Many hiring managers only devote a few seconds to skimming candidate cover letters, so those first few sentences are extremely important. You should always try to find out the name of the person doing the hiring, and address your letter to that specific person. If that is absolutely not possible, there are several alternative ways to address the hiring manager. These greetings are never ideal, but sometimes you have limited options.
"To Whom It May Concern"
This greeting is quite possibly the worst way to address your cover letter. It is impersonal and generic, and implies that you didn't try at all to find out the person's name. In addition, "it's so incredibly formal in its language," says Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume. "I read that and I think, 'this person doesn't care at all.'" Even if you're unable to find out the hiring manager's exact name and title, there are still better ways to open your cover letter.
"Dear Sir or Madam"
"Dear Sir or Madam" is a slightly less offensive version of "To Whom it May Concern." Many candidates use this opening greeting in order to cover all bases when it comes to guessing the hiring manager's gender. However, Augustine stresses, this is often a big mistake because it's so overly formal. This kind of stiff language would fail to impress if you're applying to a more modern startup company, and the fact that it still isn't customized makes it a poor choice no matter what type of company you're applying to.
"Hello" or "Hi"
In an effort to forgo the formal route, you may attempt to make your cover letter a bit more conversational by opening with "hello" or "hi." While this is a warmer and friendlier greeting than "To Whom it May Concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam," it still misses the mark, because it isn't customized to the individual. Moreover, "hi" can be considered slang, and can make you look unprofessional or too casual.
"Dear HR Professional"
This opening greeting is a bit more specific to the person that may be reading your cover letter, but it falls short of hitting the mark. The person who receives your cover letter may prefer the term "recruiter" or some other title. They may not even work for the human resources department.
"Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Recruiter"
Of all the generic greetings you could use, this is probably the least offensive. It isn't overly formal or too casual. However, the lack of detail is still a problem. While you're not putting people off, you're still not earning brownie points, says Augustine.
Try not to make a bad first impression on hiring managers by using one of these generic, canned greetings. It won't matter how stellar the body of your cover letter is if the hiring manager isn't interested in reading past the bland salutation. Address the cover letter as specifically as you can to show that you are willing to do what it takes to get the information you need.
Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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