We know it's frustrating when a job posting doesn't include the name of the person in charge of the hiring process.
We also know that's not an excuse to slap any salutation on your cover letter and send your application off.
According to Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, you should always do some research to figure out who exactly the person reading your letter will be.
You can even play it safe by writing at the beginning of your cover letter: "I noticed you're working in [whatever department] at [whatever company]," so you show that based on your research, it looks like they're involved in the hiring process.
In the case that you absolutely, positively can't find a person's name, Augustine said certain ways of addressing your cover letter are more off-putting than others. For example, "Dear Hiring Manager" and "Dear Recruiter" aren't great openings, but they're the best of many bad options.
Here's the full list of cover-letter openings, ranked in reverse order of egregiousness.
Business Insider staff
P.S. This advice doesn't apply in the case of an anonymous job posting, when a company is deliberately keeping their name and the names of their employees confidential.
5. "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Recruiter"
The language in your cover letter should be at once professional and conversational, Augustine said. And these openings aren't overly formal or casual, which is a plus.
But the lack of customization — you could submit this letter to any company you're applying to — will still stand out.
"You're not earning brownie points" with this salutation, Augustine said. "But you're not putting people off" either.
4. "Dear HR Professional"
Augustine said this opening isn't necessarily accurate.
The person reading your application might not work in the company's human resources department, or they might call themselves a recruiter instead of a human resources professional.
3. "Hello" or "Hi"
With "Hello" and no name after it, you've gotten the conversational part down, but you've still failed to customize your letter.
"Hi" is a double whammy, since not only is it not customized, but it can also be considered slang, Augustine said.
2. "Dear Sir or Madam"
You might think you're being clever by covering your bases in terms of gender, Augustine said. But you're actually making a big mistake by being so formal.
If you're applying to a startup, for example, Augustine said this kind of language probably wouldn't fit the company culture.
Even if you're applying to a more traditional company, the fact that your opening isn't customized at all is a big turn-off.
1. "To Whom It May Concern"
"It's so incredibly formal in its language," Augustine said of this opening. "I read that and I think, 'This person doesn't care at all.'"
If they did care, they would have tried to figure out who exactly the recruiter or the hiring manager is.
Moreover, "To Whom It May Concern" conveys exactly the opposite impression of professional and conversational that you're trying to project.
Augustine's rule of thumb when writing cover letters is to ask yourself: If this letter was coming to me, would I want to read it? Chances are good that, if someone addressed you this way, you wouldn't be so intrigued.
How to open and close your cover letter
On a cover letter, formality is rarely a bad thing.
Write your cover letter opening and closing with these tips.
In a tight job market flooded with resumes and cover letters, it’s a given that your documents and messages need to be error-free. So how else can you distinguish your communications? Appropriate openings and closings that convey professionalism and polish.
Use our tips below on how to start your cover letter with a proper greeting and sign off with a polished signature. And if you need additional writing tips, join Monster today, so the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter.
Cover letter openings
Write a formal greeting, such as Dear Ms. Alvis or Dear Mr. Yang. If you're unsure of the person’s gender and can’t find out, write the full name, as in Dear Chu Li or Dear Chris Beltran.
While it is increasingly common to see greetings without the "Dear" in business, it is less formal. When applying for a job, sometimes you want to start off formally, even though you may take a less formal tone in subsequent written exchanges.
If you’re unfamiliar with someone’s name, be sure you don’t confuse the first name with the family name, which can easily happen in today’s global business environment, depending in part on the languages you know. For example, the CEO of Lenovo is Yang Yuanqing. His surname is Yang and his first name is Yuanqing (in Mandarin, the family name is written first), so if you are addressing him, you would write Dear Mr. Yang and not Dear Mr. Yuanqing.
A final comment on people’s names: be sure to spell them correctly. That is one typo no recipient will miss.
What if you cannot track down a contact name for your cover email? Use a generic salutation, such as Dear Hiring Manager, Dear Recruiting Manager or Dear Human Resources Professional. (Avoid To Whom It May Concern; it is antiquated.) Another option is to write Greetings, which is somewhat informal but polite. You could also dispense with the opening greeting altogether and start with your first sentence, although some recipients might find that approach to be abrupt.
In all openings, be sure to capitalize the first letter of every noun and follow your greeting with punctuation. Use either a colon (Dear Mr. Yang:) or a comma (Dear Recruiting Manager,).
Cover letter closings
End your message with a formal closing, such as Sincerely, Regards or Best regards. If your closing contains more than one word, capitalize only the first word, as in Best regards or Sincerely yours. And be sure to put a comma after your closing. A common error in business communications is the omission of that comma.
Your full name goes on the next line. No need for the extra space that used to go on letters for the signature. Write your telephone number and email address on separate lines after your name. Although this contact information is on your resume (and your email address is on your email), including it with your cover message makes life easier for the recipient.
This post is by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, authors of The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job