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.
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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.
By Nicole Wray
To whom it may concern, your cover letter probably isn’t being read. Especially if you’re starting it with “To whom it may concern.”
According to a Forbes article written by a recruiter with 15 years of experience, many recruiters “almost never” read the cover letter. However, unless you are told not to include one, cover letters are a job search must do.
Here are three things to consider when creating a winning cover letter.
The basics: customize your cover letter
Whether it’s a human or a computer reading your cover letter, including key words from the job posting will show the reader that you’ve done your homework. Be sure to clearly state the position you are applying for, the main skills required for the position and how your work experience demonstrates that you possess those skills.
To really impress the reader, research the company and include one or two facts about the business that relate to the position you’re applying for (for example, “I read in Canadian Business that you won the Xyz Award for the best creative marketing campaign last month”).
A cover letter offers the opportunity to directly address the reader, so if it’s not listed on the job posting, use your resources (Google, LinkedIn, a telephone) to find out who you need to address your letter to. To go the next step, make sure that your application lands in their inbox.
The content: honesty is the best policy
Forbes recently published an article about a cover letter that Wall Street bosses are calling “the best cover letter ever.”
In the letter, a summer internship applicant writes, “I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials…The truth is I have no unbelievable special skills or genius eccentricities, but I do have a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you.”
Such upfront honesty won’t work for every industry, but this internship applicant was rewarded for avoiding a common cover letter downfall — the tendency to exaggerate your qualifications.
Inflating your skill set by using vocabulary that’s outside of your everyday language makes a cover letter awkward to read and difficult to write. To create a cover letter that’s professional, yet conversational, don’t use two words where one would work and don’t use a 10-cent word where a two-cent word will do.
Above and beyond: when to craft a creative cover letter
A creative cover letter alternative must be of professional quality and must highlight your skills as they apply to the job you are competing for.
For example, instead of writing a traditional cover letter for a corporate communications position that I applied for, I created a media kit about myself including a press release, a fact sheet and my resume. Although I didn’t get the job, I scored an interview at a great company.
If you’re willing to go the extra mile to craft a creative cover letter, know the industry you want to work in, be professional and use common sense. A poorly executed YouTube video probably won’t get you an interview for an accounting position. However, a well-made website (this genius mock-up of an Amazon.com product page featuring his candidacy as the product) might put your resume on top of the pile for a digital media position.
Do you think cover letters are becoming extinct? Have you had a successful creative cover letter experience? Share your thoughts in a comment.