A cover letter is your first opportunity to “speak” with the hiring manager. You have a blank page to make them feel that you are the only person for the role, so the cover letter should be written for the specific position and ideally addressed to the correct person.
Addressing a cover letter correctly makes the hiring manager feel special. Getting it right sometimes requires a little effort — not all candidates will take the time to do so. Imagine your closest competitor writing “to whom it may concern” at the beginning of the letter while you have taken the trouble to find out the name of the hiring manager. You win.
Addressing the cover letter correctly is an additional way of showing that you really want the job. When the employment market is tough, every detail matters. In this blog, we look at how to address a cover letter, covering the following:
- Why do you need to address the cover letter correctly?
- How do you find the name of the hiring manager
- What form should the salutation take?
- Mistakes to avoid when addressing a cover letter
- What about the postal address of applicant and employer?
Your cover letter will be read multiple times by a range of people during the hiring process. Ensure that you address it with care.
Why do you need to address a cover letter?
Job hunting is time consuming and not all candidates will write a cover letter that is specific to each role. Some job seekers will even send the same cover letter for each job. As a result, hiring managers are adept at spotting the generic applications and will make a mental note. There is nothing more generic (and cold) than a “to whom it may concern” greeting.
Personalising the cover letter with a suitable salutation and the details of the hiring manager’s title and employer is the first step to making them feel that this letter is meant for their eyes only. They will read enough generic cover letters that even this simple step may help your candidature to stand out.
Should you include your full postal address? While it is important to address the cover letter to the correct person, they also need to know who the letter is from. Your name is not enough. It is letter writing convention to include the full address of the writer, but as cover letters are no longer sent by post, your town and state of residence will suffice. Data protection and potential unconscious bias issues mean that including your full home address is no longer expected. You can provide these details at the job offer stage.
How do you find the name of the hiring manager?
Most of the time, the name of the hiring manager will be in the job description.
If that isn’t the case, you have two choices: either phone the company to ask who is hiring for the role or find the person in HR who is responsible for recruitment. It is important to address the letter to the right person, so make 100% sure that you get it right. This phone call may offer the opportunity to politely ask the receptionist any other questions that you may have – if you tell them that you are a potential future employee they may well be quite friendly. If they seem busy, don’t keep them on the phone too long.
You might also consider popping onto LinkedIn to find out the name of the hiring manager. Make sure that you do this in anonymous mode and do not message them before the interview. Such behaviour may be considered stalking and will not help your cause.
If you cannot find the name, then opt for a warm “Dear Company Team” rather than the colder “To whom it may concern.” This is a decent fall-back option as many people will be reading the letter and it is certainly better than taking an educated guess. “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Recruitment Team” may work as well.
Do you need the employer inside address? As mentioned previously, letter writing convention does not fully apply to an electronic cover letter. A formal letter sent by post should include the full “inside address” of the recipient. This might be included in a cover letter if you want to be incredibly formal, but normally the name, title and company of the hiring manager will be enough to indicate that it is meant for them. You should include their title and company, though — you never know who else might share their name, and it just makes the cover letter seem that little bit more bespoke.
What is the correct salutation?
If the name of the hiring manager and title is included in the job description, write it exactly as found at the start of the cover letter. “Dear Mr/Mrs Surname” is the safest convention. Take care about gender identities if there is no Mr/Mrs and consider using Ms if there is no Mrs/Miss. Making a mistake here is easy to do. Take care if the job matters to you.
If the name is gender-neutral and there is no title, something along the lines of “Dear Jack Hanks” will be fine. While this is not ideal, it will usually be listed in the job description. Alternatively, you can phone the company to check on their preferred title.
Mistakes to avoid when addressing a cover letter
Any casual salutation such as “hi” or “hello” may work for an email when you know the person in question, but they are woefully inadequate for a formal cover letter. You should remember that multiple people will read the cover letter — any suggestion of a close personal relationship may cause problems. Write “Dear Surname” irrespective of how well you may know them. Keep it professional.
As mentioned previously, gendered titles may be considered presumptuous if you do not know the title. Misgendering a future boss is not a good place to start. Opt for the “Dear first and last name” variant. This may not be overly formal, but it avoids awkwardness.
Equally, avoid titles that assume the hiring manager’s marital status. Mr. and Ms. Are the safest options here, unless the title is specified in the job description or any correspondence (in which case, get it right). Just one carelessly omitted letter can spoil things.
When you have a million-and-one things to do in your job search, addressing a cover letter correctly may not be at the top of your priority list. However, when it comes to this most personal of job search tools, not doing it correctly could well be detrimental.
- Show your future boss that you are writing to them (and only them).
- Get the title correct and be careful around gender considerations.
- Be led by what is shared in the job description.
- Phone to check if you are not sure but go generic if there are doubts.