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.
Writing a business letter requires you to follow certain rules of etiquette to maintain a professional image. You should address the recipient by name, if possible, instead of sending a generic letter. When writing to a man, addressing him as "Mr." is a common and acceptable practice. However, if you are sending a business letter to a lady, choosing your salutation may be more complicated.
The contents of your business letter are important. In general, the information included in your letter should be written in a concise manner, with the message you wish to convey clearly stated. Make sure that your letter is free of errors by proofreading it carefully before sending it. Before your salutation, include a subject or reference line to alert the reader of your purpose for the mailing. A common business greeting begins with "Dear," regardless of the recipients gender, and is followed by a title and the last name. At the end of your letter, sign your first and last name over your typed name and job title. Always use first and last names unless you and the recipient are very familiar with each other.
Known Marital Status
If you know your female recipient is single, an acceptable title is "Ms." or "Miss" before her last name. For married women, "Mrs." and "Ms." are appropriate terms of address. Some married ladies use a different last name than their husband. If the letter is addressed to both of them, your salutation should use both names, such as "Mr. Jones and Mrs. (or Ms.) Smith." If you have received a letter or inquiry from a lady that refers to herself in her husband's first name, then your reply letter may be addressed to her in the same manner, such as "Mrs. Kenneth Jones."
Unknown Status or Name
In a business letter to a woman whose marital status is unknown, you may address her as "Ms." followed by her last name. If you are unsure of a person's gender, use the entire name in a business letter, such as "Dear Jordan Jones." If you are sending letters to a female target market and you do not have individual names, address your letter to "Dear Madam." However, you may have a better response to your solicitation if you use the name of the person, instead of a generic substitute.
Use the professional title of a lady to address her in a business letter, such as "Inspector General Smith," as appropriate, especially if you are not sure if your recipient is a woman. This also works if you do not know her marital status. If the lady is married and the husband has a title but the wife does not, the letter may be addressed to "Dr. Jones and Mrs. Jones." If both spouses are doctors, for example, you may use their first names in your salutation, such as "Drs. Joseph and Catherine Jones."
About the Author
Carol Deeb has been an editor and writer since 1988. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and online publications, as well as a book on education. Deeb is a real-estate investor and business owner with professional experience in human resources. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from San Diego State University.
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