Understanding the importance of salutations on a cover letter
A cover letter is often the first impression a hiring manager has of you as a candidate and can communicate characteristics about how you are as a prospective employee. The salutation on your cover letter is important as an initial greeting and in showing your focus on details. With 'To Whom It May Concern' as the standard greeting for business correspondence, and with so many options for alternatives, knowing which to use as a salutation can be confusing. Learn about the instances when it is appropriate to use 'To Whom It May Concern' and some possible alternatives.
Should you use 'to whom it may concern' in a cover letter?
‘To Whom It May Concern’ has become the standard greeting on many business correspondences specifically when the recipient is unknown or not identified. However, much of this information is available with a simple search on the internet or a company website, using this traditional greeting can come across as generic or lazy. Although there are instances when using ‘to whom it may concern’ on a cover letter is appropriate, there are also other options available that can differentiate your cover letter from others and increase your chances for securing an interview.
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When to use 'To Whom It May Concern'
The standard salutation might be viewed as antiquated for most cover letters, but there are some instances when using ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is appropriate. Below are some appropriate situations when you should use ‘To Whom it May Concern.’
- Providing feedback to a company: When you are providing customer feedback and are writing to an unidentified source, or an automated service, using ‘To Whom It May Concern’ to officially address the recipient is acceptable as you don’t want to make assumptions. Additionally, if the review you submit is via email and may be shared with multiple people and departments, using this inclusive salutation is preferred as it lends professionalism to the message.
- Sending a letter to prospective clients: When sending out cold emails to attract new clients you may find it difficult to get the name and contact information of a specific individual charged with making decisions about sales. In this case, implementing ‘To Whom It May Concern’ at the top of your cover letter is appropriate.
- Introducing yourself to a new client: When making initial contact via business letter with a new client whose name is not gender-specific or identity is unknown, it is best to be cautious and use a gender-neutral salutation.
- Writing a letter of reference or recommendation: If a colleague, friend, or business associate has requested you to serve as a personal reference or provide a letter of recommendation for a position on their behalf, ‘To Whom It May Concern’ or the gender-neutral ‘Dear Hiring Manager,’ depending on the nature of the reference, is admissible. Particularly when you do not know the nature of the review board or evaluation process, using the standard salutation is expected.
- Including a cover letter to an unidentifiable recipient: Using ‘To Whom It May Concern’ on your own cover letter when sending out your resume can be acceptable when the information provided by employers includes generic emails without direct contact information for an individual. The individual or groups of individuals who may review your application information is uncertain so it is best to keep your cover letter professional to increase the probability of success.
When to avoid using 'To Whom It May Concern'
In many cases using ‘To Whom It May Concern’ as a salutation on a cover letter is fitting, but on some occasions, it can be discouraging for a hiring manager or recruiter as the use of the phrase can communicate apathy, especially when specific contact information is readily accessible. Using effective communication skills, especially when making a first impression can help you land an interview for the job you want.
Here are some moments when you may want to consider alternatives to this traditional and often outdated phrase.
- The hiring manager’s contact information is listed in the job posting. The direct contact information for the hiring manager, including name and email, can often be found on the job posting. This is the individual that answers any questions applicants might have and can be very helpful throughout the application process. Carefully reviewing the information and job description can often provide information to successfully address your cover letter.
- There is an ‘About Us’ page on the company website. By doing a little research about the company and learning about the people you may work with, you can submit a more complete and cohesive cover letter. Most companies have an ‘About Us’ page on their website that introduces company management and further details the mission and company vision. Make an added effort that acknowledges the specific individual responsible for reviewing your application and accompanying forms.
- A specific recruiter is listed on a professional website. There are several professional websites available that companies use to attract and recruit qualified candidates. The main contact is often a recruiter or hiring manager who reviews resumes consistently. Seek out information on those resources to find direct contact information and maybe even get inside information on new job opportunities.
- There is insider information available to you. If you have an acquaintance, friend, or family member that already works for the company you are applying with, it can be beneficial to ask them if they know the name of the individual who is reviewing applications. Using your connections and own personal network shows resourcefulness and respect for details. Additionally, it shows you value how individual contributions promote the organization as a whole.
- The customer service department can provide information. Calling the customer service department for the organization or contacting them via email can prove beneficial as they often provide methods to contact employees and can typically provide you with a name or email address. Business emails usually consist of an employee’s last name, which can help you provide a more unique salutation.
Other salutations to use in a cover letter and why they're good
A cover letter is your initial interaction with the person who can potentially hire you. Being certain to start and end your business correspondence professionally communicates to the hiring manager aspects about the type of employee you could be. Below is a list of suitable options to use instead of ‘To Whom It May Concern.’
Based on the information available to you, use this list to help guide the salutation you use to begin your cover letter.
- Dear [Mr./ Mrs./ Ms./ Miss/ Professor, Dr. ] [Last name]: This is perhaps the most desirable as it is the most personal and acknowledges an individual’s identity most directly. When you have been able to locate the hiring manager’s name and credentials, addressing them using official titles develops a strong foundation and positive rapport.
- Dear [Full name]: Similarly, it is permissible to forego the title and address the individual using their full name, if both first and last name is known.
- Dear [Job title]: In instances when the role of the individual reviewing your documents is known, but not their individual identity, opening your cover letter by addressing the actual job title, such as Hiring Manager, Recruiter, HR Manager, Human Resources Representative, etc., still recognizes the role and responsibility while differentiating your cover letter from other candidates’.
- Greetings [Department] Head: If information is hard to find and the company values privacy, try referring to the specific department, such as Human Resources, and acknowledge the leadership role.
- Hello Hiring Manager: Most organizations rely on a hiring manager to review and filter job applications. Including this salutation might be a safe option to keep your cover letter professional.
- Dear [Team or Department]: If your application information is expected to be reviewed by an entire department or hiring committee, using an inclusive salutation addresses multiple individuals professionally. This detail communicates an awareness of the process and can show the team that you understand company policy and procedure. Also, it emphasized your respect for everyone and shows you a fit for the culture of the company.
- Eliminate the salutation: Many who review job applications and the forms submitted along with them often gloss over the information so quickly that a salutation is just background noise. If you have a lot of information to include within your cover letter, or if brevity is the route you decide to take, eliminating the salutation is another choice.