We know it's frustrating when a job posting doesn't include the name of the person in charge of the hiring process.
We also know that's not an excuse to slap any salutation on your cover letter and send your application off.
According to Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, you should always do some research to figure out who exactly the person reading your letter will be.
You can even play it safe by writing at the beginning of your cover letter: "I noticed you're working in [whatever department] at [whatever company]," so you show that based on your research, it looks like they're involved in the hiring process.
In the case that you absolutely, positively can't find a person's name, Augustine said certain ways of addressing your cover letter are more off-putting than others. For example, "Dear Hiring Manager" and "Dear Recruiter" aren't great openings, but they're the best of many bad options.
Here's the full list of cover-letter openings, ranked in reverse order of egregiousness.
Business Insider staff
P.S. This advice doesn't apply in the case of an anonymous job posting, when a company is deliberately keeping their name and the names of their employees confidential.
5. "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Recruiter"
The language in your cover letter should be at once professional and conversational, Augustine said. And these openings aren't overly formal or casual, which is a plus.
But the lack of customization — you could submit this letter to any company you're applying to — will still stand out.
"You're not earning brownie points" with this salutation, Augustine said. "But you're not putting people off" either.
4. "Dear HR Professional"
Augustine said this opening isn't necessarily accurate.
The person reading your application might not work in the company's human resources department, or they might call themselves a recruiter instead of a human resources professional.
3. "Hello" or "Hi"
With "Hello" and no name after it, you've gotten the conversational part down, but you've still failed to customize your letter.
"Hi" is a double whammy, since not only is it not customized, but it can also be considered slang, Augustine said.
2. "Dear Sir or Madam"
You might think you're being clever by covering your bases in terms of gender, Augustine said. But you're actually making a big mistake by being so formal.
If you're applying to a startup, for example, Augustine said this kind of language probably wouldn't fit the company culture.
Even if you're applying to a more traditional company, the fact that your opening isn't customized at all is a big turn-off.
1. "To Whom It May Concern"
"It's so incredibly formal in its language," Augustine said of this opening. "I read that and I think, 'This person doesn't care at all.'"
If they did care, they would have tried to figure out who exactly the recruiter or the hiring manager is.
Moreover, "To Whom It May Concern" conveys exactly the opposite impression of professional and conversational that you're trying to project.
Augustine's rule of thumb when writing cover letters is to ask yourself: If this letter was coming to me, would I want to read it? Chances are good that, if someone addressed you this way, you wouldn't be so intrigued.
How to Address a Cover Letter
Addressing a cover letter can be tricky if you are responding to a job listing and either don’t have a contact person’s name or don't know the hiring manager's gender.
First of all, take the time to try and find out the name and gender of the contact person. Some employers will think poorly of an applicant who does not take the time to find out the hiring manager’s name.
However, if you do some research and are still not sure to whom you are addressing your letter, it's better to be safe and use a generic greeting or none at all.
It's acceptable to start a letter without a greeting.
Read below for advice on how to address a cover letter, and example salutations.
Options for Addressing a Cover Letter
When you're not sure to whom to address your cover letters, you have a few options.
The first is to find out the name of the person you are contacting. If the name is not included on the job listing, you might look up the title of the employer or hiring manager on the company website. If there is a contact number, you might also call and ask an administrative assistant for the name of the hiring manager.
If you cannot discover the name of the contact person at the company, you can either leave off the salutation from your cover letter and start with the first paragraph of your letter, or use a general salutation.
Tips for Using a General Salutation
There a variety of general cover letter salutations you can use to address your letter.
These general cover letter salutations do not require you to know the name of the hiring manager.
In a survey of more than 2,000 companies, Saddleback College found that employers preferred the following greetings:
- Dear Hiring Manager (40%)
- To Whom It May Concern (27%)
- Dear Sir/Madam (17%)
- Dear Human Resources Director (6%)
How to Address a Cover Letter for a Non Gender-Specific Name
If you do have a name but aren't sure of the person's gender, one option is to include both the first name and the last name in your salutation, without any sort of title that reveals gender:
- Dear Sydney Doe
- Dear Taylor Smith
With these types of gender-ambiguous names, LinkedIn can be a helpful resource. Since many people include a photo with their profile, a simple search of the person's name and company within LinkedIn could potentially turn up the contact's photograph.
Again, you can also check the company website or call the company’s administrative assistant to get more information as well.
What Title to Use
Even if you know the name and gender of the person to whom you are writing, think carefully about what title you will use in your salutation. For example, if the person is a doctor or holds a Ph.D., you might want to address your letter to “Dr. Lastname” rather than “Ms. Lastname” or “Mr. Lastname.” Other titles might be “Prof.,” “Rev.,” or “Sgt.,” among others.
Also, when you address a letter to a female employer, use the title “Ms.” unless you know for certain that she prefers another title (such as Miss or Mrs.).
“Ms.” is a general title that does not denote marital status, so it works for any female employer.
How to Format a Salutation
Once you have chosen a salutation, follow it with a colon or comma, a space, and then start the first paragraph of your letter. For example:
Dear Hiring Manager:
First paragraph of letter.
Spell Check Names
Finally, before sending your cover letter, make absolutely sure that you have spelled the hiring manager’s name correctly. That is the kind of small error that can cost you a job interview.
Cover Letter Examples
Here are examples of cover letters addressed to a hiring manager, cover letters with a contact person, and more samples to review.
How to Write a Cover Letter
This guide to writing cover letters has information on what to include in your cover letter, how to write a cover letter, cover letter format, targeted cover letters, and cover letter samples.