How to Address a Cover Letter: Get It Right in Any Situation

woman typing cover letter

If you're preparing a cover letter to submit to a prospective employer, it can be challenging to know how to address it properly. There are a number of options, based on how much information you have about who will receive the letter. Discover how to make wise decisions about how to address every cover letter you send.

Use the Recipient's Name When Possible

If you know, or are able to discover, the name of the individual who will be reviewing applications, that makes it easy to decide how to address a cover letter. The recipient's name may be in the job announcement itself, or be located somewhere on the careers page of the company's website. Peruse both closely to see if you can find that information. If not, call the company's HR department and say, "I'm applying for the XYZ position. To whom should the cover letter be addressed?"

With a Courtesy Title

Ask for the first and last name, as well as what title should be used (Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.). Once you know the recipient's name, simply follow the guidelines for writing a formal letter, which requires using an appropriate title, followed by the person's last name and a colon ([Title] [Last Name]:). When you know the correct title to use, it is considered best to avoid using the word "Dear" at the beginning of the greeting in a formal letter.

  • Mr. Smith:
  • Ms. Smith:
  • M. Smith: (use when the person's gender is unknown)
  • Mx. Smith: (use when you know the person doesn't identify with a specific gender)
  • Dr. Smith:
  • Professor Smith:
  • Director Smith:
  • Vice President Smith:

Without a Title

If you do not know which title would be most appropriate for the recipient, but you do know the person's name, don't make the mistake of guessing. Instead, consider addressing your letter in a manner that does not require the use of a title. This generally involves using the person's first initial or name and last name, followed by a colon. In this case, you could also add the word "Dear" in front of the person's name if the greeting seems too stark with only the name.

  • P. Smith:
  • Pat Smith:
  • Dear P. Smith:
  • Dear Pat Smith:

Use a Descriptive Title for the Recipient's Role

It's not always possible to find out the name of the person or people who will review your cover letter. In that case, use the most likely job title or function for the person or group you can reasonably expect to review your cover letter. Review the job posting for clues as to what that person's or team's role might be. Again, you can add "Dear" to the beginning of the greeting if you prefer.

HR Title/Function

If it seems that the application is going to someone in HR rather than to a hiring manager, choose the title to use in your letter accordingly. If the instructions in the job posting say to send your application to an email address related to HR (such as applications@companyname.com or hr@companyname.com), it's probably safe to assume that the initial screening will be done in that department.

  • HR Manager:
  • HR Representative:
  • Dear Recruiter:
  • HR Team:

Other Title/Function

If the job posting indicates that applications should be directed to a specific department other than HR, such as operations@companyname.com or marketing@companyname.com, that means it will probably be reviewed by someone in that department. If the job announcement specifies who oversees the position, use a title related to that job function. Otherwise, simply assume that the recipient is the person overseeing the hiring process.

  • Hiring Manager:
  • Dear Hiring Manager:
  • Marketing Team:
  • Operations Team:

Committee With Multiple Recipients

If the job posting specifies that the application will be reviewed by a committee, you will want to address your letter to the specified group. This approach to hiring is common in higher education and high-level roles with large organizations.

  • Search Committee:
  • Peer Committee:
  • Hiring Committee:

Preparing Your Cover Letter

By taking the time to figure out the best way to address your cover letter in light of the available information, you'll be able to avoid opening this all-important document with a generic "To Whom It May Concern" greeting line. Once you've decided how to address your cover letter, you'll be ready to move on to writing the document. Be sure to apply best practices for writing a great cover letter and follow a proper business letter format. Depending on how you will submit your cover letter, review how to write a business email or how to write a business letter before you start writing. Sending a well-written cover letter with a thoughtful greeting is sure to help make your resume or job application stand out.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
How to Address a Cover Letter: Get It Right in Any Situation