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.
Perhaps at one point in time, it was acceptable to start any letter or e-mail with “To Whom It May Concern.” However, those times have changed—and starting your cover letter or e-mail for a job this way might give off the impression that you didn’t do your research on who you’re contacting. It’s also very impersonal, which some employers might not appreciate. (After all, people who address other people by their names when writing and speaking to them tend to be more charming.)
But according to Grammarly, there are four times when it’s actually OK to use this greeting: in letters of recommendation or reference, formal complaints lodged with a company, letters of introduction, and letters of interest or prospecting.
Grammarly uses the example of needing to write a letter of recommendation for a colleague who will have to make several copies to distribute to interviewers. In that circumstance, the correspondence is more of a formal greeting. “In most cases, though, try to narrow your focus rather than cast a broad net,” notes Grammarly. “Ask yourself ‘Who does this e-mail concern?’ If you can honestly answer ‘Anyone,’ then feel free to use To Whom It May Concern.” (Here are some things you should never say in your cover letter.)
If you do happen to find that using “To Whom It May Concern” is appropriate, don’t make the grammar mistake of not capitalizing every letter and leaving out the colon. (You might want to take note of these other common grammar mistakes you might be making, too.)
More: Work & CareerGrammar & Vocab