7 terrible secrets revealed by your email address (and how to fix them)

When it comes to your personal and business brand, your professional email address may be undoing all your hard work. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of email addresses – and I’ve had a chance to make observations through the eyes of hiring manager, consultant, client, volunteer and colleague.

Your email address brands you, even when you’re not working

If you want to be professional, you have to think about how your email address represents you. Even if you’re merely using your email address for personal reasons, it’s likely that many members of your business network see your personal address. That’s because everyone you contact becomes a member of your network:
  • Store owner who runs the mailing list for specials
  • Yoga instructor who sends you a mailer on upcoming classes
  • Meetup group you joined and never managed to attend
  • Parent class rep at your kids’ school – and  everyone on the shared contact sheet
  • Dating site people you saw once
  • Parent you met at the park and decided to join for coffee, since you both work in the same industry
  • Friend you met at fitness class, who knows about how to set up that thing on the computer
  • Guy you met at the charity event, who mentioned he could send you a discount code for an event at the art gallery
Most of those people may not profile as “business” or “professional” contacts, per se, but they’re part of your network and thus your professional life. In fact, even if you’re on mat leave, still in college, backpacking, vacationing, parenting, socializing or otherwise wearing your “non-career” hat, the contact you make may influence your future career and business. It’s all marketing and networking.

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7 terrible secrets revealed by common email address mistakes

These common email address mistakes can mar your reputation:
  1. Too flirty. You’ve got some flirty, cutesy or otherwise goofy email address, leftover from college, your Internet dating days or a drunken moment at Gmail - hotsexythang@domainname.com and coolseattleguy@madeupdomain.com.
  2. Shared with your life partner, meaning you have no separate identity, control issues, a domineering partner, computer skills too weak to manage your own account or some other “issue” people dream up – robandjulie@mytownslocalISP.com.
  3. Too generic. You put a date in your address to set you apart – jane2007@gmail.com.
  4. Make you look less than brilliant. Unless you’re flickr, a modified spelling looks like you either created your address in desperation or that you can’t spell – consltnt@gmail.com or propaytner@hotmail.com.
  5. Nonsensical. youcanseetheanswer@gmail.com or rotememoryrobots@yahoo.com.
  6. Unbranded. If you have a business or a professional career, it’s a mistake to use a generic email account, such as Hotmail or Yahoo – newyorkfloriststore@yahoo.com or rsmith.consultant@hotmail.com.
  7. Spam filter nightmare. Many email filters are set up to look for numbers, underscores, and superlative adjectives. Even if you can handle the branding issues, your email may end up in the junk mail bin – angela_coopersmith1980@gmail.com.  

5 remedies for common email address mistakes

Relax – there are several solutions for typical email address mistakes:

  1. Get your own email account, if you’re sharing one. Your ISP and gmail offer a variety of options. Click here for my preferred provider – I’m an affiliate
  2. Change the name of your existing email account. Your ISP may help you. Or you can easily set up a new Gmail account.
  3. Set up additional profiles if you use Microsoft Outlook.
  4. Forward all your email to the account you check most, if you don’t know how to set up more than one profile on Outlook or your smartphone.
  5. Purchase a domain name and set up an email address to match. You can do this even if you do not run your own business. Consider jane@realestatemagic.com or dsmith@atlantabanker.com, for example. Click here for my preferred provider – I’m an affiliate.

It gets even worse

I wrote this article on common email address mistakes because of a random discovery on LinkedIn. For years, I’ve recoiled in mock horror upon seeing women sharing their husband’s email addresses. But then I saw something that shocked me even more. For whatever reason, it seemed even worse than the usual email address mistakes. I saw a husband and wife sharing a single LinkedIn account. It made no sense to me. Why would you share a career profile on a virtual resume site? It boggles my mind. But more on LinkedIn (and Twitter) later.
What deadly email address mistakes have you spotted? What tips do you have?
 Note: all email address given are fictitious and were generated for the purposes of this article. No connection to a real living or dead person or existing or closed business is made or implied. Any connection is purely coincidental.


Jason Harrison says:

Regarding a shared LinkedIn account. The expectations of a LinkedIn account, at least for Ms Coutu, myself, and I would guess most other LinkedIn customers, is one account for one person.

You probably wouldn’t put your and your spouse’s name on your resume, on you business card, or on your certificates. You would instead create a company name and use that as expected.

Let’s not confuse, as this couple did, the expectations of who is on the other side of:
- a family home phone number
- a family home email address
- a business phone number.
- a business general contact email address
- a business description / portfolio /information package.

And these accounts which are expected to have a single human on the other side:
- a personal mobile phone number (with or without your voice mail greeting)
- a personal email account
- a personal business email account (created and dies based on employment)
- a personal business ccard
- a personal resume, portfolio, or website (sometimes presenting the work of your consultation practice)
- a personal LinkedIn account.

It doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what your customers and new contacts expect. Presenting the image of an individual, but having multiple people responding is unexpected. Traditionally it might be considered infringing on private communication.

On behalf of Jason Harrison, I thank you for your attention and we will answer any questions. (See! Unexpected!)

Andrea Coutu says:

Contact seems a little impersonal, no matter whether it’s just you or a big company.

Your parents aren’t using their email for business or work, I assume. The email you use in your personal life may have different standards than what you use for work.

Pete says:

Hi how about this, I have a website in my name which is a personal website where I store my information through wordpress.

I wont give out my real name but for example.

How about if my email address was contact@myfullname.co.uk?

What does this say about me?

Oh and for the record I disagree with the joint name comment as my parents use the same email address and they are far from obsessed with eachother, My parents are very trustworthy with each other and use the same one so they both can access messaging etc, I also set it up with their permission to use both names – which was their suggestion, I mean whats the point in sending the same email to both my parents? Plus my dads only just learning, modern technology isnt 2nd nature to them like it is the younger generation – I love my mum and dad!!! :)

Thanks will look forward to replies :)

Andrea Coutu says:

Yes, you can do that, as long as it’s professional.

Great article! This is so crucial because people judge your email address without even realizing it.

One problem I run into is that I have a VERY strange name that is impossible to spell for first timers. What do you think about having a generic email address that I can give over the phone and have someone be able to spell it correctly on the first try? This would of course forward automatically to my main email address.

Thanks again for the great article!

Nick says:

Your birthyear at the end of your email address is horrid, and works against you for sure, whether you’re young or old.

Andrea Coutu says:

Are they worried their kids won’t be able to have a distinct Gmail account or something? I wouldn’t worry too much – not till they hit their college years and start applying for jobs. Maybe buy a URL for your kid instead – or wait and see if any of this even matters in 10 years. (That being said, my own kids have their own email addresses at name@surname.***.

andrea says:

the “problem” i’m facing is a bunch of friends asking me advice on what email address they should chose for their kids, after realising that name.surname is long gone on all the major domain provider.

since I still recommend the google account, any tips on picking the right username beyond the obvious, too common combinations?

Andrea Coutu says:

It’s very, very inexpensive to buy a domain name and get your email hosted. I’d try that route.

Andrea Coutu says:

“Hotmail” makes a lot of people think “Hot male”. Yahoo makes them think of yahoos – goofy folks. (I’ll admit to sometimes using my Yahoo account, though!)

Me Me says:

Is an email address from the gmail domain really more fashionable, or professional-looking, than the hotmail domain?


I fail to see the rationale for such in this article, as they’re both free services!

Liz says:

I like firstname.lastname@hotmail.com. The problem is I have a surname that is difficult to pronounce and therefore difficult to spell and remember. I think that this may subtley be a negative introduction. I have thought of an abbreviation of my surname, but that feels corny. Thoughts and suggestions please.

Andrea Coutu says:

Yes, that’s why my own email starts with andrea@. It’s a lot easier than sorting through for “Mail@”.

Nicky Ovitt says:

I changed my email address after receiving large volumes of email each day and realizing that addresses beginning with “info@…” or “mail@…” just get lost in my box. I want to see the person’s name when I’m searching to later respond to someone or archive.

Andrea Coutu says:

Your example is a good one. Some people use their alumni accounts, but I think it screams “recent grad” and it’s better to have something you can use in the long term.

Kyle says:

I have a question. As someone who doesn’t have a full-time job (about to graduate college), what would be proper for an email address that isn’t linked to a company. I’m trying to think of ideas for an email that isn’t firstname.lastname@email.com but would still look decent on a resume. Thoughts?

Andrea Coutu says:

It’s not about judging personal choice. It’s about the brand perception you create in a business context. Keeping up with clients’ expectations often means keeping private life separate from business – exactly because people do make judgements. We’re talking about using a joint email address for your *business*, not your personal email.

Karen says:

I agree Wayne – it may be an account they’ve set up that they both go into, both share and chat through. They may also have seperate personal accounts as well.

It just seems that whatever you do nowadays it is up for both judgement and jury, from people who don’t even know you.

Wayne says:

I was with you until you crossed over the personal choice of a couple. Couples who decide to share a site do so as they may WANT to do so. Who are we to judgement against that choice?