Stomping the Yard

How Sloppy E-mails Can Ruin Your Personal Brand

Our college blogger Kelly Fair explains how poorly written e-mails can have a negative impact on your personal brand.
Credit: Thinkstock

Calling all college students!  Our new weekly column, Stomping the Yard, aims to help undergrads excel in their studies and social lives.’s team of experts will show you how to get it done from the day you move into the dorms to the minute you step off campus for that first job. Submit questions and feedback for The Yard via

There’s no need to debate that protecting your personal reputation and making a great impression on campus is crucial. But if you’re not careful when you send your next e-mail to your professors, college counselors, scholarship committees, bosses, or future employers, you can wreck your reputation and brand as a promising student and future professional.

It’s key to put as much work into protecting your reputation when forming and sending e-mails as you do in social situations on campus.  In the world of school and work, e-mail is typically the most frequently and valued mode of communication.  Poor e-mail etiquette can also wreck your reputation.  So take these tips into consideration before you send your next electronic correspondence.

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Take time to actually respond to e-mail requests: Your main mode of communication probably follows this order: 1) Texting/Social media; 2) Phone calls; 3) E-mails.  But to the people who may impact your future, such as professors and future employers, the order of their most preferred communication can be the opposite and e-mail is how they connect with others the most.  It’s really important that you acknowledge and respond to ALL of their e-mails, no matter how unimportant or obvious they may seem to be. Some people take it as a sign of disrespect when students don’t reply to e-mails. You can’t be mad when they don’t send your recommendation letter on time, or reserve a spot for you on the next recruiting trip if you didn’t respond to their e-mail.

Identify yourself in an e-mail: If you estimate how many students go to your school, or study in your department, and multiply that by 5, then you probably could get a sense of how many e-mails your professors, deans, and future employers probably receive on a regular basis.  If you want them to respond to you in a timely fashion, don’t make them have to guess about your identity.  E-mail addresses tend to have many numbers and abbreviations, which is not enough to identify who you are. All of your e-mails should include a signature with your primary contact information: name, major, classification, phone number, and email address.

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Include a subject line:  Ever been to a performance and the performer got stage fright holding the mic in their hand, and as a result there was an odd, uncomfortable, and even embarrassing silence in the room?  Well, you create that same effect when you send e-mails without a subject line. Again, when people receive high volumes of e-mails you should take the time to include a subject line that identifies the purpose of your message (e.g. “Just saying hello;” “Please serve as a reference;” “Jasmine R.’s Grades”). This makes it easier for the recipient to organize and prioritize his or her inbox.  It will also help him or her get back to you faster and respond to your needs more accurately.

Watch your tone:  Even though your recipient can’t read your facial expressions or interpret your body language through e-mail, your writing style can definitely set a tone. Remember, your texting style shouldn’t be used for e-mails.  What your friends may overlook, others won’t.  Take these things into consideration: WHEN YOU USE ALL CAPS, IT LOOKS AS IF YOU’RE SHOUTING AND HAVE AN ATTITUDE!  Underlining certain sentences can appear to be a tad bit aggressive, too! and, when you use all lowercase letters you appear to be lazy.

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Lay off the emoticons: Emoticons and hashtags are for your friends and family, not for representing yourself as a student, or in the professional world. #ThatIsAll

Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation: This is not only important because improper spelling, grammar and punctuation can give a bad impression of your professional brand– it can also be enough to make a potential employer not consider you for a job.  At the very least, make sure that you use spell check before you hit send.  But, don’t rely solely on spell check because it can make mistakes, too.  Keep the little grammar guide handy to reference grammar rules and punctuation. It wasn’t until I got to graduate school and some of my first jobs that the light bulb came on and I realized how handy those books, and oh yeah English class, actually were to my professional development!

Want to practice e-mail etiquette or ask me more questions?  Feel free to email me at!

About Kelly Fair

Kelly Fair

Kelly Fair is the founder of the highly successful Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program that has served more than 600 girls 7-17 years old to be effective communicators, and career and community conscious leaders! This work has been supported by a network of 300+ volunteers from the Chicagoland community and area businesses such as Bloomingdale’s, Microsoft, ThoughtWorks and many more. You can follow Kelly on her blogand on Twitter at @KFairtheMentor.