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.
One of the most common pieces of job-seeker advice is to personalize application materials as much as possible. This includes the addressing of your cover letter. There may be cases where it’s impossible to find a contact associated with the position, but that doesn’t mean “To whom it may concern” is the only option. With such easy access to information through social media and websites such as LinkedIn, don’t give up on cover-letter customization just because the job description doesn’t list a contact.
“You should never use [To whom it may concern] when sending a cover letter,” says Jodi R. R. Smith, president of etiquette consulting firm Mannersmith. “Instead, with a few keystrokes on your computer, you can research who the proper person for the salutation of the letter is. Having a name on the cover letter shows that you really want the job, that you took the extra time to personalize the letter and that you are able to work independently to get a job done.”
Here, experts weigh in on five alternative ways to address a cover letter:
1. Dear [hiring manager’s name]: “The best way to begin a cover letter is by addressing it directly to the HR/recruiter or hiring manager and emailing it right to them personally,” says Megan Pittsley, director of talent at restaurant technology start-up E la Carte. “In today’s quick-apply society, taking the time and effort to respond personally to job openings and doing a bit of research will help to make you stand out. Most people have LinkedIn profiles, so the information is readily available for those who put a bit of effort into it.”Other ways to track down a hiring manager’s information? Search the company’s website or call the company and ask for the name of the person hiring for the coveted position.
2. Dear [department head’s name]: If you’ve tried the tactics listed in No. 1 and still can’t identify the hiring manager, Bettina Seidman, president of career counselling and executive coaching company Seidbet Associates, suggests looking instead for the department head’s name and addressing the cover letter accordingly. That’s usually easier to find and still shows initiative.
3. Dear [name or title of the position’s manager]: “If the posting says ‘reporting to the senior associate manager,’ query on the organization’s website until you find out who that person is and use [his] name,” Smith says. If you can’t find the name, just use the title.
4. To the [name of the department]: Callista Gould, certified etiquette instructor at the Culture and Manners Institute, recommends using the section or department name, if a direct contact can’t be found (e.g., “To the consumer affairs department”).
5. Dear [hiring manager/personnel manager/human resources director]: If you’ve done your research and still can’t find any specific information to include in the salutation, Sherry Mirshahi Totten, president of career marketing company Roadmap Career Services LLC, says it’s OK to address it generally. But instead of “To whom it may concern,” use “Dear hiring manager,” “Dear personnel manager” or “Dear human resources director.” “Dear recruiter” or “Dear decision maker for X position” works too.
Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder Writer
Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.