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Dear oh dear! Evolving email etiquette

13 Jan 11 - 12:00AM  | General

By Sue Walder

Last week an article in the Wall Street Journal suggested that using ‘Dear ...’ at the start of business letters, emails and texts was dying out. In the USA more people are using ‘Hey...’ instead.

Why? ‘Dear’ is thought to be too “intimate” and “overly familiar” for use in business emails.

Here in the UK, most of us would think the opposite is true. ‘Dear’ is considered a polite form of address.  Using ‘hi’ (the English version of ‘hey’) may be taken as too casual or simply not professional.

And yet, with the rise of the internet, email and texting the way we communicate has certainly changed.  So it’s not surprising that the etiquette for correspondence has also evolved. Knowing when to be formal and when to be casual, yet polite, is something job seekers need to pay attention to.

Clearly the type of greeting and sign-off you use will depend on who you’re contacting and why.

In the UK, business letters are still expected to start with ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Ms Smith’ and finish with the sign-off ‘Yours sincerely’.

With emails there’s more flexibility in terms of how you address people, yet there’s still a need to be polite and formal when necessary. After all, you wouldn’t address a potential employer the same way you’d greet a friend (innit, lol!).

Being a friendly lot, the team at pfj tend to use ‘Hi’ in emails to both candidates and clients.  However, internal emails sometimes won’t even contain a greeting. 

So, how should job seekers steer a path through this potential minefield and ensure they set the right tone and make a good first impression?

Here are a few tips:

First contact & formal cover letters

• Always use ‘Dear (name)’ and sign-off with ‘Yours sincerely’, ‘Yours’, or ‘Many thanks’.
Regular email contact
•         Once you’ve exchanged a few emails with your recruitment consultant it’s acceptable to use ‘Hi’, or their first name as the greeting and a less formal sign-off such as ‘Best regards’, ‘Kind regards’, or just ‘Regards’.
•         It’s a good idea to set up an auto signature that automatically types your preferred sign-off with your name and contact details at the end of each email.
•         With long email chains the greeting and sign-off may be dropped after the first few emails.

Contact with potential employers

•         Always use a formal greeting and sign-off with senior people.
•         Be polite but less formal with admin staff (e.g. To confirm interview arrangements).
•         Letters and emails sent to accept a job should use the formal ‘Dear (name)’ greeting but you could use ‘Looking forward to working with you’ as a more personal sign-off.
•         Follow-up emails or letters requesting feedback when you weren’t offered the position should always be friendly yet formal – keep the tone professional. 

But over to you – what’s your experience with evolving email etiquette?

You can find Sue's blog, Having A Word, here.

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