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Digital documents: Appearance matters

Beth Braccio Hering, Special to CareerBuilder

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Sure, playing around with all the fonts and colors available on a computer is cool -- if you are a sixth-grade girl sending a message to a friend. But professionals who want their workplace correspondence and job applications to be taken seriously might want to think twice about Broadway pink before hitting send. Keep presentation from overshadowing content by watching for these digital dangers:

Font faux pas

Think all fonts are created equal? Think again.

Consider the media sensation caused by Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he posted a rant on NBA.com about his team losing star basketball player LeBron James to the Miami Heat. It wasn't the content that got bloggers and newspaper writers irate; it was Gilbert's choice to write in Comic Sans, which many consider to be a cutesy, childish typeface. (The font even has an organized group of haters called Ban Comic Sans.)

In addition to choosing hard-to-read or wild fonts, it usually comes off as unprofessional to use:

-- Excessively large or small font sizes.

-- A nontraditional color for text.

-- Bold background color or wallpaper.

And remember that since typed items do not give expression, a writer needs to be sensitive about possible interpretation. "Putting things in all caps is the same as yelling at someone by email," notes Cynthia Favre, director of career services at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. A message completely in boldface can be similarly misinterpreted.

An inappropriate email address

Show your professionalism from the moment your message hits the inbox by choosing a regular email address. Save jerseypartyguy@whatever.com for your social correspondence, and opt for something simple and identifying for the workplace.

Matthew Randall, executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, notes that this is especially important when job hunting. "Dump old email addresses that are funky, childish or risqué, which may cause recruiters to doubt your qualifications. If you find it difficult to secure a personal email address with your name, the next best option is to include the town/city/state in which you reside. For example: juliesmith.syracuse@gmail.com."

Randall also suggests refraining from using your current employer's email address during a job search. "This may give recruiters the perception that you're using company time, instead of personal time, to job hunt -- not the type of impression you want to make toward potential employers."

Social media spillover

Don't make your messages look like graffiti. Emoticons, abbreviations (such as "U R" instead of "you are") and side comments (such as OMG or LOL) may be the norm for text messages and tweets, but they are frowned upon in the workplace. Do your high school English teacher proud and demonstrate your capitalization skills instead of writing in all lowercase.

Signature clutter

Don't blow your professionalism at the end with a flashy email signature. With clarity as the key goal, also refrain from providing a countless list of contact options. Says Randall, "A long listing of all your phone numbers, social media accounts and snail-mail options only confuses a reader as to the best method to reach you. A best practice is to share the primary phone number and physical address where someone can contact you directly."

Randall also cautions leaving readers with parting thoughts that have nothing to do with the communication you sent. "While adding a favorite quote below your workplace signature may seem like a personal touch, oftentimes the intended receiver may be turned off by the message or even the source of the quote. Best to leave these features for your personal email communications. I remember one co-worker who would consistently update her workplace signature email to include a new quote. While I don't recall any of the passages, this constant updating always made me wonder how much company time was wasted finding new quotes."

Failure to proofread

Lastly, proofread important digital documents for appearance just as you would for spelling and grammar. Send a copy of your prized report to yourself first so that you, not your boss, can catch tables that are off a column or editing marks that should have been deleted.

For job seekers, Favre suggests doing a trial run of an electronic résumé on someone you know before sending it to employers. "Sometimes I get résumés with a person's name missing. They put their name in some type of header format that doesn't go through. [If not caught] the employer would get a résumé with no name."

Following these tips will show you know workplace digital etiquette, and you'll be on your way to gaining attention the right way -- with the content of your message.

Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.



Last Updated: 01/11/2011 - 3:16 PM


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