In Ye Olden Days of the 1990s, America Online ruled the consumer Web. Millions used AOL to get online; not a mailbox in the United States was spared from those colorful CDs that contained the service’s install program. (The CDs made excellent drink coasters, by the way.)
By the dawn of the 21st century, however, AOL found itself in decline. The bursting of the dot-com bubble, competition from upstarts such as Google, and a disastrous merger with Time Warner all corroded its audience and net worth. Nonetheless, the company managed to limp along on a combination of ad revenue and a dwindling number of dial-up subscribers, until Verizon announced on May 12 that it would acquire AOL’s assets for $4.4 billion.
Had tech history taken a few different turns, AOL might have remained a dominant platform and more people would still use its email on a personal and professional basis. But among people who registered with Dice over the past two years, some 55 percent used Gmail, followed by 17 percent who relied on Yahoo, and 7 percent who preferred Hotmail.
Comcast came in fourth in the rankings, with 1.9 percent of registrations, just ahead of AOL at 1.8 percent.
Does your choice of email provider make a difference when applying for jobs? Numerous websites have tackled that delicate question; as far back as 2010, Lifehacker suggested that using an AOL address in a tech-industry context was the equivalent of saying, “’Hi, I’m from 1996. What is this Internet you speak of?’”
Or as Gizmodo once put it: “Job hunting with an AOL address? Leave that back in 1998.”
Whether or not employers prefer one email provider over another, even subconsciously, a lot of people don’t like switching email addresses. If you started an account with a particular email provider 10 or 15 years ago, you’re likely to still own it, if only because transferring a decade-plus of messages to a new service is a considerable chore. Factor in a reluctance to update dozens of forms and contacts with a new address, and you have a whole lot of people unwilling to budge from the platform they joined when Clinton or Bush was president, no matter how it might affect perceptions.
In the end, the name you choose for your professional email is arguably more important than whether you opt for Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, or a custom address. When in doubt, simply use a variation of your name (many prefer to use the first letter of their first name, for example, followed by the entirety of their last); some people whose names pop up frequently (Jane Done, we’re looking at you) may need to throw in a few digits or characters as a differentiator (i.e., Jane_Done).
Choosing an email name that reflects your political or religious leanings, or implies too much personal information, should be avoided. And whatever you do, don’t go for a “funny” name like “WildPartyBill@.” That likely won’t gain you much traction with potential employers.