How to use emojis at work to get ahead

Emojis in work emails? A career expert weighs in
Emojis in work emails? A career expert weighs in

These days, so much work is done online, on mediums like Slack and Google Chat as well as through email. With more communication options, such as dancing emojis, stickers, giphys and memes, there are more ways than ever to make a mistake.

While you might not think twice about using emoji in an email to your friends, when can you use them in work messages, if at all?

Melissa Llarena, founder and CEO of career coaching firm Career Outcomes Matter, helps people land and keep their dream jobs.

Melissa Llarena, CEO and founder of Career Outcomes Matter
Melissa Llarena

Here are her top email-related rules:

1. Know your company's culture

Are your co-workers sending smiley faces and such in work emails? If so, then doing so probably OK, according to Llarena. But proceed with caution.

"Think about whether higher-ups are using emoticons," Llarena tells CNBC. Follow your boss's lead.

"There are some tech companies where folks email each other memes," the expert says. "Take a cue from company leadership."

She recommends asking yourself, "Is this the norm?" before you hit 'send.'

2. Don't forget your place on the totem pole

If you are emailing your boss or a coworker who is more senior than you, stay away from emojis and memes. You want to be thought of as a professional worker.

"If you are emailing someone who is more senior than yourself then yes, stay away from them," she says.

Think of this as the online communication version of dressing for the job you want rather than the one you have.

3. Keep it simple

When in doubt, don't. Avoid the unusual and little used emoticons, since their meaning can be misconstrued.

"Stick to a safe happy face," Llarena advises, rather than trying to get creative. "Not all emoticons are interpreted the same by folks from different cultures."

Holly Harris/Getty Images

Some professionals say the rules can be more relaxed in different environments, and that using emojis can help with team spirit.

"In my recent experience, occasionally slipping a SFW [safe for work] meme or joke into an email between teammates has been a huge culture change that's been 100% positive," one applications system analyst writes in a post on LinkedIn. But she adds that the exchange is between co-workers, and not to superiors.

Becoming known as a skilled communicator, and using email effectively, can actively help you advance in your career, the CEO of a $16 billion business says.

Llarena agrees that the end goal is to build a solid reputation.

"If you want to gain responsibilities and grow professionally, then show up professionally online and offline when it comes to workplace interactions," she says.

CEO of a $16 billion business says the way you write emails can break your career
CEO of a $16 billion business says the way you write emails can break your career