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.
One of the most common pieces of job-seeker advice is to personalize application materials as much as possible. This includes the addressing of your cover letter. There may be cases where it’s impossible to find a contact associated with the position, but that doesn’t mean “To whom it may concern” is the only option. With such easy access to information through social media and websites such as LinkedIn, don’t give up on cover-letter customization just because the job description doesn’t list a contact.
“You should never use [To whom it may concern] when sending a cover letter,” says Jodi R. R. Smith, president of etiquette consulting firm Mannersmith. “Instead, with a few keystrokes on your computer, you can research who the proper person for the salutation of the letter is. Having a name on the cover letter shows that you really want the job, that you took the extra time to personalize the letter and that you are able to work independently to get a job done.”
Here, experts weigh in on five alternative ways to address a cover letter:
1. Dear [hiring manager’s name]: “The best way to begin a cover letter is by addressing it directly to the HR/recruiter or hiring manager and emailing it right to them personally,” says Megan Pittsley, director of talent at restaurant technology start-up E la Carte. “In today’s quick-apply society, taking the time and effort to respond personally to job openings and doing a bit of research will help to make you stand out. Most people have LinkedIn profiles, so the information is readily available for those who put a bit of effort into it.”Other ways to track down a hiring manager’s information? Search the company’s website or call the company and ask for the name of the person hiring for the coveted position.
2. Dear [department head’s name]: If you’ve tried the tactics listed in No. 1 and still can’t identify the hiring manager, Bettina Seidman, president of career counselling and executive coaching company Seidbet Associates, suggests looking instead for the department head’s name and addressing the cover letter accordingly. That’s usually easier to find and still shows initiative.
3. Dear [name or title of the position’s manager]: “If the posting says ‘reporting to the senior associate manager,’ query on the organization’s website until you find out who that person is and use [his] name,” Smith says. If you can’t find the name, just use the title.
4. To the [name of the department]: Callista Gould, certified etiquette instructor at the Culture and Manners Institute, recommends using the section or department name, if a direct contact can’t be found (e.g., “To the consumer affairs department”).
5. Dear [hiring manager/personnel manager/human resources director]: If you’ve done your research and still can’t find any specific information to include in the salutation, Sherry Mirshahi Totten, president of career marketing company Roadmap Career Services LLC, says it’s OK to address it generally. But instead of “To whom it may concern,” use “Dear hiring manager,” “Dear personnel manager” or “Dear human resources director.” “Dear recruiter” or “Dear decision maker for X position” works too.
Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder Writer
Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.