Your cover letter will make a first impression of you to a potential employer -- make it effective from beginning to end. Tailor your greeting so that it is appropriate for it's audience by considering who will be reading your cover letter and avoiding any cliches, biases or exclusionary terminology. Choosing the right salutation may require you to research exactly who you are really addressing the letter to and avoid generalizations altogether.
Do your research and get personal. Find out exactly who will be reading your cover letter and address the letter to that person. If possible, find out the person's full name, title and gender. If you have a name, but no other information, address the letter to 'Dear Jane Doe'. If you have more detailed information, you can incorporate this into the salutation, such as 'Dear Mr. or Mrs. Doe' or 'Dear Dr. Doe.' Taking the time to get this information shows initiative.
If you know your cover letter and application materials will be reviewed by a committee, address your letter to the entire committee. If you know the individual names of the committee members -- you can call and ask for the names of the committee members reviewing the applicants -- address them all by name. Otherwise, you can also include them with a general salutation such as 'Dear Hiring Committee' or 'Dear Search Committee.' The job advertisement often provides clues to the committee name, as it may ask you to submit your application materials to a specific committee or department.
In the case that you are addressing an unknown authority, using a formal salutation makes sense. Instead of using the generic 'To Whom it May Concern,' take it up a notch and use 'Dear Madam or Sir' or 'Ladies and Gentlemen.' Use a formal salutation carefully, as it can really date you or may even make you look lazy. It is also important that you do not offend your audience with a sexist salutation or by saluting the wrong sex. Addressing your cover letter with the salutation 'Gentlemen' when you are not 100 percent certain that only men work for the organization, is problematic.
If you do not know the name of the person who will be reading your cover letter, but you have a general idea of their position, you can address the letter using this information. For example, address your cover letter to 'Dear Program Director,' 'Dear Human Resource Manager' or 'Dear Hiring Manager.' You may be able to find clues in the job announcement, on the company's website or call the company and ask for a title. Research the title of the person the job candidate would report to and address this title. If all else fails, you can even address the department, such as 'Dear Marketing Department.'
About the Author
Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.
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You’ve found the perfect job and finally sat down to write that cover letter (good for you!), but immediately you’ve run into a roadblock. How do you even start the darn thing? Should you use Mr. or Ms.? Do you include a first name? And what if you’ve searched high and low, but can’t find the hiring manager’s name?
Don’t fret! Follow these rules for cover letter salutation salvation.
Rule #1: Use a Formal Full Name Salutation
Unless you know for sure that the culture of the company is more casual, use the hiring manager’s first and last name, including a “Mr.” or “Ms.” (e.g., Mr. Jack Smith).
Most letters I see still use the “Dear” greeting, though I’ve seen a growing trend of people dropping it and starting with “Hello” or just the name. Either way works. The most important part is having the actual name. Never use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear or Sir or Madam”—nothing could be more generic (not to mention archaic). Your cover letter could be the first opportunity you have to make an impression on the hiring manager, so make sure you show that you did your company research.
One note of caution, if you can’t decipher whether to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” based on the name and a little Google stalking (and you don’t have an easy way out with a “Dr.”), just drop the title.
Rule #2: If You Don’t Know the Hiring Manager, Guess
Sometimes, even after hours of online searching (try these tips), you still might not be able to definitively figure out who exactly the hiring manager for the position you’re applying for is—and that’s OK.
If you can only find a list of the executives of the company and you’re not completely confident who the hiring manager is, use the head of the department for the position you’re applying for. In the end, no one will fault you for addressing the letter higher up than necessary. This approach is definitely better than not using a name in your cover letter, because it still shows the time and effort you took to find out who the department head is.
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Rule #3: Be as Specific as Possible
So, you’ve done your due diligence and after an exhaustive search—nothing. You just can’t find a single name to address your cover letter to. If that’s the case, don’t worry. The company is likely privately held with no reason to share who its employees are—and, more importantly, is aware of this.
If this is the case and you don’t have a name to use, try to still be as specific as possible in your greeting. Consider using “Senior Analyst Hiring Manager” or “Research Manager Search Committee”—something that shows that you’ve written this letter with a particular audience in mind.
Ultimately, you want your cover letter to convey your interest in the position. To start off on the right note, get the salutation right by being as specific as possible—ideally with the name of the hiring manager. Of course, that can’t always happen, but as long as the effort is clearly made, you’ll be starting your cover letter in the right place.