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.
...why not make it easier on yourself?
Speak to a Cover Letter Coach Today
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.
How to open and close your cover letter
On a cover letter, formality is rarely a bad thing.
Write your cover letter opening and closing with these tips.
In a tight job market flooded with resumes and cover letters, it’s a given that your documents and messages need to be error-free. So how else can you distinguish your communications? Appropriate openings and closings that convey professionalism and polish.
Use our tips below on how to start your cover letter with a proper greeting and sign off with a polished signature. And if you need additional writing tips, join Monster today, so the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter.
Cover letter openings
Write a formal greeting, such as Dear Ms. Alvis or Dear Mr. Yang. If you're unsure of the person’s gender and can’t find out, write the full name, as in Dear Chu Li or Dear Chris Beltran.
While it is increasingly common to see greetings without the "Dear" in business, it is less formal. When applying for a job, sometimes you want to start off formally, even though you may take a less formal tone in subsequent written exchanges.
If you’re unfamiliar with someone’s name, be sure you don’t confuse the first name with the family name, which can easily happen in today’s global business environment, depending in part on the languages you know. For example, the CEO of Lenovo is Yang Yuanqing. His surname is Yang and his first name is Yuanqing (in Mandarin, the family name is written first), so if you are addressing him, you would write Dear Mr. Yang and not Dear Mr. Yuanqing.
A final comment on people’s names: be sure to spell them correctly. That is one typo no recipient will miss.
What if you cannot track down a contact name for your cover email? Use a generic salutation, such as Dear Hiring Manager, Dear Recruiting Manager or Dear Human Resources Professional. (Avoid To Whom It May Concern; it is antiquated.) Another option is to write Greetings, which is somewhat informal but polite. You could also dispense with the opening greeting altogether and start with your first sentence, although some recipients might find that approach to be abrupt.
In all openings, be sure to capitalize the first letter of every noun and follow your greeting with punctuation. Use either a colon (Dear Mr. Yang:) or a comma (Dear Recruiting Manager,).
Cover letter closings
End your message with a formal closing, such as Sincerely, Regards or Best regards. If your closing contains more than one word, capitalize only the first word, as in Best regards or Sincerely yours. And be sure to put a comma after your closing. A common error in business communications is the omission of that comma.
Your full name goes on the next line. No need for the extra space that used to go on letters for the signature. Write your telephone number and email address on separate lines after your name. Although this contact information is on your resume (and your email address is on your email), including it with your cover message makes life easier for the recipient.
This post is by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, authors of The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job