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How to Address a Cover Letter When the Name Is Unknown
Most advice about cover letters instructs job applicants to personalize these documents, but that can be tricky when you don’t know exactly who you are sending the letter to. With a little bit of research, though, you can often find a specific name, along with additional information that will help you land the interview.
If the job listing doesn’t provide a specific name to address applications to, do some research to find a name. In some cases, companies might deliberately leave a name off the listing as a test of an applicants’ resourcefulness and willingness to learn about the company. The easiest way to get a name is to pick up the phone. Call the company directly, and say something like, “I am applying for a position in the ABC department. Can you please tell me who to whom I should address my cover letter?” If you do not get a name, search the company website for a company directory or listing of key personnel.
If your research doesn’t reveal a specific name, the next best option is to address your letter to the general “hiring team.” Very rarely are hiring decisions made by one person, so addressing the hiring team, rather than the more specific “hiring manager,” ensures that you cover your bases. You could also use the generic “Dear Recruiter” or “Dear Recruiting Team.” Don’t address your letter to any variation of human resources, because not all companies have HR departments, and it’s likely that your resume will be reviewed by a department other than HR.
Greetings to Avoid
Never begin your cover letter with “To Whom It May Concern.” Most HR and recruitment professionals note that this is the fastest way to get your resume tossed in the trash, as it tells the employer that you don’t care enough about the job or the company to do even a little bit of research or attempt to personalize the letter. Not to mention, it’s overly formal and doesn’t convey your personality.
Also avoid beginning letters with “Dear Sir or Madam,” or worse, choosing one or the other. Not only does it sound too formal, especially when you are applying for work in a creative field or a startup, but you run the risk of offending someone. At the other end of the spectrum, beginning with “Hello” or even worse, “Hi!” is too informal, and again, shows that you haven’t done any research at all to customize the letter.
Going the Extra Mile
The research you do for the correct name can reveal additional information you can use to customize and personalize your cover letter and application. For example, you might discover that the person doing the hiring went to your alma mater, or shares the same hobby. Even if you can’t find specifics about an individual, researching the company and its mission, vision, goals and priorities can give you some ideas on how to write a better cover letter that gets you noticed.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.