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.
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?
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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.