Who do you address a cover letter to?

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Do you know who to address a cover letter to? Since writing a great cover letter can be the most challenging part of the job application process, you want to be sure to get it right and put yourself in the best light for a hiring manager. But what do you do if you don’t know who the hiring manager is?

While it seems like a simple task, experts say there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to do this.

How to address a cover letter  if you know who the hiring manager is

Your cover letter is most likely the first point of contact you’ll have with a hiring manager, so it’s important to get it right. The most important aspect of nailing this section is showing up front that you did your research on the company and specific role.

If you heard about the job through a contact, make sure to ask your contact to whom you should address the cover letter. If you are applying online, make sure to read the job posting fully, attempting to understand who the hiring manager is, and then research on the company’s website and LinkedIn to find the right name.

If you find out who the hiring manager is, Deb Kearney, Global Senior Director Human Resources at Cygilant, recommends viewing their LinkedIn profile to see how they refer to themselves. Using his or her first name may be appropriate to invite a connection, but Kearney recommends not using shortcuts if you are unsure of his or her preferences.

“Utilize their full name as this will avoid a negative reaction,” Kearney said.

Whenever possible, addressing the cover letter directly to the hiring manager is best to make the interaction more personal.

Examples of how to address a cover letter if you know the hiring manager

  • Dear Mr. Smith,
  • Dear Allen,
  • Dear Ms. Rachel Johnson,

If you know who the hiring manager is, but have never met them, you should start off the letter by addressing them directly and giving a brief introduction of who you are. For context, you can explain where you found his or her name or the opportunity.

“Especially if they don’t know the person, they can say, ‘I came across your name on LinkedIn and I’m interested in this job posting and I’m reaching out with interest in consideration,’” said Dana Leavy-Detrick, Managing Director of the Brooklyn Resume Studio.

How to address cover letters if you don’t know who the hiring manager is

While experts always recommend doing research and attempting to find out who the hiring manager is, the information isn’t always available online.

“I’m a fan of ‘Dear Sir or Madam,’ it’s traditional and does the job,” said Pearlie Oni, the Senior Manager of Employee Experience at RedPeg. “I have also seen ‘Dear Hiring Manager/HR Manager’ which I liked as well, but truly try not to get bogged down in small details like this. I’m far more interested in diving into the candidates’ experience.”

That being said, Oni does recommend staying away from “To Whom It May Concern” because it’s too impersonal for this interaction.

Kearney emphasizes it’s important to do your best research to find out who the hiring manager is because getting the right contact person can truly make a difference.

“Look on LinkedIn or go to the Company website and try to get a name of a senior leader in the department that you are applying to,” Kearney said. “If nothing else, address it To Hiring Team at (Company).”

Examples of how to address a cover letter if you don’t know the hiring manager:

  • Dear Hiring Manager,
  • Dear HR Manager,
  • Dear Sir or Madam,
  • To Hiring Team at (Company),

“You can also think about who you’re targeting,” Leavy-Detrick said. “If I’m working with a senior-level client who’s probably targeting someone higher up, they might say ‘dear leadership team’ or ‘attention leadership team.’”

The worst way to address a cover letter

Even if your cover letter paints a beautiful picture of your career and why you’re the best fit for a specific role, starting it off wrong can taint a hiring manager’s perspective while reading it. Avoid the following mistakes while deciding how to address your cover letter.

Examples of the worst way to address a cover letter:

  • Addressed to the person who was previously in the hiring manager role. Doing this clearly indicates that you didn’t do enough research to find out the most current person in the role, which calls attention to detail into question.
  • Spelling the hiring manager or the company’s name wrong…a very bad first impression.
  • Similarly, using the wrong company name demonstrates a degree of laziness and attention to detail. You always want it to be 100% correct as this sets the tone of who you are as a person.
  • With a bland or boring greeting. I’ve seen people not address it at all or use ‘To whom it may concern.’ It shows that they didn’t put much effort into it,” Leavy-Detrick said.

The best ways to address a cover letter

“I’ve seen people get super creative. One time a candidate addressed her cover letter to our office dog and wrote it in a tongue-in-cheek way, which was super creative and worked for me!” Oni said. “Though it’s also important to know your audience. As Senior Manager of Employee Experience at an experiential marketing agency, we’re all about creativity and things like this really piques my interest.”

On the flip side, if you’re applying for a job within the government, for example, such a greeting may not have the same effect, which is important to keep in mind.

According to Kearney, the most impressive cover letter addresses are when you can tell that the person did their research and didn’t use a one-size-fits-all approach.

Should cover letters include the candidate’s address?

“The most important thing is to at least denote the market that you’re in, so even if you don’t put your full address but you say ‘New York New York’ or ‘Los Angeles, California’…that’s the important part,” Leavy-Detrick said.

If a candidate fails to at least indicate which market they are in, a hiring manager won’t be able to tell if you’re a local candidate or not, which could potentially count you out of the running off the bat.

Also, an applicant tracking system (ATS) will scan for a city or location, resulting in your resume never getting in front of a hiring manager if you haven’t provided where you are located.

Should a cover letter include the company’s address?

“I’ve seen it both ways, but because it’s a formal document, it makes sense to have the company’s address on there,” Leavy-Detrick said. “It’s still pretty standard practice to have the company’s address on there.”

According to Kearney, including the company’s address comes across as much more professional and shows that you did your due diligence and are truly interested in the position.

BONUS: Should a cover letter have the same header as the candidate’s resume?

Ideally, you want the entirety of what a company sees from you to be a cohesive package, so using the same header for your resume and cover letter is a good idea.

“If the cover letter gets misplaced, which it very well could, it is important that they are the same,” Kearney said. “It also tells the entire story, much like a ‘Story Book’ and it is always better to come across in a professional manner.”

“I always make it a point to do that and have clients do that just because the branding package is essentially your portfolio,” Leavy-Detrick said. “Even if it’s just the resume and the cover letter, you want to present everything with uniform branding.”

Things to think about in the intro to a cover letter

A strong introduction is key to creating an impressive cover letter. One thing that  Leavy-Detrick always recommends is mentioning the specific role that you are interested in.

In her experience, candidates will launch into the letter without any kind of greeting or introduction about themselves or why they are reaching out.

“They launch into the letter forgetting that hiring managers or recruiters are often recruiting for a number of positions,” Leavy-Detrick said. “So it helps to specify which one you’re applying to.”