10 ways email can derail your job chances

Job seekers often spend hours perfecting their resumes and agonizing over their cover letters, and then blow it all by sending an email that comes across unprofessional.

Here are 10 ways that a single email can ruin your chances of getting an interview or a job.

1. Sharing an email account with a spouse. Employers don’t want to feel like they’re email job-related correspondence to your significant other. If your email address makes it clear that someone shares it with you (like GeorgeAndKristy@email.com), it’s time to get your own separate email account for job-searching. They’re free, after all.

2. Using an unprofessional email signature. If your email signature contains political or religious messages, long quotations, or “inspirational” messages, you risk turning off your recipient and signaling that you don’t know what’s appropriate for the professional communications.

3. Using unusual fonts. There’s a fairly narrow range of acceptable fonts for emails. If you’re emailing using Comic Sans, you’re going to come across as unprofessional and a bit uncomfortable with technology. A good email font is one that doesn’t make the reader think about what font you used.

4. Using email “stationaries.” Email isn’t a written letter; it doesn’t require a stationary. Using borders of flowers around your email text looks tacky and unprofessional.

5. Making recipients jump through anti-spam hoops to respond. We all want to get less spam, but if you make someone fill out an anti-spam form in order to get their email through to you, you might find that some employers just don’t bother.

6. Not checking your spam folder. If you’re conducting a job search, make sure that you check your spam folder every day. A surprising number of emails from employers can end up in there. You might be sitting around wondering why no one has gotten back to you when in fact there’s a response or two in your spam folder right now. Go look.

7. Sending one email with your resume and cover letter to multiple employers. Whether you put them all in the “to” line or bcc them all, there’s no better way to signal that you’re just mass-mailing your materials out, rather than conducting a customized, targeted job search.

8. Having an unprofessional email address. If you like to traverse the Web as “Sexy Mama” or “Partying Paul,” get a different email address for job searching. Addresses like these are so unprofessional that they will trump anything else about your application.

9. Formatting your email like a business letter. When you’re sending a letter through postal mail, business formatting dictates that you include the date, your address, and the recipient’s address at the top of the letter. However, when you’re emailing someone, there’s no need to include any of that info, and doing so makes you look like you don’t use email much.

10. Using your work email account to apply for other jobs. A surprising number of resume submissions come from candidates’ current work email address. If you’re using work time to search for another job, employers will assume you’ll do the same to them.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I could be wrong, but I’m in the doubting group with #9 in regards to derailing a job chance. Whether it is snail mail or email, it’s still a business correspondence. I’d rather write it a little more formally when I initially contact an employer. After that, then I leave out those types of formalities and just begin with “Dear Mr./Ms. So-and-so:” But I don’t think it means someone doesn’t use email too often.

    In the email category, I think the real derailment will be the informal way people write. I get messages from people saying “Hey there” or “LOL” or even “:-)”!!!! Also, just poor grammar and spelling errors will get you derailed more so than being formal in the way you speak of.

      1. moe*

        On the other hand, it may be printed out for someone to review, in which case the formal way could make for an easier read. Even if I don’t print, I also prefer the formality of letter format when reviewing cover letters, and I’m far from a technophobe.

        Seems like a personal preference thing that wouldn’t “derail” anybody’s chances with most managers, imo–just may seem odd to some.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No one’s getting rejected for it, but it’s going to impact the way you’re perceived … and I’d rather you not be perceived as old-fashioned and out-of-date with technology!

          1. Blue Dog*

            I agree. It is sort of like having an AOL account. I received a resume with one a couple weeks ago. Seriously?

            Also, we received a resume for an attorney position and everything looked really good. 20 years experience. Big firm. Then we saw the email address was something similar to “woodland faery @ whatever.com”. After that, in discussing multiple candidates, that became the “handle” that stuck: (Q: Which one was that? A: You know, Woodland Faery.”) Kinda hard to overcome that.

            BTW – sorry I didn’t include a date and return address in this post, since it is sort of job related.

      2. KayDay*

        I think Anonymous was saying that s/he still keeps his business emails business-y. I too would strongly recommend that candidates still include a salutation (Dear Ms. Greene,) and a formal closing (Best regards, KayDay) with a signature and basic contact info. I do wish “formal email format” was taught to people at some point. (If emails are printed out, the date/from/to is usually included).

        Also, you wrote a post disagreeing with this, but personally I think letters sent as attachments (or uploaded) should be in normal business letter format.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh, they should definitely include a salutation and closing! They just shouldn’t include the formatting that you’d use in a traditional business letter — the date and address at the top, because you don’t need those in email.

          1. fposte*

            I missed this–you’re suggesting people not use the date and address at the top of attached cover letters, too? Huh. I don’t think I actually have a strong preference, as a manager; I’m just trying to think what I usually see.

            1. KayDay*

              @fposte–oops! sorry, that was misleading. There was a short answer a few days/weeks ago where she said it was okay to skip the inside/outside address blocks in an attached letter to save space.

              (Personally, I think a formal business letter (not an email!) should always be formatted like a business letter, but that’s just me.)

              Sorry again for the confusion!

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I said definitely don’t do it in the body of the email itself, but for letters that are being sent as an attachment to an email, it’s just unnecessary (but not problematic).

      3. Anonymous*

        Note that I’m saying it for every single email you send to the same employer; I’m saying it for the initial contact.

        In fact, I have done that in an email, and I got the job. The employer knew I am tech savvy (in other words, not “old-fashioned” or “naive”); I know I use a lot more technology than quite a few of my other coworkers.

        I don’t think you can go wrong with it. Since when did being business formal become being naive? Because it’s not done in an email? Old-fashioned? Sure, I’d rather be accused of that instead of someone who writes out an email as if they are writing to their best friend on Instant Messenger (oops, isn’t that “old-fashioned” now?) or better yet, Facebook.

        And like what Moe writes, the information is thre if they want to print it out and to add, it is there if they don’t want to go searching through attachments or papers on their desks. And while the date is printed out, it is only the email address is the “from” that’s printed; it doesn’t help the employer if s/he wants to call you.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Look, I’m just telling you it’s unnecessary and looks (to most people) like you’re old-fashioned and out-of-touch with technology. Do what you want with that.

        2. Anonymous*

          Which is why including a nice signature line with your phone number is a very good idea, for jobs searches my signature line had complete info on me. But e-mails aren’t mailed letters. The employer knows who they are and formatting them like your letters that your english teacher made you write in grade school will make you look old fashioned. There is a land between Old Fashioned and l33t. And most people can find it.

          1. Anonymous*

            Eva – I know what you’re getting at, and I am just merely pointing out that AAM’s perception of how she would receive such an email – which is a perception she’s entitled too – may not represent how all employers will receive my email nor does it represent me accurately (in saying that I am naive or out-of-touch with technology). If an employer gets that bent out of shape because I put my contact information and the date in a blocked format at the beginning of the email (attachments or not) and makes rash decisions solely based on that, then I’m sorry to say its their problem. I know of a few employers who called me in for interviews, and my latest employer hired me after this “practice.”

            It’ll probably become a non-issue when the art of snail mail letters becomes extinct and those ideas of blocked addresses and dates die with the last of the letter writers.

  2. anonymous*

    Regarding stationary on an email…not only does it look tacky, but it takes longer to open. I’ve had people send me email with a specific stationary, and it takes 10 times as long just to open it as it does other emails. If I have to wait and twiddle my thumbs for an email to open, I’m just not going to open it.

  3. Hannah*

    If you make a new email address for business communications but carry on using your embarrassing old email address for everything else, be extremely careful of how you set up the forwarding or the push to your smartphone.

    Even if it takes some work to change all your accounts over and let your friends know, you’re better off just completely switching to an email address that won’t ever cause you embarrassment.

    I have a friend who swore she was replying to an email from her professional address on her smartphone, but she later found out she had been replying from her personal address, which happens to be so unprofessional that most spam filters don’t let it through.

    Even if you aren’t on a smartphone, be aware that if you set up an email address to forward to your personal gmail account, gmail will send any replies you send as “professional.address@gmail.com via personal.address@gmail.com“.

    1. A Bug!*

      Agreed. I’ve long since switched to using a form of my name for my e-mail address, as I dislike juggling multiple addresses (with the exception of the Hotmail address I use to sign up for non-professional things that might spam me).

    2. Cristin Anne*

      You can actually easily change that in your gmail settings. I have all my e-mail forward to my unprofessional address because, out of long habit, it’s the one I’m usually logged into, but e-mails that come into my professional address, when replied to, say they’re coming from my professional address even though I never logged into the other account.

      Go into your gmail mail settings. Click on “Accounts and Import”. Scroll down. Add the other e-mail address you own, if it’s not already set there. Then, under “When replying to a message”, select “Reply from the same address the message was sent to.” And you’re done.

  4. A Bug!*

    #3: Also, pink is not an appropriate font colour for your professional correspondence. Not only is it distracting, “unique” colours often don’t print cleanly.

    #2: The same goes for images in your signature. Doubly so if it’s animated (it also slows the receipt, as described in #4 for stationery). And the sanctimonious “Do you REALLY have to print this e-mail? Think about the trees!” Environmentalism’s not unimportant, but that sort of finger-wagging isn’t changing any minds.

    #4: E-mail stationery bugs the heck out of me because I have to go out of my way to take it out when I reply. (It doesn’t bug me enough to find out if there’s a way to make that happen automatically, only enough that I roll my eyes when it happens.)

    #6: And whatever you do, don’t follow up with the company about why you haven’t gotten a response unless you’ve confirmed that it hasn’t been caught by a spam filter!

  5. fposte*

    No receipt confirmations. It’s not unreasonable to want to know if it got there, but don’t make me do more work to get to your application.

    1. Jamie*

      Yes! I resent receipt confirmations in almost all instances – the one exception being correspondence related to internal or external audits.

      I have no logical reason to hate them – I just do.

      1. A Bug!*

        It’s perfectly logical to resent them. It’s understandable that you can’t put your finger on why. I’m having trouble putting it into words myself, but to me a read receipt signals that the sender is making a demand of you that the sender isn’t really in a position to be making. It’s also a demand that kind of implies that you’re not to be trusted to handle your e-mails appropriately.

        Okay, you want to know when I’ve read the e-mail. Guess what? You’ll know I’ve read the e-mail when I reply to the e-mail. You can eat a box of dirt if you think you’re going to get a read receipt from me for something that I’m going to be replying to.

        Exception, of course, in situations like you describe. If you’re sending a legally-important document or performing some sort of audit, then a read receipt may be warranted. I have yet to run into such a case out of all the “read receipt” requests I’ve received.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I hate them too. And it’s important to keep in mind that they can be wrong. For instance, I have my email set up to automatically move any incoming emails that contain resumes into a special folder. Because they’re being instantly moved out of my in-box, apparently some senders get a message that I deleted their email. I didn’t — it was just moved somewhere else. So then I get emails saying, “I got an email saying you deleted my email within seconds of receiving it,” which I then need to respond to. It’s annoying.

    2. Malissa*

      I just don’t understand the hatred for read receipts. Especially since it’s so easy to make it an automatic function. My email is set to always send the receipt if requested. I never see the box. I also know that it’s possible to turn the setting so all receipts requests are ignored.

      1. fposte*

        Unfortunately, I have limited configuration options on my software, and that’s not one of them. So if you’re an applicant, do you want to take a chance of making a bad first impression with a receipt confirmation knowing that many people don’t like them?

        1. Malissa*

          Ah, I can see the point. I thought that was an option in all email programs. Well except free web mail, where no such thing exists. I always use my free web mail account to apply for jobs anyway. So I guess I’m good.

          1. Anonymous*

            I thought that was an option in all email programs

            Well, I’m pretty sure I never saw such an option in pine or mutt…. and I’d bet money that mail has no such option. Indeed, I doubt any of those even understand the request itself, let alone know how to reply. Why would they?

      2. Diana*

        Hah. I always click not to send the read receipt unless the sender sent it to a huge e-mail group, then I just hope everyone sends the read receipt and floods their e-mail. Petty, I know.

  6. Jamie*

    “#3: Also, pink is not an appropriate font colour for your professional correspondence. Not only is it distracting, “unique” colours often don’t print cleanly.”

    This. It’s a shame through, because few things in life make me happier than the color pink. But even I, as I sit here amidst a pink stapler, pink paperclips, and a pink Hello Kitty flash drive lanyard would reject pink font as unprofessional.

    “#2: The same goes for images in your signature.

    Another thing to keep in mind about the sig tag with jpg, gif, or bmp files is that they can often get tossed as spam but tight parameters on the companies email server or service. It happens a lot where settings are tweaked and all of a sudden regular correspondents have issues.

    Keep the sig tag in text and you’ll be fine.

    1. A Bug!*

      Now that you mention it, I have had e-mails end up in my spam folder for no apparent reason and I think the common thread is that they had small images in their signatures. Thank you for solving my mini-mystery!

    2. Anonymous*

      I’ve always found .procmailrc to be an ideal way of dealing with such emails. Send them all on an easy and painless trip to /dev/null

  7. Anonymous*

    Of course, you mean “stationery,” which is properly spelled in the US News column. Are the quote marks around “stationary” (which means “standing still” or “not moving”) intended to signal to the reader that you misspelled it intetionally? If so, what’s your point?

    1. Brightwanderer*

      My god. If only someone could weaponise the concentrated condescension in that comment, we could TAKE OVER THE WORLD! :O

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Bright – it IS unprofessional, especially when you’re ranting about something minor like having/not having a business letter style header in an email (I don’t do that, by the way).

        However, we all have typos now and then, and they should be overlooked if you can figure out what the person meant.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Seriously? If you guys want me to proof everything I write here with the same care that I’d take with professional correspondence, the number of posts here will go down significantly. I write casually here, just as the commenters do.

          1. Jennifer*

            You’re fantastic, AAM.

            As much as I’m a stickler for correct spelling and proper grammar, I would much rather have more posts from you and ignore the occasional typo.

            We all know by now (or should, anyway) that you do, in fact, know how to spell and that any misspelling is more likely a typo than not.

            As for Anonymous, based on her logic, I would have to assume the misspelling of “intetionally” was intentional. What could she have meant by that, I wonder? :)

          2. fposte*

            There was a great old Usenet newsgroup that had a convention that you didn’t unsolicitedly correct somebody’s spelling errors and a convention of deliberately misspelling a few commonly used words. Call it bait if you like, but it made the point about group practice swiftly and vividly.

        2. Brightwanderer*

          Leaving aside the question of whether or not a blog requires a professional level of proofreading, here is how you point out that sort of thing (if you think it needs pointing out):

          “Hi, AAM, I noticed you have stationary for stationery up top. ” (plus, one would hope, some sort of positive comment on the article.)

          The previous comment a) assumes that AAM doesn’t know the difference between the words b) ‘assumes’ that it ‘must be intentional’ because… what, no-one makes typos in their world? and c) phrases this all in the most astoundingly patronising way. Hence my own response.

  8. Tami*

    #8 – I could not agree more. Having an unprofessional e-mail address will trump everything else about you. Please, please, PLEASE get a separate e-mail address for business e-mails.

    True story, I had someone apply for a job, and his e-mail address was: cherrypopper1234@__________.com. Seriously? I felt completely creeped out by that e-mail address, and could not hit “delete” fast enough. He could have had the best resume on the planet, but I honestly could not get past what his e-mail address said about him….unprofessional and completely disgusting.

    1. Blue Dog*

      Classy. Suddenly the “Woodland Faery” is looking great by comparison. I wonder if she has found another job yet…..

  9. Jaime*

    #3 and #4 – these

    One person on our protocol committee used to send department-wide emails with stationery, cursive font and pink or purple letters. It was terrible and was actually difficult to read.

  10. Anonymous*

    These are great — you hit most of my pet peeves!

    Also, why do people email potential employers with attachments named something like “resume3_UPDATED_for PRjobs.doc?” This drives me crazy!

    1. Miri*

      I sometimes send out my resume with the general job title in the file name: “Miri Smith resume – project manager.doc” or similar. I must have picked it up from a career advice hub somewhere – I think the idea was to make it as hard as possible for the hiring manager to misplace it or not remember who you are, which now that I think about it is a bit condescending really.

    2. Miri*

      And, I’ve just remembered, also send out resumes titled eg “Miri Smith resume updated Jan 2012”. Which I’m also starting to rethink.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think using your name is fine. It’s when you get into stuff like “updated Jan2012” that it starts being more info than you should share. (I once got one that said something like “updatedDec2009” and it was 2011.)

  11. Christine*

    I love this post.

    So, I hire a lot of people, but we have recruiters who pre-screen and VERY kindly summarize candidates’ experience levels and strip out crazy formatting from their resumes. I thought that was great, but I didn’t realize how great it was until I did some freelance recruiting recently. Those recruiters need a raise. The level of stupid that job seekers exhibit is stunningly depressing.

    My war story on bad email addresses, thanks to that boondoggle: Afternoon of day 1 of job posting, receive email from uninteresting candidate, who has the interesting email address of, let’s say, inept-sex-bimbo@email.com. Evening of day 1, I am sending rejection emails out, and I send one to her. It bounces back, with a notice that her email address is now crazed-sex-bimbo-84@email.com.

    So, we now know that it’s not a matter of her having a legacy childish email address that she’s not smart enough to change; she is in fact technically savvy enough to change it, AND send an auto-response, but for an even worse email address. Total judgment fail. I can only imagine the talents I’m missing by not pursuing her.

    One additional pet peeve on unprofessional email addresses is inclusion of year of birth, which is surprisingly common. Why do people think this is a good idea?

    1. Evan the College Student*

      I think people include their year of birth because their preferred email address is already taken, so they append the first number that comes to mind. My middle school math team coach had his zip code at the end of his email address – okay for the moment, but what if he moved? I could see someone including year of birth.

      (Though, I’d recommend trying for another email address rather than appending a number. My LastnameFirstinitial was already taken, so I just opted instead for LastnameFirstinitialMiddleinitial, which works perfectly fine.)

  12. Mary*

    I once had a person applying for a job accidentally leave in his automatic signature a link to his web site, which involved alien related adult content (I didn’t even know such a thing existed!). I still hired him as he is a renowned expert (specialized in a rare field where it is hard to find good candidates), but definitely got a good laugh out of that one! The funny thing is, I actually hadn’t noticed the link until he called to apologize for not removing it in his correspondence with me.

  13. Joe Schmoe*

    we all know if someone prints an email out, the email address, date, and time that it was sent is printed on there as well. I agree, leave it off. It will work against you and make you look “out of touch” with current business trends.

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