In the age of texts, tweets, hashtags and likes, todays teens know all the tech lingo, but old-fashioned communication (emails, voicemails, thank-you notes) gets lost in translation.
And once young achievers begin looking for jobs, applying for programs or approaching businesses for fundraisers, a simple text message wont cut the mustard. Neither will an email that begins with Hey.
Read on to see what advice some experts including two formerly featured Young Achievers have about professional communication.
Get rid of those middle school EmAiL aDdReSsEs.
A lot of young people create their first email addresses in middle school.
Its OK to have a fun email, but have a professional email, said Patrick Sahd, who teaches entrepreneurship, multimedia and web page design at Providence High. They cannot put partygirl1328 on a resume.
Akhil Singh, now a senior at Charlotte Country Day, created the email handle AkhilSinghNo1 in middle school. He said by the time he got to high school, his friends made fun of him for it. Number 1? Really? Are you still in sixth grade? he said theyd joke. (He now uses a school email address.)
Bailey Brooks, a senior at North Mecklenburg High, used baileybugNC. Like Akhil, she changed hers in high school. Im really glad I did, because now that Im a senior, I have to do college applications and include my email, she said, adding that shes emailed college admissions counselors. If I had the same crazy, strange email address, they might look at me differently and think Im not ready to attend their college.
Lashaune Tisdale, director of training at The Academy of Etiquette and Charm, recommended making a name-oriented email address, not only because its professional, but because its easier for people to track in cluttered inboxes.
Compose a proper email.
Emails are now clunky for Millennials, Sahd said.
They just want a text message or a tweet, and thats how they get things done, he said. Its almost a culture shock when they get to the professional world and see email is the way things get done.
The experts said students should know a few email composition rules.
Tell what youre looking for, be polite, to the point and concise. Youre certainly using a formal tone, not, Hey, said Staci Kuntzman, internship director and lecturer for the Department of Communications at UNC Charlotte.
Sahd said students should know emails shouldnt be written the way they write texts.
At some colleges Ive taught at, Ive gotten emails with no salutation, emails with you spelled the letter u, and its not even capitalized, so its a double whammy, he said.
He cautioned against relying on spell-check, which isnt always foolproof, and said its best to ask someone to proofread.
He also said to be aware of tone, and make sure your note couldnt be perceived as angry. When you have an email, theres no body language, or emotion or inflection in your voice. Read the email twice.
Akhil said he usually starts emails with Dear, and never refers to people by their first names.
A lot of people dont have time, and if they see a long email, they might not read it. Try to get right to the point, he said.
Akhil said he thanks the person hes writing to at the end of his email.
Its formal, but I also realize Im a high-schooler, so Im not going to use ridiculous vocabulary or try to sound above my age, he said. I try to make it natural, but avoid textbook language.
In closing an email, Tisdale said to sign with Thank you, and your name, at the very least. Dont get cutesy with Have a wonderful day! she said. Theyre not established with you yet. When people know your personality, then you can get cutesy.
Bailey said she had to train herself how to change tone when writing emails to adults.
I have to not write the way I talk, so I would have to have good grammar, be precise, have correct spelling, and not be like, Oh, so when do you want to do this? with smiley faces and exclamation points, she said. Just be short, sweet and to the point.
Thank you goes a long way.
The experts recommended following up with a thank-you note to any adult who took time to meet with you.
Some said an email will suffice Tisdale said within 24 hours of meeting while others recommended hand-written notes.
That is just a professional etiquette that any job-seeker should understand, Kuntzman said. It shows you really mean business ... That leaves an impression on them; its making your mark, setting yourself apart from other people and showing you have an appreciation.
She said its also your final chance to end on a good note and express how much you want a certain position.
Akhil said the follow-up email was one of his best discoveries in approaching major companies for his fundraising project. Even if someone doesnt give you an offer or the answer youre hoping for, he said, follow up with an email anyway.
Never mind if they cant give you funds; they can give you contacts, he said. After addressing a board of executives at Duke Energy, he wrote a thank-you note to his main contact, a top Duke executive. He said, I really like what youre doing. Heres a friend of mine, he has resources, Akhil said.
Janice Pollock, an instructor at Traditional Manners, said she recommends a hand-written note over an email. We recommend that the thank-you note be written, ideally, two days after you receive something, she said. Never wait more than a week.
Tisdale said the thank-you note is important because it shows your interest and manners, and it makes you stand out because most people dont do it.
Dont fear the voicemail.
Bailey said a lot of teens dont use voicemail because texting usually gets the job done.
I know a lot of teenagers nowadays arent really comfortable conversing with adults, she said. You have to do a lot more work when youre on the phone.
Akhil said he used to be uncomfortable with voicemail. I always thought that was a little bit weird, he said. But he had to get used to it when calling up-top people, because they often have secretaries who transfer them to voicemail if their bosses cant take the call.
Tisdale has four voicemail rules:
1. Speak clearly. Sometimes the person on the other end has to listen to it four times to dissect things.
2. Dont talk too fast.
3. Be concise. Dont be so long-winded. ... Be very clear about what youre going to say when you make that phone call.
4. Leave your phone number. They have a thousand people to call. Do you think theyre going to look up your phone number? No! You have to leave it. She recommended leaving a phone number instead of an email address, but if you must leave an address, spell out each letter.
Clean up your personal voicemail message.
Whens the last time you listened to your voicemail recording?
Those messages are sometimes an adults first impression of you, Kuntzman said.
Bailey said its common for kids to make funny personal messages, and that shes contemplating changing her quirky one. In middle school, I had a song to it, and I was singing, she recalled. I thought I was the coolest thing ever.
Personal messages should sound upbeat, clear and professional, and being upbeat is most important, Tisdale said. If I call you, and youve got this be-bop music going on in the background, or Hey, its me, whats up, leave me a message, thats uninviting. Upbeat is no music, just voice, in an upbeat, positive tone.
She said if youre applying for jobs or programs, temporarily change your voice message, and get rid of ringback tones. An employer does not want to hear Shake your body to the ground when youre trying to call, she said.
Its important to include your name in the message, she said, so people know theyve reached the right person.
Like it or not, your online presence communicates for you.
If youre in professional communication with adults (or applying for school, an internship or program), what youve posted online has already given them a first impression.
The experts cautioned young people to take care what they put online, even if they think their privacy is protected.
I know for a fact colleges, especially selective ones, always check Facebook profiles, and our football coaches always check, Akhil said. Anyone who doesnt even know you is going to look on Facebook to see what youre about, so its a first impression in the online world.
Kuntzman said family photos are best, and posting anything with bad language or dirty jokes is a no-no. It may not always be fair, but thats certainly the way it is.
And once something is online, its out of your control, Sahd said. Students think if they take it down its gone. Its on someones server, whether its Instagram or Snapchat they need to be extremely careful. A lot of that is on the parent to monitor.
Its best to remove questionable photos, because even if your Facebook page is private, Tisdale said, you can be tagged in a photo thats posted on someones account that is public. She also warned about what you say on Twitter, because even if youve deleted a tweet, it can come up on a Google search.
By the time (students) reach their senior year, the really should start reassessing their online presence, because this is the time where its really going to be counted against them, she said.
Body language counts.
Kuntzman called nonverbal communication vital.
First, she said, appearance matters. A general rule is dress better than or as good as your boss.
Then the experts agreed on the top three things to do well: A firm handshake, eye contact and posture.
Students need to practice handshakes, Sahd said. The experts said handshakes should fall between two extremes: limp and bone-crushing.
He said students should go ahead and put out their hands to shake first: Dont wait for it. Just extend your hand and say, Hi, my name is Patrick.
Then theres eye contact, but without staring.
That was really hard for me, Bailey said, adding that practice interacting with adults helped a lot. She said she thinks people her age have trouble looking adults in the eye because were kind of in the zone now with texting and being behind a screen all the time.
Tisdale said posture is just as key as the handshake and eye contact. Standing up straight is really important, she said.
Kuntzman went further: Dont cross your legs or arms, because that means generally you are more closed off. Smile, definitely smile. Sit up straight, dont slouch. Give the impression you want to be there.
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