How to Address a Cover Letter

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how to address a cover letter under different circumstances and how to find a contact to send the letter to when you don’t have a name.

[Featured Image]: A woman with curly hair and in a yellow blouse is examining a cover letter she is working on.

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 correctly, as it's the first thing the reader will see. It needs to be professional and create a good impression.

What is a cover letter, and why is it important?

A cover letter is a document sent with your CV or application for a job opening. A great cover letter shows your reason for applying. It also pulls together all the main evidence supporting why you're the best person for the job, as outlined in your CV, application, and 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 CV. Consider your cover letter to be your sales pitch. A great cover letter invites a recruiter to read your CV or application.

Who do you address a cover letter to?

Your cover letter should be addressed to the person responsible for recruitment. If you don’t know the person's name, there are ways to find out. Finding the name 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.

Addressing a cover letter with a name

This is the best start if you have a name for your recipient. This means the letter will likely be delivered to the right person rather than lost or sent to someone without the power you need.

A cover letter is a formal document that 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. Sullivan

If you don’t know the person’s gender or preferred pronouns, you can use their first name. For example: "Dear James Miller." Don’t include a comma or colon after the greeting.

Addressing a cover letter to a recipient with a professional title

If the recipient of your cover letter has a professional title, always include it. Someone with a PhD will be a doctor rather than a Mr/Ms. This also makes things easier if you need help deciding which personal pronoun to use.

Addressing a cover letter without a named recipient

It's worth finding one when deciding who to address a cover letter to when you don’t have a name. 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 organisation. For example, "Dear [Department] Hiring Team". You can use that 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. For example: "Dear Head of [Department]" or "Dear Director of [Department]".

Addressing a speculative cover letter

When writing a speculative cover letter 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 a mutual connection may have given you the name of the appropriate recipient. If this is the case, mention that connection in your introduction. For example:

Dear Mr Morris

My former employer, Jenny Lee of Brandenburg and Associates, gave me your details after your new customer service department was developed.

Addressing a cover letter sent by email

Addressing a cover letter to send via email slightly differs from a printed one. A printed letter would include the recipient's address and the date, which is unnecessary in an email, as the letter will be the body of the email.

However, your email still needs to be as professional as a traditional cover letter. Formally address the letter, as you would in a printed cover letter. 

The subject line and an email cover letter are important to notice amid the hundreds of emails a recruiter might receive. Include your name, the job title you’re applying for, the reason for contact, and what is included in the documents you're sending. An example would be:

Helen Williams – Marketing Manager Position – CV 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

How to find the right recipient

If you don’t have a recipient for your cover letter, you'll need to do some research. You might even have a name but not an email address. Here are some tips for hunting down elusive contacts and their addresses.

Research websites

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 for your contact: "Mr. Jones, Head of Marketing at [Company]." If you need a contact email address, you may find a social media page.

Call the company

The good old-fashioned telephone is an excellent way to find a contact for your cover letter. Call the company, explain why you are calling, and ask them to whom best to send your cover letter and CV.

Check LinkedIn

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 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.

Formatting your cover letter

The format of your letter is as important as who you send it to. Once you’ve tracked down the most appropriate recipient, you will want the rest of the letter to stand out, too.

Address and date

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. Then, on the left, add the name and address of the recipient. Under that, address the recipient with "Dear [Name]" on the left of the page as well.

If you send your letter digitally, which is far more common nowadays, it should be in the body of the text. At the top, you need to include the date, your city or town, country or province, phone number, and email address, but not the recipient's name and address. 

Cover letter template

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 printed or emailed. Feel free to download this cover letter template for your use.

Get started.

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 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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