What does your email address say about you when applying for jobs?

Before you arrive at a job interview, before you pass a phone screening, before anyone even reads your cover letter, what does your potential employer know about you? Well, if they’ve seen your email address with your initial application, that’s the first thing a hiring manager will judge you on. And depending on what that address is, they might decide to toss your application in the trash right there and then.

In this article, we’re going to look at the importance of having one primary email address, and what it should and shouldn't tell potential employers about you.

What does your email address say about you?

Ever heard anyone say that your appearance is what your prospective employer will form his or her initial impression of you from? That’s not true anymore, not since we moved into the era of email. When applying for jobs, the first thing someone knows about you is your email address. And they will make judgments, conscious and unconscious, based on it. Don't give them a reason to discard you too quickly.

To conduct an effective job search, you need one email address that fits the following criteria:

  • Must include your name in the address
  • Must be hosted by a reputable, current, and known company: Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook.com are all fine
  • Cannot be a university .ac.uk address
  • Cannot give away certain information about you (more on that below).

Your name and host

Your email address should be your name. In a perfect world, it will be NameSurname@host, but there are many variations you can try if you have a common name, as I do, and you find that the ideal name has already been taken.

Here are some examples of options, using the name Jennifer K. Gold:

JenniferGold, Jennifer.Gold, Jennifer-Gold, Jennifer_Gold, JenGold, Jen.Gold, Jen-Gold, Jen_Gold, JenniferKGold, JenKGold, JKGold, Gold.JenK, JK.Gold… and so on.

Try different combinations using only elements of your name, and preferably the name people actually use for you (e.g. Jennifer, Jen, Jenny) before you give up. I highly recommend exhausting all these variations before you even think of including any other letters or numbers in your email address.

For the host, pick a current and reputable service. A free service works fine, as long as you use a known and current company. If you think the host seems outdated, it probably is. And while you might think using your university address (if you still have it) makes a good impression (“I went to such-and-such”), in reality it allows recipients to question where you live and whether you've actually graduated. Those points are both very important when trying to get a job, so don't leave them in question.

What not to include

If you really must use an email address that is not your name, avoid these dead giveaways:

Year. If you include a two or four digit number in your email address, people will assume it's the year you were born. Don't invite them to make assumptions about your age.

Location. A simple abbreviation for the city where you live is a poor addition to an email address because people move. You don't want your email address from Aberdeen to suggest that you're not accessible to an employer in London.

Hobbies or traits. Maybe you love the beach, tae kwon do, or your schnauzer. Your email address (and Twitter handle, if you use the micro-blogging network for professional purposes) is not the place to express that information. Just because your friends call you "sexy Pete" doesn't mean the people you email should. You can discuss and share your hobbies and interests via your online social profiles if you learn how to do it right (see our piece on how to maintain professional looking social network profiles). But it doesn't belong in your email name.

Seeing from the hiring manager's eyes

When you're on the job market, you'll hear plenty of advice that boils down to "try to think from the hiring manager's perspective." But you really can't think or see from that point of view if you've never been in the position.

The most important reason your email address needs to be your name is so that the very busy – and possibly highly disorganised – person who is screening applicants can find your email in his or her inbox quickly.

Imagine the hiring person read your cover letter and CV (we also have tips on crafting them), loved them, and wants to call you in for an interview. Tomorrow, she arrives at her computer and looks down at her scribbled note that reads, "Applicants to call for interview: Jen Gold, Raul Molina." The next thing she'll do is turn to her email to look for Jen Gold's CV so she can find the phone number.

Where and how will she look?

She's going to look for J and G in the "address" and "from" field. Why? Because she has 200 unopened messages in her inbox. She doesn't remember what day the application arrived, and she didn't copy the files locally. That's how people operate. They scan their inboxes for what they need. And even if the company has a web form application system, there will still be a point when employers will connect with you via email. Make it easy for them to find you and your information by putting your name in the most important location.

One email for life

I'm a big advocate of having one email address for life, and ideally, right around the time you finish a university degree is the perfect time to settle on a mature and professional address that you can use forever.

Email addresses are far easier to keep than phone numbers or physical addresses, making them one of the best ways for former colleagues (who may have future business opportunities) to find you. If you’re still at university, be sure to create one name-based email address by the time you graduate and start your job search. Not only will you get years of use out of it, you'll make it easier for potential employers to contact you when they want to bring you in for an interview.