How to Choose the Right Cover Letter Greeting
The Appropriate Greeting Makes a Good First Impression
When writing a cover letter, it’s important to use an appropriate greeting. Whether your letter is being sent via post or email, and how well you know the recipient will influence how to choose the right greeting for your cover letter. Your cover letter greeting will also vary depending on whether you are writing a formal job application letter, an email cover letter, or an informal inquiry about opportunities at an acquaintance's company
Why are Cover Letter Greetings Important?
Since the greeting is the first thing the recipient will see when they read your cover letter, it's important that you convey an appropriate level of familiarity and respect. Casual greetings like “Hello”and “Hi” can make your letter seem unprofessional. Likewise, “To Whom It May Concern” is very impersonal and may make it seem as if you didn't care enough to find out whom you should be addressing.
These mistakes can instantly impact your chances of getting an interview, particularly if the other candidates have similar skills and experience. It is essential to put your best foot forward when applying for jobs, and you need to start right at the beginning.
When to Use 'Dear' in a Cover Letter
“Dear” is appropriate in many circumstances, for example, when you know the person well, they are a business acquaintance, or they are a potential employer. If you know the person well, use their first name only.
For a potential employer, use Mr., Ms. or Dr. unless you have been asked to use their first name. Even if you know a woman is married, it is safer to use “Ms.” as opposed to “Mrs.”which has the potential to be offensive in certain circumstances. For a business acquaintance or associate, it will depend on how well you know the person.
If you are on a first name basis, use that. If you aren't sure, use Mr./Ms./Dr. Lastname or Mr./Ms./Dr. Firstname Lastname. If your contact name is gender neutral (i.e.,Taylor Brown) and you are unsure, Dear Taylor Brown is appropriate.
When to Use 'To Whom It May Concern' in a Cover Letter
Use To Whom It May Concern as a cover letter greeting only when you don't have a specific person to whom you are writing. You should first make every effort to find the name of a contact in the specific department that you are interested in. When making an inquiry with a company for unadvertised openings, this greeting may be most appropriate.
When to Use 'Hello' and 'Hi'
Reserve these casual greetings for personal email and refrain from using them in your job search unless you are very familiar with the person you're writing to. They are simply too informal, and it is not the most professional way begin the conversation if your goal is to land a job.
“Hello” is appropriate only in email correspondence. It should be used primarily with people you know well, but can be used in very casual circumstances.
“Hi” is appropriate only in casual email correspondence with people you personally know well. For example, if you're checking in with a close friend to find out if they've heard of a job opening at their company.
Finishing Your Letter
Your letter greeting will set the tone for what follows. Make sure your cover letter maintains a professional appearance, and includes relevant information to enhance your candidacy. Conclude with your thanks for the reader’s time and consideration, and an appropriate closing.
Writing a cover letter that shows off your personality might feel like a high-risk-high-reward strategy. That’s because, if you stick with outdated advice and lean on classic go-to lines, you won’t have to worry about saying anything that’ll make you look bad.
But, if we’re being honest, playing it safe isn’t going to help you reach your goals, either. You want the hiring manager to call you in for an interview. And if your application’s forgettable, that’s probably not going to happen.
So, when you think about it that way, it’s actually a lot riskier to take the exact same approach as everyone else.
With that in mind, you’ve got to add some personality. And you know that, to you, it’s going to read a little strange to you no matter what (just because it’s different). So, if you’re feeling uncertain whether or not it’s working, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Am I Being Rude?
Clearly, you’d never talk down to the hiring manager on purpose. But sometimes, in an effort to lighten the tone, applicants end up doing that by accident.
One of the reasons, “I hate writing cover letters and you hate reading them…” doesn’t land is that you’re making an assumption.
Maybe the hiring manager does like reviewing materials. Maybe he’s in HR because he’s passionate about connecting the right people with a company he believes in. I’ve personally read hundreds of cover letters and I’ve enjoyed those with powerful stories, with an anecdote that made me feel like I knew the candidate better, and with accomplishments that made me think: This person could be exactly who we’re looking for!
You don’t want to kick things off by minimizing what the other person does. So, skip any lines that combine “you and I both know…” and then putting down the whole process.
2. Am I Sharing the Right Stuff?
Another reason those kinds of lines don’t work is that they’re not actually injecting any personality. If you were meeting someone new and describing yourself, I doubt you’d fold in, “Also, you should know I hate writing cover letters.”
Whatever you share should say something about who you are—something you actually would share with a new contact.
The good news is: This means you can cut anything that makes it sound more personable, but that you’d never actually say.
As far as what to add in its place, ask...
3. Am I Still Highlighting My Skills?
There’s no reason that sections with personality should distract from the rest (where you actually sell your abilities). These lines should add to the story you tell—and make it even stronger. Realizing this can be a game-changer.
So, let’s say you have two activities that jump to mind: cooking and binge-watching Netflix.
Consider including the one that speaks to whatever skills are most relevant for the job. In other words: What’s your approach to cooking? Do you meticulously measure every single ingredient, which underscores your obsession with organization and strict processes? Or do you just wing it, which speaks to your creativity? Either way, a line that says I’m so obsessive about organization [or, experimentation] that it carries over to my #1 hobby…makes a compelling, memorable point.
Or, it could be your Netflix obsession is worth mentioning (seriously!). Say, if you’re applying for a social media role, and you participate in tons of hashtag chats, mentioning how it grew your follower base could be a great way to show that you “get” Twitter.
Give yourself a little (or big) boost by running your application by an expert.
Talk to a Cover Letter Coach Today
The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make with this approach is taking it too far. It’s one thing to add personality to your cover letter, and another to skip spell check or not even mention how you’d be a fit for the open role.
So, even if your examples get a little unconventional, follow all of the other cover letter rules—like tailoring it to the position and using proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. (Here’s a great guide to proofreading it yourself.) Close attention to these details will show you that you still care enough to submit something polished, and that’s the very best way to stand out.