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You’ve finally sat down to write that cover letter (good for you!), but immediately you run into a roadblock: How do you even start the darn thing? Who do you address it to? Should you use Mr. or Ms.? Do you include a first name? And what if you’ve searched high and low, but can’t find the hiring manager’s name? 

Don’t fret! Follow these three rules for cover letter salutation salvation.

Rule #1: Address your cover letter to the hiring manager using a formal, full-name salutation (if possible).

For a cover letter, you should always default to addressing it to the hiring manager for the position you’re applying to. Unless you know for sure that the culture of the company is more casual, use the hiring manager’s first and last name. You can include a title, such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” (never Mrs. or Miss). But if you aren’t crystal clear on whether to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” and can’t find their pronouns with a little Google and social media searching (and you don’t have an easy way out with a “Dr.”), just drop the title. Omitting it is infinitely better than accidentally misgendering someone.

Most letters I see still use the “Dear” greeting, though I’ve seen a growing trend of people dropping it and starting with “Hello” or just the name. Any of these works. The most important part is having the actual name. Never use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear or Sir or Madam”—nothing could be more generic (not to mention archaic). Your cover letter could be the first opportunity you have to make an impression on the hiring manager, so make sure you show that you did your research.

For example, you can address your cover letter by saying:

  • Dear Ms. Jacklyn O’Connell,
  • Hello Mr. Kevin Chen,
  • Dear Niko Adamos,
  • Hello Jean Butler,
  • Sam Little,

Rule #2: If you don’t know the hiring manager, guess.

Sometimes, even after hours of online searching (try these tips), you still might not be able to definitively figure out who exactly the hiring manager for the position you’re applying for is—and that’s OK.

If you can only find a list of the company’s executive team, use the head of the department for the position you’re applying for. In the end, no one will fault you for addressing the letter higher up than necessary. This approach is definitely better than not using a name in your cover letter, because it still shows the time and effort you took to find out who the department head is.

Rule #3: Be as specific as possible.

So you’ve done your due diligence and after an exhaustive search—nothing. You just can’t find a single name to address your cover letter to. If that’s the case, don’t worry. The company is likely privately held with no reason to share who its employees are—and, more importantly, is aware of this.

If this is the case and you don’t have a name to use, try to still be as specific as possible in your greeting. Consider using “Senior Analyst Hiring Manager” or “Research Manager Search Committee”—something that shows that you’ve written this letter with a particular audience in mind and aren’t just sending the same generic letter for every job opening.

For example:

  • Dear Software Developer Search Committee,
  • Hello XYZ Co Marketing Team,
  • Dear Junior Accountant Hiring Manager,

Ultimately, you want your cover letter to convey your interest in the position. To start off on the right note, make your salutation as specific as possible—ideally with the name of the hiring manager. Of course, that can’t always happen, but as long as the effort is clearly made, you’ll be showing whoever reads your cover letter that you’ve put time into your application and are truly excited about the opportunity. 

Regina Borsellino contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.

Updated 7/1/2022