6 Steps to Being a Professional via Email

I was talking to a surgeon friend of mine about applicants for their surgery internship program.  She told me they had three general pools- amazing, middling, and not-ranking. She emailed one applicant from each pool to set up a time to chat about the program.  Their responses fell out exactly as the group had already placed them.

The not-rankable applicant replied 4 days after the initial email, on Jan. 4th, “Hey, that sounds good.  How about 1/6 at 5pm?”

First, there was no address line.  Second, they only provided a single time.  Third, my friend had clearly instructed the applicants to schedule time the week of 1/7. Fourth, they were proposing a weekend, which is a bit of an imposition. Fifth, they only gave my friend 2 days to figure out the scheduling.  Clearly, this person does not have their act together, so will not be ranked.

The middling applicant replied within 24 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you for the offer.  I am available 1/7 at 11am or 1/8 at 12pm.”

This applicant included a form of address and provided two options during the week indicated.  A fairly reasonable response, so clearly a decent applicant. However, the applicant did not confirm the date once it was set or check in the day before. Furthermore, the applicant then did not answer the phone at the appointed time, moving them pretty close to the ‘not ranking’ pool.

The amazing applicant replied within 4 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you so much for the offer to talk.  I am very interested to hear about your program. I am available the following times: 1/7 11am, 1/8 12pm, 1/9 3pm.  Please let me know which works best for you, or if there is another time which would be better. Thank you again and I look forward to speaking with you.”

This applicant is clearly enthusiastic, appreciative, and engaged.  They had a rapid response, gave numerous options, and overall just presented a proper, professional image via email.  They also followed up 24 hours before the set time to confirm the day and time. Of COURSE they’re at the top of the applicant pile.

Responding professionally in an email does not seem particularly burdensome to me, but from this small sample, we can see that it is a skill which not everyone possesses.  And these are applicants for a surgery internship, who have done a rotating internship already, and, presumably, want an extremely exclusive position as a surgery resident.

EVERY email my surgeon friend gets from these applicants should be impeccable. How in the world do these applicants think they are ever going to get a residency position?  Okay, enough of my ranting, here’s what you have to do, Applicants of the World:

1) Respond promptly. This doesn’t necessarily mean in the same hour, but if you can respond the same day, that indicates you are enthusiastic and eager.  “But what if I’m in surgery all day!” Sure, but you do go home eventually, don’t you? When you do, send a reply.

2) Demonstrate enthusiasm.  Yes, you may be enthusiastic on the inside, but if you can’t express that, the reader does not know.  Show your enthusiasm in your word choice and what you say.

3) Be courteous. Respect the recipient’s time and energy.  If they are trying to schedule a time with you, give THEM as many options as possible and be willing to defer your time for theirs.  Don’t expect them to move their schedule for yours. Give plenty of notice.

4) Follow up.  If you have communicated about an appointment, send an email to confirm the day before.  If you have sent an email and don’t hear back, send a check-in message.

5) Use a form of address.  This one’s simple. In professional correspondence with people you do not know, address them properly in the email.  “Dear Dr. X,” or “Dear Mr./Ms. Y.” It’s not hard, it doesn’t take much time, it doesn’t cost any more. Why NOT do this?

6) Proofread.  Always proof your emails before sending them out.  I’d say a solid 10% of my own emails have some kind of typo I pick up after writing them which I would not have noticed if I hadn’t proofed them.

So, there you go.  Pretty simple steps to make sure your emails get perceived as professional.  Please share this around so that every email I get from now on will be wonderfully polished.

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