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The Power of Punctuation

Your words are an incredibly powerful business tool that you use each and every day. This is especially true during your job search. Not surprisingly, the punctuation around those words can be just as important as the words themselves.

You may have heard me preach before about the space that appears after a period at the end of a sentence. Did you know that it’s now unacceptable to include two spaces after a period? The new standard is one space after the period. If you’re like me, your teachers engrained double spacing in you as if your entire future depended on it. You can’t imagine a world with one space after a period.

To make matters worse, when the standard changed to one space, no memo was sent around. Unfortunately, those who were taught to use one space judge the double spacers. It’s assumed that a lack of intelligence must be to blame. This feeling is confirmed in an article I recently read titled, “For the Love of God, Stop Putting Two Spaces After a Period.” Now, that’s passion. Don’t you think?

I learned this single spacing lesson the hard way, from the kind editors who review my column each week. The editor of my book had also shared the feedback with me, but I was so certain about the double space that I ignored this advice until I heard it multiple times. It still surprises me how much these small details influence the reader’s interpretation of the overall message.

On top of spaces, there are other punctuation marks that should be used carefully. The most important is the exclamation point! If you use an exclamation point at all in business emails, try to keep them to a maximum of one to two per email. It’s possible to show excitement through your writing without an overuse of this mark. Using too many will make you appear overly eager, immature, or as if you’re yelling.

Keep smiley faces and other emoji-like characters out of work emails completely if possible. These are best used between friends. Using them at work can make you appear unprofessional at best.

So, which punctuation marks should you use? The most used punctuation mark is the period. Other marks that can be mixed in are the question mark, the comma, the colon, and the semicolon. These marks will help you to express your thoughts in an even, business-like way.

Writing an effective business email is truly an art. It takes time and practice to come across clearly and concisely on a computer screen. Using punctuation to your advantage is the very first step to getting there. In fact, the better your communication is at work, the more likely you are to move your ideas forward. And, the more you’re able to champion your own ideas, the more you’ll find that the doors to your career open. Although punctuation can seem like a silly detail, it’s something that’s relatively easy to improve and that will leave a lasting impact.

Angela Copeland is a Career Coach and Founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at CopelandCoaching.com or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

The Golden Rule

Have you ever gotten an email from someone that you just want to ignore? Perhaps it’s from a vendor you work with that wants to tell you about a new product they’re selling. The email provides no immediate value for you. There’s nothing you can do about it right now, and frankly, you’re busy. You’re so far up to your eyeballs in reports that you can barely breathe. We’ve all been there. I can definitely relate. The easiest thing to do is often to ignore the email.

Now, think back to how you landed your last job, or maybe the one before. Chances are good that you found it not by applying online, but through a professional contact. There’s a good chance that you previously worked with that person, either directly or indirectly.

It’s extremely common to be recruited by an outside company you do business with – either your customer, or your supplier. After working with you, a company has a chance to see you up close. They know just how professional you are, and how devoted you are to your craft.

But, this will only happen if you treat those around you with a certain level of respect. Taking a moment to let someone know you’ve received their email can mean the world, even if you’re not able to fulfill their request. I’m not suggesting that you say yes to everyone. And, I’m certainly not suggesting you respond to things that are clearly spam. You don’t have time for that.

But, do take the time to value those around you – even on the days when they’re asking for something rather than offering something. For example, if someone is asking for a meeting that you would normally be open to, but are just too busy to take, send an email letting them know you’ve received their message and would like to meet, but are swamped for the next few weeks. Most everyone understands the concept of being busy at work. Or, if a person is asking for your help with something that you really can’t do right now due to existing commitments, be honest and up front.

The most difficult scenario is when you don’t respond at all. When you ignore an email, it doesn’t just tell the person that you’re busy. It tells them that they’re not important. It says that you’ll only respond if you’re getting something out of the deal. And, it says that you may not be as professional as they thought.

When you’ve been with one company for a number of years, this can begin to seem normal. You want to be efficient and use your time in the best way. But, sometimes something unexpected can happen. Your company may lay off an entire division. If you’ve focused all of your attention on internal folks, while not nurturing outside relationships, you may struggle more to find something new.

It goes back to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at CopelandCoaching.com or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.