Friday, May 01, 2009

Career Ending E-Mails

E-mail is the bane and the savior of the modern office worker. On the one hand, we are inundated by an endless stream of seemingly useless messages that we really don't want or need. On the other hand there has never been a faster or more efficient way to exchange information quickly and interactively between large groups of people. This post is about how to use corporate e-mail in a way that will help, not hurt, you in the office.

On the Record - whatever you say in an e-mail is there forever. It is recorded by your company servers and can be pulled back at will, whether or not you try to delete it. This means that e-mail is not a form of communication you should be using if you have a problem with any third parties being able to view your message at some point in the future. For example, anything that could jeopardize your organization's business positions or cast it in a bad light simply should not be communicated through e-mail.

E-Mail Makes the Rounds - Last week my CEO forwarded me an e-mail thread, in which older messages included some highly sensitive information that was clearly not meant for me to see. In that specific case, the information did not concern me and I will be keeping it in close confidence, however, be aware that people hit the "reply all" and "forward" button all too easily and something that you meant only a friend or specific colleague to see is now plastered across the entire e-mail system. Watch what you say. 

Along the same lines, when you refer to someone in an e-mail use respectful terms. Don't call someone a jerk in an e-mail, even if you think they fit the bill. All too often that written record will find its way to the wrong hands. Treat e-mail exactly like you would a post on your open corporate website. 

Don't Be a Corporate Spammer - one of my direct reports in my last company used to account for 30% of my e-mail traffic. He used to cc me on EVERYTHING. If he was trying to schedule a meeting with someone, I would get copied on the entire thread, including all the time changes and discussions of where to meet. I guess he was trying to make me see that he was working hard. Instead he made me think that he was a semi-competent waste of my time.

Seriously, before you hit the cc button or reply to all button, think. Does everyone really need to see this e-mail? If you want your e-mails to make an impact, reduce their number.

Joke Forwarding - it's OK to forward the occasional joke or funny site. Just keep it in proportion, don't over load people's inboxes with junk and certainly make sure whatever you forward is appropriate for your work environment.

Understand the Medium - people often fail to realize that e-mail does not communicate tone very well. Consequently, something that would sound very innocent and non-confrontational given the right tone in a face to face conversation, can sound like a full frontal assault when written in an e-mail. Before you hit that send button, re-read your e-mail and make sure that your intention comes through even when the reader has a different mindset from your own. I frequently end up re-writing an e-mail to avoid possible misinterpretation after I re-read it. You know what, sometimes even that isn't enough. By the way, NEVER, ever send an e-mail when you are upset.

Here are a few other career related posts from around the PF blogosphere:

The Simple Dollar has a post about how work and personal life balance and what frugality has to do with it all.

The Smarter Wallet has a proposal for folks who have recently lost their jobs: start a business.

Squawkfox has a series of posts about resume writing, the latest of which talks about three popular formats.

Boston Gal has a post about different ways of handling unemployment. Well, actually it's a Boston Globe story, but it's still worth reading.

Digerati Life has a post about how to use social networks for career development.

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