Email Etiquette 101

In a world where smart phones mean everyone expects instant replies, an unanswered professional email can be seen as "no news is bad news". But in reality, no reply does not mean rejection. Learn how to deal with this, and other email issues, here.

A big problem with online communication is that, unlike face-to-face interactions, there is no clear sense of how long a silence should last and when to properly respond. While people can easily check devices such as their smart phone, they often make a mental note to respond and simply forget. Fear of commitment to a request or a hesitation to say no is another big cause for professional hesitation in responses. There is also the chance that your correspondent put aside your email to give a longer thoughtful reply, and then waited too long and now feels the email would be untimely.

But not getting a reply can leave a lot of negative assumptions. As you anxiously wait for a response, job seekers often spend useless energy mentally searching for some slight or mistake that would cause a problem. Many are uncomfortable with silence, so people assume that "no response is the new no" but that isn't always the case.

When waiting to hear back from an email, especially if you are seeking a job, there are some common rules that need to be followed. Regardless of who the email was sent to, wait one full business week before following up. Say you send an email on Wednesday, and it is now Friday and you haven't heard back. Instead of stressing during the weekend and immediately shooting off another email, make yourself wait until the next Wednesday. Just because you don't get an immediate response does not mean you will not get a response in a couple of days.

If it has been more than a week, feel free to send another email, but DON'T have it be another request for help or a "just wanted to check in with you about...." email. Instead, find something like an online article that you think they would find interesting, and just pass it on with a simple note. Because your correspondent most likely knows they haven't responded to you and feel badly about it, a gentle reminder that you are a connection and some restraint from asking the obvious question can get you more respect and help in the long run. After all, you have to give, to get, and showing your contacts that you care will get you further than sending annoying reminders.

And if all else fails, an unanswered email can often be solved by a phone call. Not knowing is worse in most cases than hearing a "no" or something that isn't ideal. Clearing the air by picking up the phone can sometimes be the easiest thing for everyone.