You know the feeling. You’ve just sent an email to some sort of significant person — perhaps a professor, a prospective employer or just some important professional in general — when you see it. It’s a typo. Maybe you spelled your name incorrectly, or used “they’re” when you meant “there.” Maybe you accidentally used two exclamation points. Maybe you accidentally forgot to include your phone number or attach your resume.
We’ve all experienced these kinds of minor-league email fiascos. And let’s face it: Screwing up online is embarrassing. Fortunately, most digital mistakes are salvageable — especially if you just dropped the wrong incorrect form of “you’re” in a chat with your chemistry teaching assistant. (After all, he probably won’t even notice.)
Unfortunately, not all email snafus can be so easily fixed. Just ask Max Wiseltier, a sophomore at New York University. When Wiseltier received a tuition-related informational email from the Office of the Bursar, he did what many college students might do — he forwarded the message to his mom. Unfortunately for Wiseltier, his plans went awry. Instead of hitting “forward,” he clicked “reply all” – inadvertently sending his personal email to the university’s 40,000 students. Oops.
The ensuing (and seemingly never-ending) train of reply-all emails that followed — dubbed “Replyallcalypse” by the media — made national headlines. According to NYU Local, students used the email thread to express their frustration with the university email system, reflect on nuances of collegiate life and even share pictures of cats.
Wiseltier, of course, isn’t the only one to endure a complete email disaster — and, for job applicants, the stakes of an ill-conceived email can be high.
Back in August, one job searcher — known to the virtual world only as Matthew – found himself in the midst of a viral catastrophe after he sent his resume to a trading firm. When his prospective employer asked him to add some “color” to his application, Matthew took that advice literally, replying to his recruiter in purple. And green. And yellow. In Comic Sans.
Matthew, of course, isn’t alone. Just one month earlier, another job seeker accidentally attached a .jpg of Nicolas Cage to her job application — thinking the silly photograph of the National Treasure star was, indeed, her resume.
When you apply for jobs or correspond with professors, you want these authority figures to perceive you as confident and competent. Unfortunately, animated .gifs and disastrous reply alls do little to convey a professional demeanor.
How, then, to best avert disaster? A few quick solutions:
- • Technology is your friend. Use Gmail? Make the most of the website’s features. The “Undo Send” lab promises to let users “stop messages from being sent for a few seconds after hitting the send button.” Other websites have similar features.
- • Don’t rely on spell check. A computer can tell you if you put that rogue “e” in judgment. A computer, however, doesn’t know if you wrote “butt” when you meant to write “but.”
- • Give your files reasonable names. After a night of caffeine-induced internship applications, it’s tempting to save your investment-banking resume as fghfhgdh.doc. Unfortunately, if all your documents have gibberish titles, how can you tell which is which? Even if an employer might not see the title you’ve given your resume — if, for instance, you’re using your university’s digital recruiting service — that’s no excuse for titles written in gobbledegook, lest you upload fghfhgdf.doc instead of fghfhgdh.doc.
- • Slow down. In our age of digital media — and in our busy college schedules — it’s always tempting to get things done quickly. But in the world of smart online communication, slow and steady wins the race. Save that important email as a draft, and come back to it 15 minutes later to review and revise it with fresh eyes. After all, if you give yourself a moment to breathe, you’ll probably notice that what you once thought was your resume is, in fact, Nicolas Cage.
And, if nothing else, don’t reply all.
Have you ever experienced a disastrous email snafu? Let us know in the comments below.
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