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How to address a cover letter

Knowing how to address a cover letter can be tough, but it doesn’t need to be.

With recruiters spending an average of five to seven seconds looking at a CV, you simply can’t afford to make any mistakes. More importantly, you need to avoid making any errors before you’ve even made it to the main body of the letter – so knowing how to address your cover letter is crucial.

Candidates writing a cover letter fall into one of two distinct categories – those who know the name of the person they’re writing for, and those who don’t. If you’ve found yourself in the latter category, you’ll not only be unsure of the hiring manager’s name, but also their gender.


When you’re unsure of the recipient’s name

If you don’t know the name of the hiring manager, there’s one thing you should do immediately – try and find out. Check the company’s website, their employees’ LinkedIn profiles and any previous correspondence you’ve had. If you’re still unsure, don’t be afraid to call the company’s receptionist to ask, or ask those in your own personal network. Even if you have to use all of these tactics, your potential employer will appreciate your initiative and the effort you’ve put in – and you’ll stand out among other candidates. If your search has been successful, skip to the next section to make sure you nail those opening words.

But if all else fails, ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ is always there to fall back on – and 40% of hiring managers claim this is their preferred greeting. However, steer clear of ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern’ which are generally considered too formal and outdated. Remember to follow your greeting with a comma, then a blank line or two before diving into your first paragraph. Then, when you’re ready to close your letter, ‘Yours faithfully’ is the most common way to sign-off.


When you already know the name of the recipient

Once you’ve found out the name of the hiring manager, things become much easier – at least in theory. If you’re sure of the person’s first name, surname and gender, you can simply opt for ‘Dear Mr. Jones’ or ‘Dear Ms. Brown’. Avoid ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, unless you have a personal connection with the hiring manager and are absolutely certain of their marital status. Instead, use ‘Ms’. Take note if they have an alternative title, such as ‘Dr’ or ‘Prof’ – and make sure you use it consistently through any correspondence.

When you’re not sure of someone’s gender, don’t make assumptions. You can try searching for them on LinkedIn and see if their profile picture gives you further clarification – but this is at your own risk. A safe bet is to use their full name, such as ‘Dear Sam Jones’.

Double check that you’ve spelt their name correctly and capitalised all letters that should be, for example ‘McCall’. This is a mistake that will easily slip past your own eye, but certainly not past the recipient’s. Finally, as you’ve referred to the hiring manager by name, you’ll need to close the letter with ‘Yours sincerely’.

If you’ve done your research thoroughly and followed our expert advice, you can’t go wrong when considering how to address a cover letter. Just remember to check, check and check again to make sure you don’t fall at that all-important first hurdle.

Now you’ve addressed your cover letter find out the essential elements to include.

What to include in a cover letter