Email or Fail: Preparing Youth for Professional Communication
By Camille Elmore
Imagine the case of two upcoming high school graduates seeking summer internships before entering college in the fall. The students notice a poster in the library advertising an available internship position, which contains a contact name and email address, but no application instructions. One student sends the following email:
Hi, my name is Pat Pupil and I am writing to you to ask if it is possible to get more information on the internship that the library is and if it would be possible to join the program as well. Thank you.
The second student sends the following email:
Good Morning Ms. Livre,
My name is Sidney Student and I am an upcoming graduate of Hastings High School. I learned of the library’s summer internship program from a poster during my recent visit to the library.
I am emailing to find more information about how to apply for the internship program. I have attached my resume, and I am happy to provide any additional required information.
I hope to hear from you soon about internship opportunities at the library. Thank you for your time and consideration.
555-555-5555 - email@example.com
Hopefully, both students will receive further information about the library internship program, but the librarian may feel considerably more excited to reply to Sidney Student due to the professional, respectful, and enthusiastic tone conveyed in the second message. Composing an effective email is an under-appreciated art. Many young adults move from high school to college or careers with little knowledge about how to craft messages that are compelling and professional, yet simple.
An Argument for Etiquette
In a 2017 New York Times opinion piece, Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, describes becoming exasperated with poorly written emails from students. Worthen resorted to attaching a page to her syllabus which contained guidelines for polite and grammatically correct emails (Worthen, 2017). Career professionals can help youth avoid these early missteps in their college and career journey by giving them email etiquette tools for their level of development.
Communication has been identified as one of the most critical soft skills that enables youth ages 15-29 to be successful in the workplace (Lippman et al., 2015). Career professionals striving to prepare young adults with communication skills often focus on elements such as tone of voice and body language. These elements of communication are crucial, of course, but efforts to equip young adults with tools to express themselves effectively when visual and vocal communication are unavailable are equally imperative.
Seven Email Elements
An effective email goes far beyond proper grammar and spelling. Capturing the nuances of professional email communication is a challenge, but career professionals may begin with defining seven important elements of an effective email:
- The Subject.
Youth need to know that adding a subject to their email is crucial. An email subject alerts the recipient of the content and purpose of the email. An email subject should be concise, ideally no more than 6-9 words.
- The Greeting.
Rather than “Hey” or “Hi,” youth may see more success from their emails if they include the recipient’s name and a slightly more formal greeting such as “Hello” or “Good Afternoon.”
It is crucial for youth to be instructed to introduce themselves at the beginning of an email to someone new. An introduction should include name and context. Youth can give context by saying how they are connected to their recipient, or how they got their email. Career professionals may opt to apply principles of professional introduction skills to email messages. Students may implement a brief, written “elevator pitch” that summarizes their accomplishments and shows understanding and interest of the individual or organization they are emailing. For example, when emailing a librarian about an internship opportunity, a student could mention that they have enjoyed attending the library’s book clubs and would like to gain experience organizing similar community events. Youth can also learn to add polite phrases like “I hope you’re having a great start to your week!” if they have emailed the recipient before.
- Purpose of the Email.
Youth should be prepared to clearly and succinctly articulate the purpose of their emails. Giving youth prompts such as “I am emailing to…” and “I am writing to follow up on…” may prove helpful.
- Follow Up Information.
It is important for youth to know that they need to close their emails with information about how they expect their recipient to follow up. Examples of follow up information that may be useful for youth are “I look forward to hearing from you soon” and “Please contact me should you need any more information.”
- Closing Line.
Before the signature, youth should add a closing line to politely end the email. There are many acceptable examples, including “Sincerely” and “Best Regards.”
Career professionals can emphasize the importance of ending emails with a professional signature which should include a full name, phone number, and professional email address.
Once career professionals have equipped students with knowledge of email elements, they may consider covering additional factors of email etiquette such as having a professional email address, acceptable response times, and when and when not to use email. In high school career development programs, email prompt assignments, offers to proofread particularly crucial email messages, and email templates can all be helpful.
Common Sense Curriculum
Some less formal work and college environments may not require honed email skills. Regardless, youth participating in high school career development program will benefit from learning how to express themselves professionally through email. These email basics may seem like simple common sense, but youth without a good grasp on this medium of print communication, such as Pat Pupil, are likely to opt for casual, one-line messages. Career professionals, don’t neglect to “attach” or incorporate email etiquette to your youth career readiness curriculum!
Lippman, L., Ryberg, R., Carney, R., & Moore, K. A. (2015, June). Key “soft skills” that foster youth workforce success: Toward a consensus across fields. Child Trends. https://www.childtrends.org/publications/key-soft-skills-that-foster-youth-workforce-success-toward-a-consensus-across-fields
Worthen, M. (2017, May 13). U can't talk to ur professor like this. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/opinion/sunday/u-cant-talk-to-ur-professor-like-this.html
Camille Elmore is a Job Developer for the AAMA Work and Learn Center in Houston, Texas. In this role, Camille works with opportunity youth ages 16-24 and connects them with educational, employment, and internship opportunities. She is passionate about eliminating the opportunity gap and giving young adults the tools to achieve their goals. In her spare time, Camille is a runner, reader, and wannabe world traveler. Camille can be reached via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/camilleelmore
Meg Gerry on Monday 03/01/2021 at 08:47 AM
Such an important skill for youth to develop. Great article Camille!
Lisa Coleman on Monday 03/01/2021 at 05:41 PM
Great article Camille! Thank you.
Angela Bourassa on Tuesday 03/02/2021 at 10:23 AM
What a wonderful article! It points out a veritable fact that many of us face while working with high school students. Thank you Camille for bringing up an important topic that should never be overlooked when working with young adults.
Dave McCall on Tuesday 03/02/2021 at 09:27 PM
Great article Camille. Such an important topic for today's youth (both high school and college).
Janet Salvador on Tuesday 03/09/2021 at 01:51 PM
Thank you, Camille! I will definitely share with the students. Such wonderful practical tips!
Dalia Ammar on Thursday 03/11/2021 at 05:53 PM
Nice and simple. Thank you!