1. Blog
  2. Cover Letter
  3. “Dear Sir or Madam”: Top cover letter start alternatives
Written by Debbie BrideDebbie Bride

“Dear Sir or Madam”: Top cover letter start alternatives

9 min read
“Dear Sir or Madam”: Top Cover Letter Start Alternatives
Artwork by:Katya Simacheva
“Sir” and “Madam” may still be used in society, but they shouldn't appear in your cover letter. We walk through the reasons to avoid them, as well as alternatives to “Dear Sir or Madam” as your cover letter salutation.

In years past, it was common to address cover letters and job applications with “Dear Sir or Madam.” Well into the 21st century, this is no longer conventional or expected — unless, perhaps, you’ve got ongoing correspondence with the royal family. 

Now, in your daily life you may not bat an eye when a shop worker or waitress addresses you as “sir” or “ma’am,” as it’s simply a form of courtesy. That said, even that is becoming less common as the population moves away from such formal and gendered greetings. 

All the more reason to avoid this old-fashioned language in your cover letter. Your cover letter is the first impression you make on an employer, so you want to get it right. Starting off with “Dear Sir or Madam” will, at best, give the reader a bit of a chuckle — and at worst, could make you look out of touch with today’s professional norms. 

That’s why we’re going to provide you with alternatives. In this blog, we’ll discuss:

  • Is it ever okay to use “Dear Sir or Madam” in a cover letter?
  • How we got here
  • Why you should avoid this particular salutation
  • Compelling cover letter greeting alternatives to “Dear Sir or Madam”

Is “Dear Sir or Madam” ever appropriate as a cover letter salutation?

Simply, it should be avoided. While it may not be a deal-breaker for all employers, it won’t present you as a modern professional. Short of time travel, there’s just no situation where it would be to your benefit to use such a greeting. 

And, when there is a plethora of better options, why risk it? 

In addition to avoiding “Dear Sir or Madam,” there are a handful of similar greetings we recommend you stay away from: 

  • Dear Sir/Madam, Dear Madam or Sir, or Dear Sir or Madame: Changing the structure or order doesn’t change the overall meaning or concept.
  • Dear Sirs. This is especially unpleasant as it implies you don’t expect women in hiring positions)
  • Dear Sir and Madam or Dear Sirs and Madams: Pluralising the greeting does nothing to change the impact, so you can avoid this.

How did we get here?

Even a few decades ago, the business world was much more formal. It was common to begin all types of business correspondence with “Dear Sir or Madam.” Older generations may recall being taught one should always address unknown individuals, especially those in positions of power, as Sir or Madam. 

Is “Dear Sir/Madam" still used anywhere? In some cultures, language like “Dear Sir or Madam” may still be customary, so it’s important to understand cultural norms where you’re doing business. In the UK and US, however, it’s no longer de rigueur. Coming across as stuffy, old-fashioned, and at odds with today’s society, it does you no favours. 

Expert tip

While we don’t recommend a full “Dear Sir or Madam,” there’s no reason to avoid the first part — “Dear.” 

This is still considered suitable for all manner of correspondence, including cover letters. It strikes a balance between politeness and personability, is unlikely to cause offence, and is easy to remember.

As the digital age has continued to change the professional world by making business correspondence instantaneous and quick via email, the formality — and thus, “Dear Sir or Madam” — has decreased. Besides, with the world wide web at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to find the name and title of the individual to whom we’re addressing our cover letter. 

Why you should avoid using “Dear Sir or Madam”

Overall, using old-fashioned and outdated language like this sends the wrong message about your candidacy. 

For starters, it can seem lazy or unmotivated. It looks like you didn’t put forth the effort to research who is hiring for the role, or even as if you just haven’t taken the time to brush up on today’s business conventions. 

Plus, using such a generic greeting might leave the impression that you’re sending the same cover letter to multiple employers without really caring about the jobs — definitely a red flag for recruiters and hiring managers. Even if that’s not the case, such language is impersonal and creates distance where you could instead be building connection. 

Another risk is appearing old school and out of touch. This is partially due to the old-fashioned language itself, but also due to the inherently gendered notion that everyone must identify as either a “Sir” or a “Madam.” 

It’s even possible that including old-fashioned greetings can lead to age discrimination if the reader uses your language to make generalisations about your age.

Expert tip

“Dear Sir or Madam” is even more of a negative when sending your cover letter electronically. Because emails are more informal, and much more of a modern way to correspond, using such dated language appears out of sync. 

It can also seem a little scammy; many online scam messages start with language like “Dear Sir or Madam.”

Alternatives to “Dear Sir or Madam”

The best replacement for “Dear Sir or Madam” is to use the recipient’s name or title. Address your cover letter to the hiring manager or recruiter, and simply write “Dear Mr Smith” or “Dear Dr Mendez.”

If the recipient has a gender neutral name, uses only an initial, or you’re aware they don’t identify with a specific gender, you could use salutations like “Dear Cameron Washington,” “Dear A. Alexander,” or even “Dear Mx. Harrison.” 

In a less formal industry, like tech, it’s often fine to use their first name, as in “Dear Angela.” And if you know the recipient personally or were referred to them by a mutual connection, a first-name greeting can be appropriate. 

You can uncover the name of the hiring party through online research (LinkedIn is a great place to start) or even a phone call or email to the company. Some job adverts even include the name of the recruiter or hiring manager. 

But what if you’re unable to hunt down this information? Then, is “Dear Sir or Madam” an acceptable replacement? 

Consider these alternatives if you can’t address by name

Even if you can’t find the hiring authority’s name, we recommend against “Dear Sir or Madam” in your cover letter.

Similarly, you can avoid “To Whom it May Concern,” which, although slightly less objectionable, is still old-fashioned. 

Instead, choose a friendlier and less generic option and adapt it to your situation by including the company name, job title, or department.

  • Dear Hiring Manager
  • Dear HR Manager
  • Dear Human Resource Department
  • Dear HR Team
  • Dear Recruitment Team
  • Dear [Company] Recruiter — for example, Dear Nike Recruiter
  • Dear [Company] Hiring Team
  • Dear [Department] Hiring Team — e.g., Dear IT Hiring Team
  • Dear [Job Title] Hiring Manager — for instance, Dear Sales Representative Hiring Manager

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to address your cover letter professionally and clearly while appearing personable and in-the-know about today’s business world. 

Key takeaways

Anyone who entered the professional world before the past few decades was likely taught that business correspondence should be addressed with “Dear Sir or Madam” or a variation thereof. However, times have changed and that’s now viewed as old-fashioned and out of touch. Additionally, using such a salutation may imply a lack of effort or interest on the part of the job seeker. 

Instead, use your internet research skills to discover the name of the person hiring and direct your letter straight to them. If that proves difficult, there are plenty of greetings to choose from — consider the department, team, or position title. Any of these will be more impactful than “Dear Sir or Madam.”

Build your CV in 15 minutes
Build your CV in 15 minutes
Use professional field-tested CV templates that follow the exact ‘CV rules’ employers look for.
Create My CV
Share this article
Keep reading
CV Help6 min read
Best CV Builder
Best CV Builder
Job Interview18 min read
100 Behavioural Interview Questions – Tips and Examples
 100 Behavioural Interview Questions – Tips and Examples
CV Help12 min read
How to explain employment gaps in your CV
How to explain employment gaps in your CV
Job Interview10 min read
How to successfully ask questions in an interview
How to successfully ask questions in an interview
Browse All
This website uses cookies to improve user experience and perform analytics and marketing. By using our website, you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy and Privacy Policy.
Accept Cookies