Your e-mail alias, your subject line, and your content all have to be clear and appear appropriate to your recipient. Failure to do this can get your e-mail ignored and/or deleted as junk or spam.


Make it your full name with “@XX.COM” as in MadisonMorgan@xx.COM. That’s what the recipient will see in her/his in-box; better than

Using the “edu” extension lets the recipient know you are affiliated with an educational institution — and being a student is your main job now.

Your recipient also might recognize the “xx” part. Not a bad thing.

“Hotdogdude@hotmail” or “Sillyefgrl75849” are not appropriate. True story: employer received e-mail from “sexygirl.” That is an excellent way never to be taken seriously or viewed as professional — or end up in a junk/spam filter.


Clear and meaningful to the recipient, as in:
“Application for graphic designer position listing 84G11”
“Follow-up to our meeting of February 21 at Virginia Tech job fair”

A blank subject line is unacceptable. You’ve given the recipient a good reason to ignore or delete your e-mail.

“Read this” and “information” and “for your consideration” and the like are meaningless. (Aren’t all e-mails supposed to be read, and contain information, etc.?)


Don’t ever misspell a person’s name if you have it. Have you received mail with your name misspelled? If so, you know the impression it makes.

If you know you’re writing to Jack Carretta, use “Dear Mr. Caretta:” (Not “Dear Mr. Jack Caretta:” Use only last name after Mr./Ms./Dr.)

If you know you’re writing to Allyson Abernathy, you’ll use “Dear Ms. Abernathy:”

It is never appropriate to assume a woman’s marital status, and her marital status is irrelevant to business communication. Therefore, don’t use “Mrs.” or “Miss” in business communication. Use “Ms.” for women; it’s the feminine equivalent to the masculine “Mr.” Only exception to this is is when a person uses those salutations for herself. (However, note that it is not protocol to use Mr., Mrs., or Miss to refer to oneself in business!! Obviously salutations are used in some settings, like school settings in which students are expected to address adults as Mr., Ms., Miss, Mrs., or Dr.)

For individuals with Ph.D.s, other doctoral degrees, and medical degrees that confer the use of “Dr.” then use “Dear Dr. [lastname]:” regardless of gender. There is nothing about the salutation “Dr.” that implies anything about gender.

What if the person does not use “Dr.” and the person’s name leaves you uncertain about gender? Your best bet is to do some research. Get on the organization’s web site and see if you can learn anything. If not, call the organization and be honest: Say, “I’m writing a letter to Pat Watford. I apologize, but I have not met Pat Watford and I want to properly address Pat Watford as ‘Ms.’ or ‘Mr.’ Can you advise me?”

What if there is no name supplied? Good question. “Dear Sir or Madam:” is always appropriate. If you don’t know who will see and read your letter, using just “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam” is inappropriate and suggests gender bias on your part. (An exception might be if you’re writing to a single-gender institution, and you are absolutely without question certain that every possible person who might receive your letter is of one gender.)

Another approach when you have no name, but you do know the department to which you must send your letter is to do something like, “Dear Human Resources Department staff:” or “Dear Hiring Manager at XYZ Inc.:” Be very careful if you do this. You don’t want your letter to look like a form letter you sent to 30 employers (unless you want it ignored).


Business-like writing style.

Attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation (same rules as for hard copy correspondence)

Clear, concise, to the point. Respect the employer’s time. Don’t expect him/her to work to figure out why you’re writing. Unclear e-mails risk being ignored.

Start by saying why you’re writing. “I’m applying for the accounting internship position your firm advertised through the Virginia Tech Accounting Department.” If you’re applying for a job, employers like to know how/where you learned about the job.

Brief information about yourself. “This May I will graduate from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in human services. My experience includes two internships in community mental health agencies.”

DON’T write like the script of a phone call as in “Hi, I’m such-and-such. How are you today?….”

The same rules of hard copy correspondence apply to business e-mail.


Avoid fonts that are so stylized that they are difficult to read.

Don’t use all capitals. It’s the e-mail equivalent of SHOUTING and people don’t like it.

Very large fonts can also seem like shouting.

By the same token, don’t use all lower case letters. (Your purpose in business correspondence is not to attempt to pass for the poet e.e.cummings.)

Be judicious about color and bolding. For job search correspondence, don’t use it. For correspondence letting people know about an event, it can be used very judiciously.


The terminology “signature block” evolved from hard copy correspondence on which a handwritten signature is a must, followed by your typed name. Of course, in e-mail, there is no handwritten signature; the term just refers to the block of information that closes your e-mail.

Include one in business correspondence outside your own office or department. It should give your full name and full contact information, including mailing address, e-mail address and phone number(s). After your name, you can include something that identifies you (as a job title would), like “Junior Biology major at Virginia Tech.”

You might think you don’t need to include your e-mail address because your recipient can hit “reply” to e-mail you. However, if your recipient forwards your e-mail to someone else who might like to reply to you, that person might not be able to see or access your e-mail address. By including your e-mail address in your signature block, you make life easier for others (this will contribute to your success in the job search and on the job), and help people reach you.

Attaching a signature file is not a substitute for having a signature block. DON’T assume that your reader will open attachments to get basic information that should appear in the content of your e-mail, like your name and how to reach you.

Be careful about including quotations and sayings in your signature block. Obviously don’t include anything that has potential to be offensive or misunderstood. Think about the impression your message sends to someone who doesn’t know you, and be judicious.


Generally avoid graphics and backgrounds in business e-mail. They are unnecessary, make your e-mail file larger and clog up memory in people’s in-boxes. Don’t do it. Better safe than sorry. Moving graphics are annoying and are disability-unfriendly.


If you’re e-mailing an employer because the employer instructed applicants to do so, again check any instructions the employer has given. If the employer said to attach a resume, do it. If an employer said to attach a cover letter, do it (and in your e-mail give a short explanation of what’s attached, why, and who it’s from). Use the format the employer requests.


Name your attachment(s) logically — for the recipient, not yourself, that is. “EmilyAlderResume.doc” works fine. “Myresume4jf206” might work for you, but won’t mean anything or be helpful to the employer.

When attaching an MS Word document (or any type of e-file), include the appropriate extension “.doc” or “docx” (or other extension) so the employer’s computer can open it with the appropriate computer application.

Don’t send a pdf file to an employer unless you are instructed to do so by the employer, or unless that’s the absolute stated standard in your industry and field. (Ask 10 people if they like receiving pdf files; most groan, they create barriers to getting the information, and even now, some people’s computers can’t/won’t open them.)

Don’t send a content-empty e-mail that forces the recipient to open an attachment to know why you’re writing. Include a brief, clear summary in your e-mail telling why you’re writing and what the attachments are.


Be aware that e-mail is a form of written communication and it creates a written record.

Retain copies of the e-mail you send and receive.

Don’t let the speed and ease of sending e-mail blind you to the fact that you will be judged on what you say and how you say it.

E-mail, like other written correspondence, doesn’t reveal your tone of voice. Choose your words carefully.

A well-written e-mail can quickly impress an employer (and the reverse is true).

When people take time to respond to you and give you information, respond with thanks. That person has given you time, and time is precious. Don’t treat people like servants. If you treat people poorly because they are lower on the organizational chart than others, be assured those up the chart will be informed. Failing to say thanks makes you look lazy, unintelligent, self-centered, or immature (or some combination). Again, sorry if that sounds harsh, but we want to help you avoid mistakes!