There are lots of big, sweeping questions in the world of job hunting brought on situations so complex and nuanced that it would take hours to even reach the crux of what’s being asked.
Then there’s the question, “how do I address my cover letter?”
In the grand scheme of things, this one seems pretty easy. You’ve got to have a greeting, and then a name or a title. Pretty easy, right?
Fairly hard to mess up, wouldn’t you say?
Well, you’d be wrong.
You could have hired me. I gave you all the clues.
Even with a question as simple as this, you run into a problem pretty quickly — namely that there’s a whole lot of words out there. And deciding which ones to use when introducing your resume cover letter to a stranger can reveal a host of questions regarding the etiquette of job searching that can do a lot to make that search into a living hell.
Fortunately, we’ve got a few tips to help you out in situations such as these.
How do you react to the different ways that people greet you?
If you’re like most people, your reaction depends on context.
Let’s say you’re a 35 year old adult man, a business owner with children. If you walk into the front door of your house to hear your children scream “Daddy’s home” and then rush to hug your leg, you’d think it was cute, sweet, maybe a little annoying at worst.
Now imagine any one of your employees doing that when you walked into the office.
It’s a little different, right?
That’s an extreme example, but people can often have big reactions to even small nuances in behavior depending on the given context — and those reactions are only exacerbated in a situation as stressful as a job application.
This is because the person on the other end of the line — the hiring manager, or whoever has to sift through the mountain of other applications to find yours — has no obligation to you whatsoever.
That means that if something about the way that you greet them turns them off to you as a candidate, they can just decide to not to contact you.
You’ve got one small chance to prove that you’re worthy of their attention, and you have to go into your application and cover letter with the understanding that a hiring manager could stop reading at any time.
So you have to do everything in your power to make sure that they don’t do that.
The best way to ensure that your cover letter gets read in its entirety is to start it off on the right foot.
That means being professional, but appearing knowledgeable — catching the manager’s attention by using their name, or by otherwise using information at your disposal to indicate in a subtle way that you’re one of the informed, and therefore more qualified, job candidates.
Avoid casual greetings at all costs. You can be approachable in your interview. Here, you’re trying to look as businesslike as you can.
There’s an order of operations that should be followed every time you go to address a cover letter, and which step of the process you eventually settle on should depend on what kind of information you have at your disposal.
Not the math kind of operations, don’t worry.
Here’s what steps you should take any time you go to address a cover letter — your goal is to stop at the earliest step you can manage:
Here’s a good example of following the above process, starting at a place of having full information about your contact and ending up at a place where you don’t even know if the person reading your resume is just a robot.
- Full knowledge: “Dear Mrs. Belvedere,”
- Name known, no known gender or gender is non-binary: “Dear Ramona Belvedere,”
- Gender known, no name: “Dear Mrs.,”
- When you know that they’re a doctor: “Dear Dr. Belvedere,”
- When their first name is Dr. but they’re not a doctor and you don’t know their gender: “Dear Dr. Belvedere”
- When they’re a doctor but not that kind of doctor: “Dear Professor Belvedere”
- When you don’t know who they are at all: “Dear Hiring Manager”
That’s the long and short of it. Follow this process and you’ll never go wrong when it comes to addressing your cover letter.
Of course, there are plenty of cover letter situations for which we could simply never prepare you.
For instance, the hiring manager might be a wanted serial killer. In these cases, leave off the honorific — go with first, last, and middle names, and be sure to give all three of those to the police as well.
Maybe the hiring manager is a trained bear. In these cases, communication is nearly impossible. They will not read your cover letter. Include parcels of meat and berries in lieu of it, to ensure your application is given preference.
*Ecstatic bear noises.*
And remember, use the word “dear” if you can. Whatever profession or species your hiring manager might be, it’s important to remember that they are human just like you, and they appreciate when someone talks to them like they are.
Again, unless they are a bear. In which case, we say again: parcels of meat.
Best of luck! Here are some other links to help you on your way: