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How to Address Self-Introductory Emails

Now that we’ve covered some of the more substantial chunks of the MBA recruiting process, let’s turn to a sometimes overlooked, but nonetheless important, aspect of reaching out to employers, alumni, and anyone else whom you don’t know personally but who can offer guidance and perspective on your MBA job search.

The most basic rule of thumb to follow is to avoid the exotic, and to keep things simple. When starting an email message and/or a cover letter, the operative salutation is “Dear [First Name],” as in “Dear Henry,” “Dear Amy,” etc. Using “Hi” is normally reserved for people you already know, and can be more easily employed when you’re responding to a message sent to you, rather than when initiating a conversation.

Using “Hey” as a greeting, though I’ve seen it appear in MBA emails to managing directors and partners at employer organizations, is almost universally a bad idea. To most recipients, “Hey” either feels jolting (as in, “hey, pay attention!”), or too chummy, especially between people who’ve not previously met. The worst examples of these messages are sometimes forwarded back to the MBA career service office by employers and/or alumni with a gentle reminder for the staff there to continue to help coach MBAs in proper etiquette … ouch!

The reason “Dear” is a good choice is that it skews towards the formal, and though some construe it as old-fashioned, it makes sense when the context is one in which you’re trying to convey respect and a certain degree of decorum to someone who is more often than not your senior. Here’s what the BBC has to say about it: Should e-mails open with Dear, Hi, or Hey? … As you weigh the pros and cons presented there, keep in mind that your context is business school professional communication (your reader will extrapolate how you communicate with clients, customers, and colleagues by how you address him or her).

With regard to how to sign off in an e-mail or letter, the best choice again is the simplest and least exotic option: “Best, [First Name]” will do (and is sure not to raise any eyebrows), though the permutations “Best regards,” and “Regards,” also work. Your goal is to keep the salutation and sign-off from being a distraction, and to have the reader focus on the content of your message rather than on the book ends of your message. Do not sign of with “xox,” unless you specifically want to give the person you’re writing hugs and kisses.

In the U.S., it’s o.k. to greet someone by his or her first name, rather than by using a title or an honorific (such as Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.). The one exception is business school faculty and Deans, who should in general be greeted as “Dear Professor Drucker” rather than as “Dear Peter.” And, unless you’re absolutely sure that the person you’re writing to goes by “Bob,” “Bill,” or “Kathy” and nothing else (and if it’s not clear from any other source such as a bio on a company website), it’s better to default to the longer, more formal version of a person’s name (“Robert,” “William,” or “Katherine”). When your correspondent writes back, he or she will usually sign in the way he or she would like to be addressed (e.g., “Steve” rather than “Stephen”).

Next week, we’ll take a look at how to keep outreach communications to employers simple, effective, and to the point. See you then!

Ivan Kerbel – Bio:

Ivan Kerbel is the CEO of Practice LLC, an educational services firm that conducts an intensive, annual pre-orientation program for newly-admitted MBAs, The Practice MBA Summer Forum.

Ivan served previously as Director of the Career Development Office at The Yale School of Management and as a Sr. Associate Director at Wharton’s MBA Career Management office. He is a Wharton MBA alumnus and a former management consultant at Katzenbach Partners, a New York City strategy consulting boutique. Ivan can be reached via LinkedIn.