email reality bites like a cow stuck in the water

Growling Gut Instincts: When Email Etiquette Reveals the Truth

It began with a need. A need to change jobs. I was tired of commuting an hour by train each way and constantly working those unnecessary late nights. Most ad agencies seem to have a similar assumption that working late procures creative agility, I disagree. I’m an early bird who likes to go home at night and live a normal life. Basic things like maintaining friends outside of work are also a plus.

Anyway, as my need to change jobs became more intense, I applied to as many as I could, hoping for some semblance of once again becoming a nine-to-fiver. I grabbed the opportunity at break time and cruised to the corner coffee shop with a large phone book. I began calling every agency within a half hour of my home. I was actually lucky — three hits within the first dozen calls. Not bad for a sneaky little coffee break — and a few cold-calls.

In came the interviews and out came the pro’s and con’s of each position offered. I narrowed my options down to the two most viable prospects and eventually to one. Most of the negotiation for my new position occurred over the phone with the head partner of the agency. From first contact, through brief conversations with the potential employer, I assessed my new boss as an easy going, laid back guy who had been in the business for a while. The place had a lax dress code for creatives and compensated any overtime on the weekend — fabulous! Of course I accepted and waited for my offer letter.

Now, for those of you who don’t know the importance of this little piece of paper (often sent as PDF), an offer letter confirms your new position and outlines your vacation time, holidays, any details about overtime and company policies. Basically it’s a nice way of telling you the nitty-gritty of your position before getting in there and expecting too much.

A week passed and still no offer letter. Waiting got the best of me, so I decided a little action on my part was in order. I fired off an email to the head partner of the agency:

Good afternoon, I’m excited about starting my new position with you next Monday. I have not received a formal offer letter as of late from your agency. Should I be expecting it via email or standard mail? Kind regards, Stacey Dyer.”

An hour later I get a response from him:

“whats that”

I know, I know. You’re probably wondering why that last statement printed without punctuation or sentence structure. But I am here to tell you that was exactly how the email came to me. No grammar, no professionalism, and certainly not any convincing verbiage to make me feel good about choosing to work for his agency. The signs of fallacy and wayward action came blazing through one email with a single “phrase” and I couldn’t stand to see its naked truth.

I thought maybe I was over reacting, maybe I was blowing it out of proportion, or maybe he’s just trying to be casual. But that’s where I should have listened to my growling gut. Obviously this guy is too casual, he probably has very little professionalism and doesn’t really care about the fact that when he types or opens his mouth, whatever he says is the face of his company.

But I still took the position. I did not call him up and say “Sorry, I’ve changed my mind” or “I’ve decided to take another position.” I came in and found a sloppy, overly-casual mess: An office without any structure, a lack of ambition, and absolutely no regard for communication. And it all came through that little crystal ball of an email with a small, ridiculous phrase.

So my fellow business people, the moral of this story is to trust that growling, angry gut — it’s probably telling you something far beyond hunger. And, if you want and demand respect, write your emails well. Check your spelling, make sure it makes sense, and for the love of everything good in this world, think about who your audience is. They might be writing articles about you some day.

*Original post date of this story: April of 2007

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