I’m on the board of directors for a local non-profit and part of our responsibility is to recruit, interview, and hire staff – which we are currently in the process of doing. I’m always amazed at the quality of responses we receive; sometimes it’s as if they didn’t even read the job description and many times it’s as if they didn’t even read their own resume before sending it to us. I know the current unemployment situation has many people grasping at any and every job opening and I understand that, however, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of professionalism and attention to detail when applying for a job.
Based on the resumes we’ve received and the interviews we’ve conducted, I seriously have enough material for several articles, but for this one I want to focus on cover letters, specifically, how to address your cover letter.
I will admit, for the most recent hiring we are doing at the non-profit, we did not make it easy for candidates. The advertisement that ran gave no company name, phone number, or contact person, just the job title, requirements, and a PO Box. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to include a cover letter; it just means that the requirements for doing so are a little different.
Typically, when sending your cover letter and resume you want to send it to a specific person whenever possible. If the job posting has a name, great! That makes it easy for you. Often, though, there is no contact person. In that case I always advise clients to call the company and ask for the name of the person they should send it to. This lessens the chance of your resume falling into a black hole and never being seen again! If you ask for a name and they don’t give you one, ask how it should be addressed.
You can also do a little sleuthing on LinkedIn or the company’s website to see if you can find someone to send it to or someone within the company who may be able to give you some inside information on who to send your cover letter and resume to.
If you’ve tried all of the above and can’t get a name or are applying to an advertisement that gives you no clues, such as the one we ran for the non-profit, then the rules are a little different for addressing your cover letter.
If you have no contact name, there are two options when addressing your cover letter. You can use a generic salutation such as Dear Hiring Manager, Dear Sir/Madam, or my least favorite, To Whom It May Concern. These seem generic and I’m not a fan, but if I had to pick one I would go with Dear Hiring Manager. Another option is to omit the salutation all together and go straight into the cover letter.
If you have a name but are unable to determine the gender such as Jamie Smith, you are safest addressing your letter Dear Jamie Smith. If you are able to determine the gender then you should use Mr. John Smith or Ms Jane Smith. Using Mrs. to address your cover letter would be incorrect because you cannot assume they are married.
Getting your resume to the correct person will increase the chance of your resume being seen by the decision makers. If you have tried everything and still don’t have a name, don’t despair. Often a company will withhold that information to reduce the number of calls and inquiries to the hiring manager or simply in order to remain confidential.
by Megan Koehler