Communicating like an adult

The troublesome world of email

By Gabi DiPaulo | October 21, 2019 5:30pm

Corded telephones? Just another complexity in the realm of professional communication.

Media Credit: Annika Gordon / The Beacon

A four-year degree leaves graduating students with many things. I personally have faith that I’ll graduate with a degree (hopefully) in psychology, a healthy sprinkling of student debt and crippling caffeine dependency. What many graduating students lack, however, is the ability to send a concise and professional email, to make a phone call without battling sweaty palms or how to politely but confidently ask for somebody’s time — in short, how to communicate like an adult. 

After spending an agonized twenty minutes deciding between “greetings” and “hello” in an email to a professor, I decided that enough was enough. Unfortunately in college, your mom won’t make your appointments for you anymore (as much as you beg her). So I reached out to two experts — Max Kalchthaler, Career and Program Advisor at UP’s own Career Center, and Grace Holmes, a current Audit Senior at Deloitte and 2016 UP graduate, to learn how to become a young professional in just a few steps. 

1. Keep it concise. Word vomit is tempting, especially if you’re frantically asking to extend a deadline or round your grade up by 0.5% (or 5%, but who’s counting?). Holmes, however, warned against giant blocks of text.

“Personally, I prefer bullet points,” she said. “I don’t want a long giant paragraph of everything you need to share with me.”

Similarly, avoid open-ended questions such as, “When are you available to meet?” Instead, take initiative and provide three times that you are available to meet. Even better, send them a Google Calendar invite.

“I love it when people block my time,” Holmes said.  “It feels like, ‘Oh, you’re taking initiative.’” 

Kalchthaler said that the best way of expressing your question or request is with a subject line that’s as specific as possible in expressing your point. And please, don’t abuse the red flag symbol. 

2. Set up a 2-minute delay on Outlook. This will give you a chance to recover that prematurely sent email, fix a typo or attach the correct assignment instead of, say, that incredibly personal poem you wrote at 2 a.m. last night (not speaking from experience). 

3. Stop undermining yourself. How many times recently have you started an email or professional interaction with, “So sorry to take up your time, but…” or, “Sorry this is a dumb question, but…”? This might feel natural to you. And if you’re a female, you might be a chronic offender of undermining yourself and making yourself appear smaller. 

Women professionally report apologizing more often and for less severe offenses. Holmes had one straightforward piece of advice: 

“Don’t do it,” she said. “Don’t fall into that trap.” 

She had a similar warning against a trap that I find myself falling into: Sending timid emails that are punctuated by exclamation points and words that soften your overall message. You’re not a baby deer; you are a professional. Act like one. 

4. For god’s sake, set up your LinkedIn.  It’s not the most fun social media; think Facebook but with less heated arguments and more humble brags. In terms of finding connections, however, LinkedIn can be your best friend. Kalchthaler stressed that if an employer Googles you, it’s highly to your benefit that a curated LinkedIn profile full of your professional qualifications appears before your most recent mental breakdown on Twitter. Also —  make your Instagram private. Just do it. 

5. Have the confidence to ask for favors and informational interviews. At times, it can feel like you have nothing to offer somebody and are only asking for their time. Kalchthaler suggests reframing this perspective and realizing that the people you are reaching out to may just want to talk to you.

“You possess a magic power during your four or five years here at the University of Portland: you possess the power of being a college student,” he said. “People genuinely want to help college students. So although you may not feel like you have much to give back, you get to share the perspective of what it’s like to be here, now.” 

Essentially, embrace your charm as a stressed-out young adult who’s constantly on the verge of an existential crisis. People who have passed this phase of their life will think it’s cute. 

6. Don’t be afraid to be pushy. This isn’t Tinder, and if the person who you requested an informational interview hasn’t responded yet, you’re not being rejected to your core. If somebody didn’t respond to your initial email, wait two weeks and try again. (This advice is not applicable to dating apps.) 

7. Don’t be alarmed if the person you’re contacting seems to be much more informal than you are. Have you ever painstakingly curated a polite, professional email for your professor, only to receive a three-word response sent from their iPhone? Kalchthaler said that this is nothing to panic about — they’re just busy. 

“I don’t think it’s ever bad to be, not formal, but proper, in your greeting,” Kalchthaler said, adding that a casual response in no way means that they didn’t appreciate the effort you put out. 

8. If the adult world terrifies you, and the thought of adding somebody on LinkedIn gives you spontaneous hives, you’re not alone. The UP Career Center has all the resources you might need and will help you navigate LinkedIn, Handshake, job interviews and more. 

“Be gentle with yourself,” Kalchthaler said.  “I think a lot of students can get in their head. A lot of appointments I have start with, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t do this earlier,’ or, ‘I should have done x, y, z.’ Here at the career center, we don’t judge, and we’re here to help.” 

There are a lot of things to be anxious about in this world, but sending an email or requesting an appointment shouldn’t be one of them. Have faith in your own abilities to portray yourself as the intelligent and capable being that you are. 

“Just be confident,” Holmes said. “You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. So when you do, just brush it off, accept it, and don’t do it again.” 

Gabi DiPaulo is the Living editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at