No More "To Whom It May Concern:" Address Your Cover Letter to a Real Person

It’s hard to begin a cover letter, and I’m not even talking about writing the first sentence. The salutation itself can be nerve-wracking or frustrating or seemingly unimportant enough that many applicants resort to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Often you don’t really know who will be reading the letter, and you’re probably writing a lot of cover letters all at once. Addressing generic “whom/Sir/Madam” may seem like a catch all — the quickest and safest thing to do.

It’s not. Well, it may be the quickest, but if you take the time to try to figure out who is on the receiving end of your letter, you’ll instantly prove a few things to a prospective employer.

Taking the Time to Find a Name Proves…

1.     You did your homework. You looked into the company enough to know who may be making the hiring decisions for the team you’d like to join.

2.     You care about this particular job. You spent the extra time to find a name, which means you probably really do want to work with the company.

3.     You’re not just sending the same form letter to everyone. The whole “whom/Madam/Sir” thing makes your cover letter look like a template you’re sending out to every job to see what sticks. Assuming you’re not doing that, addressing your cover letter to a particular person suggests that the rest of letter will also be relevant to particular company and position.

Plus, people like to read letters addressed to them instead of to some general person. Don’t you throw away mail addressed to “[Insert Name] or Current Resident?” I know I do, because 99.9% of the time I’ll be wasting my time reading it. The same applies to generically addressed cover letters.

Finding the Name

Finding a specific person’s name can be a little time consuming, but you’re already taking the time to write a cover letter and send an application. You might as well make sure you’re giving yourself every advantage, and this is one of the easier strategies to make yourself stand out. There are multiple ways to find the right person’s name. Some are easy and some will take a little sleuthing:

In the Job Posting

Lucky! If the job description mentions the hiring manager or department manager by name, your job is done. (And you have absolutely no excuse not to address your cover letter directly to that person.)

Make LinkedIn Your Friend

A large percentage of the time, LinkedIn can help you find the person you need. Start with a keyword search. If you know the name of the department you’d be working in, try a search like “[Department Name] Director” or “[Department Name] Manager.” More often than not, someone in the first list of people you get will make sense as someone to address the cover letter to.

If no one in the list looks like the manager or director of the department you’d be working in, try a broader search for the company hiring manager. Try a search like “[Company Name] Hiring Manager” or “[Company Name] Talent Acquisition” or “[Company Name] Recruitment.” You’ll probably be able to find someone in that list that would likely receive your cover letter.

Pro Tip: I’ll tell you a secret. It doesn’t matter if you pick the exact right person who’s going to pick up your cover letter and read it. It’s likely many people will read it over before an interview anyway. As long as you get close and find someone who’s extremely likely to have a say in the hiring process, you’ve done what you need to do.

Pick Up the Phone

Every once in a while, it can be all but impossible to find someone to address your cover letter to. Now, I’m not suggesting you call up and ask about your application, especially if the job posting specifically says no phone calls. Instead, just call the main number and ask who manages the department you’d be joining. You’re almost certainly going to get a name, and the receptionist is not going to tell on you for asking. (But even if he or she does, making the effort to call works in your favor, not against it.)

Address to a Group or Job Title

If at any point you’re really unsure about the person you’re addressing, or you’ve gone through all the ways to find a name and come up dry (it happens), addressing your cover letter to a group or a specific job title is still better than using “whom/Sir/Madam.” Some examples:

  • “Dear [Person’s First and Last Name] and [Department Name] Team”
  • “Dear [Manager or Director Title]”
  • “Dear [Department Name] Manager and Team”
  • “Dear Hiring Manager and [Department Name] Team”

Addressing your cover letter to a group or job title is a last-ditch option, but it’s still going to set you apart leaps and bounds above other applicants using the generic “To Whom It May Concern.”

Opening Strong Could Help You Get the Interview

It’s only worth writing a cover letter if it does what you wrote it to do – set yourself apart from other applicants. Starting the letter off by showing that you took the time to figure out who might be receiving it is a powerful opening. It’s a strong strategic move toward getting the interview, and that’s the whole point.