You probably think you’ve nailed your email signature already. It’s just a word or two—how wrong could you actually go? Unfortunately, the answer is very. There’s a science to email signatures, as it turns out. Striking the right balance between personable and professional is crucial when you’re trying to build business relationships. And while you don’t want to be known as the guy who’s never cracked a smile, you don’t want to be the one talking about his recent mole removal in response to a casual “how’s it going?” either.
“The salutation one uses to begin an email will dictate how it is closed,” says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder and president of The Etiquette School of New York. “For an email that begins with a salutation of ‘hi’ or ‘hello,’ a closing such as ‘best’ would be consistent. ‘Best,’ though overused, is one of the safest closings in general, because it is inoffensive and universally appropriate.”
While ‘sincerely’ won’t offend anyone, Napier-Fitzpatrick says its uses are most effective when it comes to new business communications. “Closing an email with ‘sincerely’ is considered very formal and a bit old-fashioned; but it goes with a ‘dear’ salutation. Both would be appropriate for cover letters or emails to more formal, first-time clients,” she says. Aim for politeness, but don’t make people feel as though you’re giving them the cold shoulder seconds into an email.
Also, erring on the side of caution with a “best” is in your best interest; don’t get tempted to push past the polite acquaintance zone and into creepier territory. Napier-Fitzpatrick cautions against using “love,” “xx,” or “xoxo” in any professional communications. Even if you do love your co-worker, they probably don’t want to hear it via email. And if they want to be hugged and kissed by you, keep it in your pants until you’re off the clock. Leela Srinivasan, CMO of San Francisco recruiting software startup Lever, echoes Napier-Fitzpatrick’s sentiments, saying, “I shudder at the thought of an ‘xo.'”
And if you think you’ve found a happy medium by signing things with a “cheers,” reconsider. Napier-Fitzpatrick says that even this seemingly innocuous word can come across as overly casual. Unless you’re from Australia or the United Kingdom, skip it, she recommends. Finally, there’s one more thing to keep in mind: If you’re on the road, the rules are different, so cover your bases with the One Mobile Email Signature Everyone Should Have.
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