEASE CAUSE WITHOUT U PASSING I MEAN GETTIN A "B" AM NO GOOD AT ALL AND ACADEMIC IS GOING TO BE AFFECTED REAL BAD PLEASE ONCE AGAIN LOOK INTO MY CASE.

Hmmm. Abbreviations, poor grammar, run-on sentences...what do you think the professor who received this email thought of the student? Obviously, the student is unprepared. He or she does not communicate their request in a legible manner, which makes you wonder if they even attend college at all!

Writing proper emails is not just important for students. As I mentioned before, much of the professional communication in today's workforce is conducted through email. Would a reference look twice if you sent them an email like this requesting a letter? Would a potential employer think twice about hiring you with an email like this? Would you build respect among coworkers with an email like this? I think not!

So now that we know how not to write an email, what are some components we should include?

Appropriate Subject and Introduction

The email subject is the first thing the reader will see when your email arrives in their inbox. Make sure the subject tells exactly why you are emailing them so they are more likely to open the message.

It is also important to address people correctly. Work emails are typically more formal, so always address the recipient by their title. For example, Dr. Moore for a professor or Mr. Walker for a potential employer. More informal emails such as those to a coworker can use first names, but it is usually a good rule of thumb to remain more formal in emails.

Tell Them Who You Are

Especially in emails to a person you have never met before, it is important to let them know who you are and why you are emailing them. As I mentioned before, I received hundreds of emails as an advisor (thankfully not all at once!). Most professionals have more than one email in their inbox every day, so do not waste their time by writing a novel! Explain who you are and why you are emailing them at the very beginning.

Be Brief

Professionals have limited time. Respect their time by getting to the point. After stating who you are, let them know what you need.

End Well

A proper ending is just as important as a proper beginning. Again, it is usually best to remain more formal in a professional email so use Sincerely or Best Regards rather than Love or Please write me back ASAP!

So now we know how to write a professional email, let's rewrite our example. If the professor had received the following email, do you think the response would be different?

Subject: Question Regarding Grade in POLS 1301 - 001
Dr. Moore,
My name is Megan Walker and I am in your POLS 1301-001 course. After reviewing my grade, I believe there may be a discrepancy. When we met earlier in the semester regarding my grade, it is my understanding I would receive a "B". However, my transcript says I received a "C".
If you could explain what happened, I would be very appreciative. I am available to set up a private meeting if that is more convenient for you. Please let me know what time you would be available.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Best Regards,
Megan Walker 
 Congratulations to the class of 2014! I hope this post helps you reach new heights in your new careers! All the best to you from The Walker Fireside Chats.

7 comments:

  1. Oh I love grammar (most bloggers probably do, right?). I 'hide' people from my facebook newsfeed who have horrible grammer... I can't stand it!

    I taught elementary school and told my students there's their "playground" language and their "school" language (some kids referred to this as "church" language, also). Abbreviations and slang are okay in a text or on the playground... not in class or the business world!

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    1. Oh so true!!! I think it's hard for some kids to distinguish between "texting" and "professional" language. I can't tell you how many emails I got from students which sounded like they were texting me. I mean c'mon, I'm you're advisor, not your friend!

      The worst part about poor grammar is it disguises your meaning, making it more difficult to communicate properly. That is so important in the job market!

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  2. This is SO true! As an HR manager for ten years I could give you a laundry list of things for new hires to know / do / NOT do and basic email falls under critical communication skills. Very helpful to the graduating class!

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    1. Thank you Rebecca! My choice may be a little unorthodox, but I after seeing so many bad emails, I knew I had to write about it.

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  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I am amazed at how many people still do not understand how to create professional emails. Abbreviations that are used on social media are simply not acceptable, and hello? You're crafting an email to a professional who has spent many years earning their title or position. Let's try to reflect our respect for them by using full words, not U and JK. Great post Megan :)

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  4. Great post! I have a degree in English, so I understand how important good communication skills are, but I'm always surprised at how many people don't think it's an important skill. (Stopping by from Hump Day Happenings!)

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  5. This is so important and useful! I've never been in a position to receive emails for my job, so I don't know of any really bad examples, but I can imagine many (young) people just treat it almost like they are shooting their best friend a text. Professionals deserve a little respect, and they shouldn't be wasting their time reading horribly written emails. Thanks! #humpdayhappenings

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Thank you for sharing your story!