5 ways to address a cover letter besides ‘To whom it may concern’

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One of the most common pieces of job-seeker advice we give on The Work Buzz blog is to personalize application materials as much as possible. This includes the addressing of your cover letter. There may be cases where it’s impossible to find a contact associated with the position, but that doesn’t mean “To whom it may concern” is the only option. With such easy access to information through social media and websites such as LinkedIn, don’t give up on cover-letter customization just because the job description doesn’t list a contact.

“You should never use [To whom it may concern] when sending a cover letter,” says Jodi R. R. Smith, president of etiquette consulting firm Mannersmith. “Instead, with a few keystrokes on your computer, you can research who the proper person for the salutation of the letter is. Having a name on the cover letter shows that you really want the job, that you took the extra time to personalize the letter and that you are able to work independently to get a job done.”

Here, experts weigh in on five alternative ways to address a cover letter:

1. Dear [hiring manager's name]: “The best way to begin a cover letter is by addressing it directly to the HR/recruiter or hiring manager and emailing it right to them personally,” says Megan Pittsley, director of talent at restaurant technology startup E la Carte. “In today’s quick-apply society, taking the time and effort to respond personally to job openings and doing a bit of research will help to make you stand out. Most people have LinkedIn profiles, so the information is readily available for those who put a bit of effort into it.” Other ways to track down a hiring manager’s information? Search the company’s website or call the company and ask for the name of the person hiring for the coveted position.

2. Dear [department head's name]: If you’ve tried the tactics listed in No. 1 and still can’t identify the hiring manager, Bettina Seidman, president of career counseling and executive coaching company SEIDBET Associates, suggests looking instead for the department head’s name and addressing the cover letter accordingly. That’s usually easier to find and still shows initiative.

3. Dear [name or title of the position's manager]: “If the posting says ‘reporting to the senior associate manager,’ query on the organization’s website until you find out who that person is and use [his] name,” Smith says. If you can’t find the name, just use the title.

4. To the [name of the department]: Callista Gould, certified etiquette instructor at the Culture and Manners Institute, recommends using the section or department name, if a direct contact can’t be found (e.g.,”To the consumer affairs department”).

5. Dear [hiring manager/personnel manager/human resources director]: If you’ve done your research and still can’t find any specific information to include in the salutation, Sherry Mirshahi Totten, president of career marketing company Roadmap Career Services LLC, says it’s OK to address it generally. But instead of “To whom it may concern,” use “Dear hiring manager,” “Dear personnel manager” or “Dear human resources director.” “Dear recruiter” or “Dear decision maker for X position” works too.

Want more advice on writing a great cover letter? Watch this video:

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