Knowing how to effectively address a cover letter makes you a very visible and appealing candidate.
Did you know that the cardinal rule of cover letters is personalization? It impresses a hiring manager or recruiter because it tells them you took time to research the specific information for the letter rather than sending a generic version.
What many people forget, however, is that the greeting or salutation in a cover letter must also be personalized with the hiring professional's first and last name whenever possible.
There are several effective ways to find the hiring manager's name for your greeting — and some acceptable back-up strategies when you can't. Either way, knowing how to address a cover letter effectively can prevent you from ending your hiring chances before they even begin.
When you know the hiring manager's name
More often than not, you'll be given the name of the hiring professional or the manager that you'll work for. Whoever it is, use their full name (first and last name) in the greeting.
If you cannot definitively tell the gender of the hiring person, do not use a gender-based title such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” in the greeting. Instead just use the person's full name.
For example, Alex Johnson could be male or female. To avoid a gender mistake, use Dear Alex Johnson, Hello Alex Johnson, or simply Alex Johnson.
However, professional titles such as “Professor” or “Dr.” are definitely acceptable as a cover letter salutation and should be used as a sign of respect. Be on the lookout for these and other titles to include.
How to find a hiring manager's name for your cover letter
If you're not given the name of the hiring manager, here are some effective ways to discover their name by using:
The job description: Check this document for the hiring manager's name. While it's not generally listed, you never know. If it's not obvious, there's also a trick to quickly discover an email in the job description that might contain the name; while in the document, press Ctrl +F or run Command + F and search for the @ symbol.
An email address: If you discover an email address, it may not have a full name but rather a first initial and last name or just a first name like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. A Google search combining the person's name as shown in the email and the company name might find you the person's full name.
A LinkedIn post: A name connected to the LinkedIn job posting is probably that of the hiring professional who posted it, so use that name in your greeting.
The supervisor's title: It's more likely that a job description will list who the new hire will report to — such as the director of accounting — without listing a name. In this case, there are several search options:
Search the company's website for listings of staff members by title.
Run an advanced LinkedIn or Google search for all directors of accounting at that specific company.
Check with your network for someone who might know the person's name or search the appropriate professional networking sites.
Contact the company by phone or email. Tell them you're applying for [job title] and want to address your cover letter to the right person.
In the end, this research can be the difference between making a great first impression and getting noticed for the position — or getting totally ignored by the hiring manager.
Acceptable options in lieu of a name
If you try the steps above and come up empty, there are still some alternative greeting options that will put you in a professional light.
The idea is to show that you've read the job description and tailored your greeting based on the company department where the job is located, the hiring manager's title, or the team with which you'll potentially work.
Some good examples include:
Dear Head of Design
Hello IT Department
Dear Accounting Manager
To Company ABC Recruiter/Hiring Professional
Hello Marketing Hiring Team
Dear Customer Support Hiring Group
Dear Human Resources
If you still can't find any specific name or department information, go with “Dear Hiring Manager.” It sounds professional and it's not gender-specific. In fact, a recent survey of over 2000 companies by Saddleback College showed that 40 percent preferred “Dear Hiring Manager” as the best greeting when a manager's name can't be found.
“Dear Sir or Madam” is another option that works because it's gender-neutral and respectful. However, it sounds a bit old-fashioned and may signal a hiring professional that you're an older worker or just not aware of other greeting options. It's perfectly acceptable, but the better choice is “Dear Hiring Manager.”
In the end, an actual name or any of the alternative examples will let you stand out from the crowd, so do your best to find and use those whenever you can.
Never leave the greeting blank
Whatever information you may or may not find, it's important to never leave your greeting line blank.
A blank greeting line can make you come across as lazy or rude, or imply that you simply don't understand how to write a cover letter — all of which will immediately put you out of contention for the job. There's no reason to leave the greeting blank when there are so many options that can be used effectively.
When you spend the time and effort to personalize your cover letter, you don't want to come across as “just another candidate” by using a generic greeting or no greeting at all.
A personalized greeting will impress any hiring professional, increasing the chance they'll read your entire cover letter — and ask you for an interview.
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