When you're applying for a job or contacting an employer speculatively, the format of your cover letter will vary depending on whether you have a named contact and the reason for your letter. It's important that you address a cover letter properly as it's the first thing the reader will see It needs to be professional and create a good impression.
A cover letter is a document sent in conjunction with your resume or application for a job opening. A great cover letter expresses your reason for applying and pulls together all the main evidence supporting why you're the best person for the job, as outlined in your resume, application, and any other supporting documents.
Each cover letter you write is highly tailored to the position you’re applying for and the hiring company. It should address essential criteria and elaborate on important points in your resume. Consider your cover letter to be your sales pitch. A great cover letter will be an invitation for a recruiter to read your resume or application.
Your cover letter should be addressed to the person responsible for recruitment. If you don’t know the name of the person, there are ways to find out. Getting this can be the difference between your letter being read or lost in the pile, so follow the guidelines below to make sure you address your cover letter most effectively.
If you have a name for your recipient, this is the best start. It means the letter will likely be delivered to the appropriate person, rather than get lost or sent to someone without the decision-making power you require.
A cover letter is a formal document, and so it should be addressed as such. The most professional way to do this is with “Dear.” For example:
Dear Mr. Miller,
Dear Ms. Jones,
Dear Dr. Lopez,
If you don’t know the person’s gender or preferred pronouns, you can use their first name. For example: “Dear James Miller.” Follow the salutation with a comma.
If the recipient of your cover letter has a professional title, always include it. Someone with a PhD will be Dr. rather than Mr./Ms. This also makes things easier if you are unsure of which personal pronoun to use.
When trying to decide who to address a cover letter to when you don’t have a name, it’s definitely worth taking the time to find one. This is covered in more detail in our "First steps in determining a recipient" section below.
If you absolutely can’t find a name, address your cover letter to the appropriate department within the company or organization. For example “Dear [Department] Hiring Team.” If you know the job title of the person you need to send your letter to and it’s just their actual name that eludes you, you can use that. For example: “Dear Head of [Department]” or “Dear Director of [Department].”
When writing a speculative cover letter—one that isn't in response to a job posting—the principles are much like the above. You may or may not know the name of the person you're trying to reach. If you do, so much the better. Include the name.
The difference with a speculative letter is that you may have been given the name of the appropriate recipient by a mutual connection. If this is the case, mention that connection in your introduction. For example:
Dear Mr. Morris,
I was given your details by my former employer, Jenny Lee, of Brandenburg and Associates following news of the development of your new customer service department.
Addressing a cover letter to send via email is slightly different from a printed letter. A printed letter would include the address of the recipient and the date, which is not necessary in an email, as the letter will simply be the body of the email.
However, your email still needs to be as professional as a traditional cover letter. Use a formal way of addressing the letter, as you would in a printed cover letter.
The subject line is all-important with an email cover letter in order to be noticed amid the hundreds of emails a recruiter might receive. Include your name, the job title you’re applying for or reason for contact, and what is included in the documents you're sending. An example would be:
Helen Williams – Marketing Manager Position – resume and cover letter
If you have a recipient’s name but you're sending your email to an ‘info’ address, you can include ‘FAO’ (For the attention of) in your title:
FAO Mark Booth – Helen Williams – Marketing Manager Position
If you don’t have a recipient for your cover letter, you'll need to do some research. It might even be the case that you have a name, but not an email address. Here are some tips for hunting down elusive contacts and their addresses.
Check out the company website and social media sites. Use Google to piece together what you know and find details on lesser-known websites such as About pages. For example, if you know the desired department to contact, you can search for, “Head of Marketing for [Department]” and see what it brings up.
If you have a name but no contact address, you can search your contact: “Mr Jones, Head of Marketing at [Company].” You may be lucky enough to find a social media page this way, if not a contact email address.
The good old-fashioned telephone is an excellent way to find out a contact for your cover letter. Call the company, explain why you are calling, and ask them who best to send your cover letter and resume to.
LinkedIn is a great tool for finding people thanks to its built-in and highly effective search function-. You can search by the person's name if you have one, and for a more advanced search, you can add in the company and location. If you find the person you’re looking for, you will see a ‘Contact info’ link on their profile under their name, so you can attempt to message them and ask.
If you don’t have a name, you can search the company and see who is listed as an employee. If the person you want isn’t listed, you may be able to contact someone in a related department, such as HR, and ask for assistance. You may even be able to get an introduction from a mutual connection.
The format of your letter is as important as who you send it to. When you’ve put in the effort of tracking down the most appropriate recipient, you’re going to want the rest of the letter to stand out, too.
Your letter should be professionally formatted with your name, address, phone number, and email address in the top left. On the next line down, add the date, followed by the name and address of the recipient. As with any document, you begin writing the cover letter with ‘Dear [Name]’ on the left of the page.
If you are sending your letter digitally, which is far more common these days, your letter should be in the body of the text and you need to include the date, your city/state, phone number and email address at the top, but not the recipient's name and address.
Using a cover letter template can be very helpful. Generally, cover letters follow the same format (aside from the address at the top) and should ideally be no longer than a page, whether they are printed or emailed. Feel free to download this cover letter template for your use.
When deciding how to address a cover letter and who to send it to, your efforts in finding the right person and formatting your cover letter professionally can help you get the interview you're looking for. For further help on crafting cover letters that get you noticed, you can check out the Writing Winning Resumes and Cover Letters course offered by the University of Maryland on Coursera.
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