With the end of term fast approaching, it’s time to get your summer plans sorted. Whether you’re applying for a job or internship, offering your services to a charity as a volunteer, or confirming travel plans, it’s likely you’ll have to write a formal email. But this isn’t like an email you’d send to your family overseas, and you definitely can’t send what is essentially an extended WhatsApp.
Young Post talked to five professionals – a human resources administrator, a leading investment broker at a major bank in Hong Kong, a partner at a local boutique law firm, an assistant lecturer, and a career strategist at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong – who receive dozens of emails from people every day, for their advice on what makes an email stand out to them.
- Do check your spelling and grammar. Nothing looks worse than an important email full of typos.
- Do keep your email short and sweet – this doesn’t mean you should be rude, just don’t write a whole novel. Keep it simple, to the point, and polite.
- Do, at the very least, introduce yourself, state what you are looking for with your email, and always say thank you and goodbye with a respectful sign off.
- Do your homework and learn about the company or organisation you’re applying to; this will help decide the tone of your email. If you’re applying for an internship at a well-known company, your email will have to be more formal and respectful. But if it’s a “younger” company – like Facebook or Google – you can afford to be a bit warmer and more casual.
- Do follow up with a thank you email to your interviewer (or HR) after your interview. It tells your interviewer two things: that you remember their name and bothered to look up how to contact them, and the interview compelled you to reach out.
- Do remember to write something in the subject field of your email every time, and make sure it is accurate and to the point. For example, “Application for summer internship”.
- Do leave some information for the cover letter and/or résumé you attach to the email, because no one wants to read a 1,000-word email on a busy day. Some things you can attach include contact details, personal interests, career objectives, awards and achievements, additional skills, academic and work experience, references, availability, and salary expectation.
- Don’t waste your introduction. Right out of the gate, say what you are emailing them for, and support it with a strong statement about why you are suitable. Here’s an example: “Dear Ms Li, I am writing to apply for the summer legal intern position. With my background as a member of the school English debating team, I feel I’d be a strong candidate for the post.”
- Don’t describe the position you’re applying for inaccurately. It looks really bad, like either you don’t care or you don’t even know what you’re applying for.
- Don’t spam the programme or company you’re applying to with emails if you don’t hear back right away.
- Don’t email after an interview with more information about yourself. It makes them wonder why you didn’t say any of it during your interview.
- Don’t ever send a blank email with just attachments; it’s incredibly rude and shows minimum effort.
- Don’t keep talking about your strengths over and over again; it makes people wonder if that’s all you have to offer.
- Don’t forget to “sell” why you’re a good fit for the role you’re applying for, but don’t over-sell yourself. Don’t exaggerate your skills or come off as arrogant or entitled.