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The 4 Worst Email Mistakes & How to Handle Them


In landing and keeping the perfect job or internship, a collegiette’s number one goal is to make a good impression. But let’s face it, ladies: we’re not perfect. From emailing a potential employer the wrong version of your cover letter to accidentally replying-all to an office-wide email, there are about a million and one ways that a simple tech glitch or user error could land you in a reputation-blowing – not to mention embarrassing – situation. Although you can’t just Control-Z your way out of these real-life scenarios, you can still remedy the damage, and we’ll tell you how. 

Mistake #1: Emailing the Wrong Person

The damage done by this unfortunate yet common mishap can easily range from minimal to massive.  It all depends on who received your email, who was supposed to receive your email and what you said in the email. Among the most dangerous of incidents are emailing your boss or potential employer something that was meant for your mom, dad, boyfriend, etc., and replying-all to an office-wide email when you meant to just email your favorite co-worker. 

Whichever blunder you’re guilty of, apologizing to your boss should always be your first priority. “I would send an apology to the employer,” says Christy Dunston, a career counselor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I might even call to speak to the person over the phone.” Whether by phone or email, Dunston suggests simply stating that your message was an accident and apologizing for the error. 

Of course, the best way to handle the situation would be to avoid it in the first place. “It is important to pay attention to whom emails get sent to,” Dunston says. “I like to proofread my emails before I send them, including making sure the email is being sent to the correct person.” And for those times when human error gets the best of you, there are a number of useful email tricks to prevent a mishap like this, like enabling Gmail’s “undo send” feature. Prevention is key, according to Dunston, because sending a personal email to your boss could raise big red flags depending on the content. 

Mistake #2: Addressing Someone by the Wrong Gender

Let’s say you see a listing for a job or internship on your school’s career services website, a search engine or even HC, but the listed point of contact for said position has an ambiguous name like Hayden, Jordan or Alex. You may assume that person is either male or female, but without a picture or the appropriate Mr./Ms. title in front of the name, you can’t really know for sure. Sometimes, even names that you think are clearly indicative of a specific gender, like Ashley or Lindsey, could mislead you.    

Fortunately, this mistake should be pretty easy to avoid. Try to do some Internet-savvy delving to see if you can determine the contact’s gender from other Internet listings of the name. You could look for a bio on the organization’s website, a LinkedIn profile or a news article about the person – just make sure you’ve found the right person! 

If the damage has already been done, however, it isn’t too late to make things right. First of all, a person with an ambiguous name has probably had this type of thing happen before, and he or she will probably correct the error without taking it personally. In this case, a simple apology should do the trick. 

If you notice the error before receiving a response, it’s always a good idea to apologize preemptively. “I would suggest for a student to go ahead and reach out to the hiring manager,” Dunston says. “I think if the student is proactive about the mix-up then the hiring manager may be more forgiving than if the student just waits.”

Mistake #3: Sending the Wrong Resume or Cover Letter

Now that many job and internship applications are submitted online or via email, it’s easier than ever to submit an incorrect resume or cover letter. You may attach the wrong version of your resume to the email or submit a cover letter with a major or minor typo in it, but either way, a quick reaction is necessary. 

“Having a typo or other mistake could show a lack of attention to detail or that the student just applied at the last minute with no real interest in the organization,” Dunston says. “That could be the difference between getting an interview and not getting an interview.”

If you do realize that you’ve submitted a resume or cover letter with a mistake of some sort, the best course of action is to admit the mistake and correct it. “I would suggest sending the updated resume or cover letter with an explanation,” Dunston says. 

Mistake #4: Receiving an Unintended Email

This slip-up isn’t your fault, collegiettes, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. 

If your boss or coworker accidentally emails you something that was intended for someone else, you still play a role in the recovery. First and foremost, Dunston warns, do not send the email to anyone else, no matter how funny, juicy or impressive it is. If the sender hasn’t already figured it out, you should alert him or her to the error, even if that means pointing a mistake out to your super picky, hard-to-please boss.

“I think it would be okay to politely point out the error by simply emailing back, stating, ‘I believe I received this by accident,’” Dunston says. If the error has already been noticed, your job is simple: just accept an apology and assure the sender that no important, confidential information has been compromised.  


Life can be stressful, especially when you’re applying for jobs and internships. With these crisis-mode protocols, your professional email correspondence won’t add to your already accelerating stress level. 

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