The Essential Emailing Skills That Make Michigan Ross Students the Best Interns

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By Don Chao, BBA ‘17

This is the first in a series of posts authored by Michigan Ross Career Services Peer Coaches. Peer Coaches are undergraduate students working with Career Services to help their fellow students prepare for interviews and on-the-job success. Click here to read more from this series


Email is still king of office communication––and as we enter the workforce, it’s crucial that we understand how to use this tool efficiently so that we spend more time being productive, and less time responding to messages all day.

Over the years, I’ve discovered four indispensable tips for managing my inbox, organizing my writing, and getting a faster response. If you’re preparing to enter the workforce or start an internship this summer, this guide will help you stay on top of your e-mail and impress your employers.

Key Takeaways:

  1. State “the ask” (key takeaway, request, or question) of the email first in the intro, then delve into the details in the body of the email.
  2. Outline emails using labels, numbering, and bullet points, when appropriate.
  3. Organize your inbox and read emails folder with subfolders so you can find and respond to emails quickly.
  4. Evaluate whether email is the most appropriate form of communication in the first place. Depending on the culture of the company, an instant message (such as Slack) may be more appropriate for short messages.
     

Tip #1: State “the ask”

Why?: By stating “the ask” of the email first, you set the context for the reader so that they can properly evaluate the rest of the email and respond appropriately. Some recipients are pressed for time and may be unlikely to respond to longer emails if they cannot identify what the sender is requesting. In cases of long emails with more than two paragraphs, this technique may increase your chances of receiving a timely response.

How I learned this tip: During my sophomore-year internship, I contacted off-site shopper marketing managers to collect their feedback on the analyses I had completed, but did not receive prompt responses because I wasn’t clear about what kind of feedback I needed.
 

Tip #2: Use an Outline Format

Why?: Using labels helps provide context to the reader so they understand what they are about to read and can respond appropriately. Second, labels can help you plan what you need to write in your email; jot down all the labels first, then fill in the content of each label afterwards. In multi-part emails, use lists in the form of bullet points or numbering to make it easy for the recipient to understand all the different components of your message.

Bringing it to life:

Here’s a sample email using both labels and lists to provide structure.

Hi Bill,

I wanted to check in with you about my progress on XXX project. Below is a summary of the analyses I completed today and a few questions I have about the second portion of the project.

Analyses Completed:

  • Analysis I
  • Analysis II

Analyses to Complete Tomorrow:

  • Analysis III
  • Analysis IV

Questions:

  • Question I
  • Question II

Thanks,
Don
 

Tip #3: Organize with subfolders

Why?: A subfolder system (i.e., creating folders within your inbox and read email folders) makes it easy to prioritize your responses and find old emails. For example, you might be working on different projects at the same time and receiving emails for both work and nonwork activities. Organizing these different types of emails in separate folders makes it easier to track your different responsibilities, prioritize your responses, and find old messages when compared to searching through a massive inbox.

How I learned this tip: During my internship at Prophet, I was working on two separate engagements for the same manager at the same time, and had to sift through a massive amount of pages when referencing old emails, because I did not separate emails by project. It was also often difficult to keep track of which emails pertained to which projects, leading to lost time re-reading emails to understand the context.

Bringing it to life:

How to use a subfolder system

  • Create subfolders within your inbox and read emails folders. For an example folder structure, see below.
  • When you receive an email, first skim the body and categorize the email into high, medium, or low priority and place it in the appropriate subfolder, unless you have time to respond to the email immediately and do not have other higher priority emails to respond to.
  • Answer emails starting from high to low priority, moving emails from unread folders to read subfolders as you respond to them.
  • Before opening emails, determine how much time you have available to answer emails. Consider limiting yourself to high priority and quickly answerable/writable emails if you have less than 30 minutes to email.
Example folder structure:
  • Unread email subfolders:

    • High priority: emails that should be read/responded to immediately or within one hour
    • Medium priority: emails that should be read/responded to within a few hours
    • Low priority: emails that should be read/responded to within a day
    • No priority: emails that do not require you to read/respond to (e.g., meeting notes)
       
  • Read email subfolders:

    • Project 1: all read emails about project 1
    • Project 2: all read emails about project 2
    • Social (e.g., emails about networking events, team bonding activities)
    • General (e.g., emails about quarterly company performance)

 

Tip #4: Email or IM

Why?: If your recipient prefers to respond to certain messages using a non-email platform, you may receive a faster response.

Bringing it to Life:

Here are some questions to think through when deciding whether to use email or a different messaging platform.

  • When meeting your manager for the first time, ask them if they use the company instant messenger and when it would be appropriate for you to contact them through instant message.
  • How urgent is the message? If you can wait or the message is not vital for the recipient to read immediately, email might be more appropriate.
  • Is the message short? Messages that cannot be read and answered quickly should not be sent through non-email platforms.
  • How many recipients are there? Do not use instant messenger when sending messages to more than one person.
  • Will you reference the recipient’s response later? If so, email will be more appropriate.
     
Other miscellaneous email efficiency tips:
  • If you have not used Outlook before, take some time prior to your internship to learn how to set up calendar invites and how to view calendar availabilities. You can search for tutorials online and if you have questions, ask the IT department once you begin your internship.
  • When referencing document elements (such as a graph on a PowerPoint slide), include a screenshot of the element directly in the email. This saves the recipient time from having to open the attached document, and may increase the likelihood of a timely response.
  • Instead of pasting a long web address, use hyperlinks or a link shortener (e.g., goo.gl, bitly). This will make it easier for the recipient to copy and share the link, and saves space in your email body.
  • Place your phone number and position title in your email signature so recipients can easily find how to contact you and know who you are.

Whether you have already embraced Inbox Zero or have never sent a corporate email, I hope you have learned some new email tips from this blog post!


Don Chao is a 2017 graduate of the Michigan Ross BBA Program. While at Ross, Don served as a Career Peer Coach with Ross Career Services. Don will begin his career in consumer insights at P&G as an Associate Consumer & Market Knowledge Manager. He previously interned at Prophet Brand Strategy and Unilever.

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