How to e-mail like a pro(fessional)

By Jay Farber

In an internship or summer job, people expect you to generally be competent, but they usually understand that you’re still a college student. For many Tufts students, beginning the networking and interviewing processes is the first time that we really need to act professionally. Being professional isn’t a skill that any class at Tufts teaches, but it’s invaluable in one’s career. Here are some tips about communicating professionally in your internship or job search.

  1. Respond quickly to emails 

    For anyone who’s been in any volunteer student group at Tufts, you know how hard it is to get everyone to respond back to an email. In the outside world people have come to expect certain levels of professionalism and will rely on you to respond appropriately. This isn’t an exact science, and responding more quickly is almost always better, but there’s a general rule of thumb about how quickly you should respond to things.For simple requests or confirmation emails, you should be able to respond within 12-16 hours. These emails take thirty seconds to reply to, and you shouldn’t hold everything up by waiting to respond. For more in-depth emails, the appropriate response time is about 24 hours. This gives you time to think about an answer,  and find the time to sit down and compose a reply.

  2. Openings and closings 

    There are a ton of ways to start and end an email ranging from the informal (Hey Fred…See ya soon! –John) to the very formal (Dear Mr. Jones: … Sincerely, John Doe). It is important to consider the types of people you’re writing to, but there’s a happy medium that works for most professionals. Consider writing all initial emails using the person’s prefix and last name (Mr. Obama, not Barack), and starting with either “Dear” or “Hi”. Then, if you get a response back that has their first name at the bottom, you should feel free to use that name.For the ending to your message, there are a bunch of appropriate options. I personally prefer the “Best,” approach, because it’s short, sweet, and appropriate in all circumstances. The ‘regards’ family is also appropriate, though (“Kind Regards”, “Best Regards”, “Regards”), and if you are thanking them for something then “Thanks!” can also be effective.

  3. Be concise 

    These are busy professionals. You may think you’re busy as a student, but when you were out partying on that Tuesday night you can bet that a lot of these folks were hitting the sack after a grueling 12-hour day. Even if you do work harder than they do, people always want to feel like they’re working hard, so it’s important to recognize that. You can say that explicitly (“I understand the _____ lifestyle can be extremely hectic, and I appreciate your time”), but the most important thing is to keep it short.One easy way to do this is to play a game with yourself after you write each professional email. See how much you can take out of the email while still having it convey what you want. This way your email becomes something that your recipient will feel like they can read, understand, and deal with quickly. This makes them more likely to respond at all, which is of course the ultimate goal.

If you’re interested in the internship/job search now, or want to learn more about economics at Tufts, think about joining the Tufts Economics Society’s elist. We send out career opportunities and host events about economics and economics-related careers. Sign up by sending an email from your preferred address (include your name please!) to


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