5/13/10

When to use last name and first name in an email?

Here is an example:

To someone who graduated from my school say 2 or 3 years ago. I sent him an email inquiring about an internship using the formal Mr. Smith. In his reply he was very friendly and signed as John. (say it's John Smith) I began my response with Dear John, but now that I think about I probably should have continued to use Mr. Smith.

So my question:
1. Should I have continued to use Mr. Smith?
2. When is it appropriate to write an email using first name?
3. John Smith was 2 years older, but should I use last name with someone who is the same age?

Thanks!

Comments (18)

5/13/10

My dad works in the business (I'm still trying to break in). Anyway, I told him I sent an email Dear Mr. So and So and he just laughed at me. He told me to just go first name. I spoke with a consultant from IB Interview ready and she said the same thing. Thus:

John,

I want to work in this business. Help me please.

Joe

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5/13/10

Always first names, no one likes being addressed like they are a history professor. Be aware though that many senior staff will reply in borderline txt-spk, however you should still remain relatively formal ("Best regards", "please find attached" etc etc).

I often receive external emails beginning "Dear X" or even occasionally "Mr Y", it definitely doesn't create a good impression.

5/13/10

I've heard such conflicting advice on whether or not to use first names or Mr. ..... I guess I shouldn't be listening to my school's career services, they say never use first names. Good topic.

5/13/10

A friend of mine got reamed for using "Hey" as a greeting. That's one thing I'll tell you to avoid, especially with more senior people (for some/maybe even most it's fine, but others won't respond favorably) Apart from that, first-name basis is fine. The rule in more formal settings is that you use "Mr. X" until they sign just their first name. In your situation, after he finished his e-mail with "John" it was fine for you to address him as "John." However, going forward, just use first-name basis for all e-mails.

5/13/10

Always use Mr.XXX for the first email and then first name afterwards

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5/13/10

My policy is to use "Title Last Name" in all correspondence until he/she tells me to use his/her first name.

Even after having a fairly casual, lax conversation with a fellow alum who is an exec director at Morgan Stanley, I still don't feel comfortable addressing him by his first name.

In reply to FIASCO
5/13/10
FIASCO:

I've heard such conflicting advice on whether or not to use first names or Mr. ..... I guess I shouldn't be listening to my school's career services, they say never use first names. Good topic.

I think it's important to point out that you should only take advice from people you want to emulate. School career services is made up of people who weren't able to get real jobs, so they just advise other people how to get jobs.

"Those who can, do; those who can't, teach"

5/13/10

I'm sticking with my original advice. I cold emailed an MD and used his first name (no connection at all, not even school), and he didn't make any mention of it. I guess it all depends on who the person is and what they think.

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5/13/10

I usually use their title and last name and use their first name if that's what they use as their signature.

5/13/10

My opinion: ALWAYS use Mr/Ms/Dr in the first introductory email. After that it doesn't really matter at all.

5/20/10

wow, I did NOT realize the formal Mr./Ms. would put bankers off... it's suppose to be a sign of respect. First name? That sounds kind of rude addressing a banker in a high status(but I guess I'm inexperienced), especially coming from someone still in college.

5/20/10

Always Mr your first time. Then, depending on their response, use first or last name. For example, if they are really friendly in their response, then you can start addressing them as John etc. If they reply smth along the lines of "Dear X, thank you for your message etc." rather than "Hi X, ..." then continue with Mr.

In reply to Puzich
5/21/10
Puzich:

Always Mr your first time. Then, depending on their response, use first or last name. For example, if they are really friendly in their response, then you can start addressing them as John etc. If they reply smth along the lines of "Dear X, thank you for your message etc." rather than "Hi X, ..." then continue with Mr.

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also, kinda off topic, but make sure you find out if it's a male or female if you're, say, cold calling HR and they forward you some contact's phone number or email. you never know!

In reply to Puzich
5/21/10
Puzich:

Always Mr your first time. Then, depending on their response, use first or last name. For example, if they are really friendly in their response, then you can start addressing them as John etc. If they reply smth along the lines of "Dear X, thank you for your message etc." rather than "Hi X, ..." then continue with Mr.

Agreed. Skipping the formality, at least at first, comes off as lack of polish in my opinion - it comes across like poor resume formatting or whatever. It might change once you're actually working... no one uses last names in the actual working world. But when you're still a student, definitely make it formal.

5/21/10

General rule:

-If you have addressed him by first name in a conversation, use the first name.
-If he signs a letter with his first name, use the first name.
-If you are roughly the same age as that person and roughly in the same spot in life, use the first name.
-If he is as old as your Dad, you should start with Mr. (barring the first two situations.)

My manager is first name. My MD is first name (spoken with him, he called me by my first name.) His MD is last name. If I were to email an MD or equivalent for the first time at another firm, it would probably be last name.

This is basically the formal/informal case that you see in other languages.

5/21/10

In your case you are definitely fine with going with the first name - since he signed with his first name, you essentially "have permission" to address him by his first name without fear of insult.

It is usually fine to address someone by his/her first name when they are on an equivalent level to you - whether work wise, school-wise, etc. Beyond that, if the person signs or introduces himself/herself using the first name, referring to him/her by his/her first name is acceptable. Additionally, if you've had physical or telephone conversations where first names were used, first names are now acceptable for email as well.

Again, it's not so much age as much as it is about status and situation - generally senior positions would lend themselves to the more formal intro if you are in a junior position regardless of age, whereas junior position interaction would usually go well with casual addressing regardless of age.

In reply to BankonBanking
5/21/10
BankonBanking:

Again, it's not so much age as much as it is about status and situation - generally senior positions would lend themselves to the more formal intro if you are in a junior position regardless of age, whereas junior position interaction would usually go well with casual addressing regardless of age.

Disagree with this last part about status. If I'm talking to a 27 year-old VP+ equivalent, I am going to call him by his first name. If both people are under thirty, gainfully employed, and one person isn't providing a service for another, first names make more sense.

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