How to Address a Cover Letter (Examples, Methods) [2020 Updated]

how to address a cover letter example

How you address your cover letter is important. It’s the first thing that the reader sees when they decide to read your letter. And it can make your cover letter sound personal and intimate. Or it can make it sounds like you really didn’t care.

Addressing your cover letter properly can absolutely help ensure that the reader takes your letter seriously. And that they continue reading. Think about, if you read a cover letter or any type of business letter that started with a generic addressing of the reader, wouldn’t you think it lacked professionalism?

We’re going to show you exactly how you should address your cover letter. And what to do when you don’t know who it is that you should be addressing.

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

Table of Contents

how to address a cover letter

Why You Should Address Your Cover Letter With a Name

Addressing a cover letter with a name feels like you’ve done your homework. All cover letters and resumes should be designed for both the job and company you’re applying to. If they aren’t targeted and customized to those specific needs (the job needs and the company goals), the letter will sound generic.

A generic cover letter isn’t going to help you get a job. In fact, if it’s generic, you shouldn’t write it at all. Having a personalized entryway into the cover letter that you wrote shows the reader they are about to read a cover letter that has been designed for them.

It tells them that you took the time to sit down and truly write out your thoughts, feelings, and reasons for why you should be considered for the job and be considered for employment at their great company.

Saying, “Dear Mr. Smith” is a great way to show your business etiquette, ability to be professional, and knowledge of the company.

Never Use “To Whom It May Concern”

A common mistake is to use “To Whom It May Concern”. This is a term that consumers chose to use when they don’t know who they are addressing. You should never use this term.

The reason is that this term sounds like a SPAM letter. It is the term that is used when SPAM emails are sent to you. Making it a terrible term to use.

If you were to choose an alternative to “To Whom It May Concern” you are better off using, “Dear HR Team” or something similar.

how to address a cover letter

If You Have Their Name, How You Should Address Your Cover Letter

If you have the name of the person you should be addressing. For example, the recruiter's name or the hiring manager's name, then we’ll want to use that. When you decide to address them by name, always use the proper “Mr” or “Mrs” before you address them by their last name.

This is the formal way of starting a letter, and this is the formal way we want to start our cover letter. Don’t use the professional's first name. Skip that. Use only their last name and use “Dear” before that.

Here is what it should look like:

Dear Mr. Smith—

After you address them, use an “em dash” which is a dash that proceeds the addressing of the reader's name. That is the absolute formal and AP formatted way of addressing someone in a professional or business letter.

how to address a cover letter

If You Don’t Have Their Name, How to Find It

If you don’t have the professional's name that you should be addressing, don’t guess. There are plenty of ways to find the person who we should be addressing. Or at least using a name of a professional who is on the HR team.

In this example, the ideal scenario is that we find a manager's name and use that to address the letter. Using the same format as above, we want to address the professional and then add in addressing the rest of the team.

By doing this format, it ensures that the reader knows you’ve done your homework, by using one of their colleague's names. And then if it happens to not be that professional who is reading the letter, it says “and team” to make sure they feel directly addressed.

Here is the greeting we expect to use:

Dear Mr. Jeffrey & HR Team—

But now your question is, how do I get the name of the HR or hiring manager to use in this greeting? It’s simple.

Follow these steps to get onto LinkedIn and decipher who it is that runs the HR department:

From here you should be able to find one name of the hiring manager that you are looking to work with. Remember, even if it isn’t the exact name of the professional who is going to be reading the email, it is okay. We just want to show the reader that we’ve taken the time to look up someone who is part of the team. They will recognize the name since they work with them. And that will show that the letter is customized, targeted, and personal.

The Last Resort, If You Can't Find Any Name On LinkedIn

If you tried the LinkedIn method and for some reason, there is no employees listed, then try this last method instead. If no employees are listed, it might be a small company or organization. And that's great that you're applying for a position at a smaller sized company. But even if it's not a small-sized company and it simply has no information on LinkedIn (like no company page), fear not.

The last resort is to address the founder's name as well as the team surrounding the founder. If the founder isn't currently active or part of the company, then you can address the CEO. The CEO's name will usually be part of the "About us" page on the company website. From there, you can address their name, plus add in the addressing of the rest of the team.

Here is what it should look like:

Dear Mr. Smith and team—

The reason why this is effective is for the same reasons as to why we looked up the HR leader from LinkedIn. It is a personalized method of making sure that the reader knows you took the time to understand the companies background and who is part of it. Again, even if it is not the name of the person who is reading your letter, they will understand that you have customized your cover letter for the company.

Ways You Shouldn't Address Your Letter

These are popular ways you should not address your letter. It sounds unprofessional, doesn't contain personalization and lacks impact. Avoid any of the following:

Common Job Seeker FAQ's

Below are common questions asked by job seekers when writing a cover letter.

Should I include the company's address?

If you are including the company's address in the contact information portion of your cover letter, try to keep it minimized. This is valuable space in the cover letter that could otherwise be used to speak to your hiring manager or potential employer. It is a rule of thumb that you don't need to include the business address when writing a cover letter. If it specifically asks to address the cover letter with the business address, you can usually find it on the company's website.

Should I use the opening "dear sir or madam"?

This is considered one of the worst methods of a cover letter salutation. You should always address a specific person if you can. Otherwise, address the contact person associated with the job application details or job listing (job advertisement).

Should I include the job title on my cover letter?

You don't need to. But a more formal cover letter will include it. If you need some examples of this you can see more in our cover letter examples database, which contains numerous cover letter templates for you to use.

What is a cover letter greeting?

A cover letter greeting is the same thing as a cover letter salutation. Is it the way you start a cover letter. Or the way you address who you are speaking to before you begin writing your cover letter.

Should I say "dear hiring manager"?

This would be considered your last method of addressing the letter. It is when you cannot find the professionals name you would like to address. Is the best generic salutation you can use.

Should I email my cover letter?

When submitting your application, if they are requesting you email your job application, then you should include your resume and cover letter along with a short note in the email body. Your email body should not be an alternative to your formal cover letter. This is frequently confused as an "email cover letter" but is simply a short note mentioning why the hiring manager should open your cover letter, as a one-paragraph email format.

What is a salutation?

A salutation is the way that you mention or address the reader. Often confused to the way you close a letter. But a salutation is the greeting you use when addressing someone.

What about using only "sir or madam" as my generic greeting?

No. It is highly recommended you do not use this greeting. Or various of this greeting like only "dear sir" or "dear madam". It is a greeting of choice for spam messages, thus loses impact. And could turn your great cover letter into a bad cover letter. Focus on spending the team to learn who the hiring manager is using the method described in this guide and address the hiring manager by name.

How can I write a perfect cover letter?

In reality, there will be no way to write a cover letter that is perfect for your reader or hiring manager. They may simply be in a mindset that day that isn't conducive to hearing about your skills or reasons why you're a perfect fit for the business. It is simply out of your control. But you can do everything possible to make sure you make an impactful letter that matches the job description in the job posting.

Why is addressing the hiring manager the best method for creating an effective cover letter?

Simply put, it shows you spent time figuring out who you should be speaking to regarding the job. It also prepares you for your future interview by connecting yourself to the hiring manager. It is the same as receiving a letter that was not addressed to you versus receiving a letter from your friend. It will take time to find the name of the hiring manager. But it is worth it in your job search to spend the time to create a good cover letter by properly speaking to your hiring manager through this letter.

How does the way I address my letter show my skills and experience?

Those with more business capabilities often address these letters to the hiring manager. This is because those who have more business skills and experience comprehend how to determine or perform quantitative research to uncover who is hiring for the position.

Additional Business Letter Resources

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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