Your cover letter will make a first impression of you to a potential employer -- make it effective from beginning to end. Tailor your greeting so that it is appropriate for it's audience by considering who will be reading your cover letter and avoiding any cliches, biases or exclusionary terminology. Choosing the right salutation may require you to research exactly who you are really addressing the letter to and avoid generalizations altogether.
Do your research and get personal. Find out exactly who will be reading your cover letter and address the letter to that person. If possible, find out the person's full name, title and gender. If you have a name, but no other information, address the letter to 'Dear Jane Doe'. If you have more detailed information, you can incorporate this into the salutation, such as 'Dear Mr. or Mrs. Doe' or 'Dear Dr. Doe.' Taking the time to get this information shows initiative.
If you know your cover letter and application materials will be reviewed by a committee, address your letter to the entire committee. If you know the individual names of the committee members -- you can call and ask for the names of the committee members reviewing the applicants -- address them all by name. Otherwise, you can also include them with a general salutation such as 'Dear Hiring Committee' or 'Dear Search Committee.' The job advertisement often provides clues to the committee name, as it may ask you to submit your application materials to a specific committee or department.
In the case that you are addressing an unknown authority, using a formal salutation makes sense. Instead of using the generic 'To Whom it May Concern,' take it up a notch and use 'Dear Madam or Sir' or 'Ladies and Gentlemen.' Use a formal salutation carefully, as it can really date you or may even make you look lazy. It is also important that you do not offend your audience with a sexist salutation or by saluting the wrong sex. Addressing your cover letter with the salutation 'Gentlemen' when you are not 100 percent certain that only men work for the organization, is problematic.
If you do not know the name of the person who will be reading your cover letter, but you have a general idea of their position, you can address the letter using this information. For example, address your cover letter to 'Dear Program Director,' 'Dear Human Resource Manager' or 'Dear Hiring Manager.' You may be able to find clues in the job announcement, on the company's website or call the company and ask for a title. Research the title of the person the job candidate would report to and address this title. If all else fails, you can even address the department, such as 'Dear Marketing Department.'
- Chicago Tribune: 5 Ways to Address a Cover Letter Besides 'To Whom It May Concern'
- Write Express: Cover Letters - Just How Important Are They?
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Cover Letter Workshop-Formatting and Organization
- Stephen Wilbers: Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Salutations
- The Telegraph: Writing 'Dear Sir/Madam' is Sexist, Psychologists Say
- Editing and Writing Services: Business Salutations
- Frankin Covey Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication; Stephen R. Covey
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