How to Choose the Right Greeting for Your Cover Letter

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What is a cover letter salutation? A salutation is the greeting you include at the beginning of a cover letter written to apply for a job. When you're writing a cover letter or sending an email message to apply for a job, it's important to include an appropriate greeting at the beginning of the cover letter or message. In your salutation, you will set the tone for your letter, which should be professional and appropriate.

Why are Cover Letter Greetings Important?

The greeting is the first thing the recipient will see when they read your cover letter. Therefore, it's important for you to convey the appropriate level of familiarity and respect. For instance, casual greetings, such as “Hello” and “Hi” can make your letter seem unprofessional. Likewise, “To Whom It May Concern” may be too impersonal and make the hiring manager believe you do not care enough to find out whom you should be addressing.

When You Have a Contact Person

The following is a list of letter salutation examples that are appropriate for cover letters and other employment-related correspondence when you have the name of a contact.

  • Dear Mr. Jones
  • Dear Ms. Brown
  • Dear Riley Doe
  • Dear Dr. Haven
  • Dear Professor Lawrence

Punctuation

Follow the salutation with a colon or comma, and then start the first paragraph of your letter on the following line. For example:

Dear Mr. Smith:

First paragraph of letter.

When You Don't Have a Contact Person

Many companies don't list a contact person when they post jobs, because they have a team of hiring staff who sort through cover letters and resumes before passing them to the hiring manager for the appropriate department. They prefer to leave the hiring manager anonymous until he or she contacts you for an interview.

An organization may also not want to disclose who the hiring manger is to avoid emails and phone calls from applicants, particularly if they anticipate receiving a large number of applications from potential job candidates. So, don't worry if you can't find someone to address your letter to. It will be forwarded to the correct department and recipient.

If you don't have a contact person at the company, either leave off the salutation from your cover letter and start with the first paragraph of your letter or, better yet, use a general salutation. When using a general salutation, capitalize the nouns.

Examples of General Salutations

  • Dear Hiring Manager
  • To Whom It May Concern
  • Dear Human Resources Manager
  • Dear Sir or Madam
  • Dear Company Name Recruiter

Punctuation

Follow the salutation with a colon or comma before beginning your first paragraph on the following line. For example:

Dear Hiring Manager,

First paragraph of letter.

When to Use 'Dear' in a Cover Letter

It is appropriate to use “Dear” in most circumstances, such as when the potential employer is someone you know well, or they are a business acquaintance. Follow the guidelines below to choose the right greeting:

  • For people you know well – or are on a first name basis with – use their first name only. For a business acquaintance or associate, use their first name if you met them more than once and addressed them by their first name.
  • For potential employers, use Mr., Ms. or Dr. (unless you have been instructed otherwise). Even if you know a woman is married, it is safer to use “Ms.” as opposed to “Mrs.” as the latter may be offensive in certain circumstances.
  • If you are unsure of the appropriate greeting, play it safe and use Mr./Ms./Dr. [last name] or Mr./Ms./Dr. [first name, last name].

    If the recipient’s name is gender neutral (i.e., Taylor Brown) and you are unsure, you may say, “Dear Taylor Brown.” The better option, however, is to search for “Taylor Brown” on LinkedIn. Chances are their profile picture will clarify their gender.

    LinkedIn is also a great tool to find out who the hiring manager is. Search for the company you are applying to and one or two keywords that would describe the person hiring for the position. Scroll down the list until you find the person who fits the criteria. And presto! You’re in business. 

    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 cannot find out the specific person to whom you are writing. You should, of course, make every effort to find the name of a contact in the specific department in which you are interested. 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 cover letter unless you are very familiar with the recipient. Such greetings are simply too informal – not the most professional way to begin the conversation if you’re looking to land a job.

    "Hello" is appropriate only in email correspondence. It should be used primarily for 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.

    How to Write a Cover Letter Salutation

    Standard business correspondence formatting requires that, after providing your own contact information and the date of your letter, you then write down your contact person’s name, the company’s name, and the company’s address.

    The formal salutation / greeting comes next: “Dear [Contact Person’s name].” If you have a contact person for your letter, be sure to include their personal title and name in the salutation (i.e. "Dear Mr. Franklin"). If you are unsure of the reader's gender, simply state their full name and avoid the personal title (i.e. "Dear Jamie Smith"). Leave one blank line after the salutation.

    You should always make every effort to find a contact name to use in your letter. It leaves a good impression on the hiring manager if you have taken the time to use their name, especially if you needed to work a little to find it.

    If this information was not provided in the job announcement and you cannot find it on the company’s web site, then it is a good idea to call the company, ask to be forwarded to their Human Resources department (if they have one), explain that you will be applying for a job there, and ask for the name of their hiring manager. When you can't find a contact person or if you are unsure of who will be reading your cover letter, you can use a generic salutation (i.e. “Dear Hiring Manager”).

    Concluding Your Letter

    Your letter greeting has the potential to improve your chances of getting an interview. To enhance your candidacy, make sure your cover letter maintains a professional appearance and offers relevant information, including your qualifications for the position. Choose the appropriate closing and always thank the reader for their time and consideration.

    Review an Example

    This is a cover letter salutation example. Download the salutation cover letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.

    Screenshot of a cover letter example with a custom salutation
    ©TheBalance 2018 
    Download the Word Template


    Review an Example (Text Version)

    Alex Applicant
    123 Main Street
    Anytown, CA 12345
    555-555-5555
    alex.applicant@email.com

    September 1, 2018

    Brett Lee
    Nurse Manager
    St. Ansgar Hospital
    123 Business Rd.
    Business City, NY 54321

    Dear Mr. Lee:

    I am writing to apply for the position of nursing attendant, as advertised on the St. Ansgar Hospital website. As a trained nursing assistant who is fulfilled by working with patients and staff, and by helping people, I would be a great asset to your nursing staff.

    I completed my nurse assistant program in June of 20XX, and I also have a nurse attendant certificate from the state of New York. I have been working part-time at Dr. Ellen Mueller’s primary care office in Smithtown, NY, for the past year, so I am experienced in working with patients. In addition, I am diligent about my responsibilities, and I have a flexible schedule which enables me to work almost any hours that you need.

    I’ve attached my resume so that you can review my education and experience. My email is alex.applicant@email.com, and my cell phone number is 555-555-5555. I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you very much for your time and consideration. Respectfully,

    Alex Applicant (signature hard copy letter)

    Alex Applicant

    Sending Your Letter

    When you are sending your letter via email include the reason you are writing in the subject line of your message:

    Subject: First Name Last Name – Nurse Attendant Position

    List your contact information in your signature, rather than in the body of the letter:

    Sincerely,

    FirstName
    LastName
    Your Email
    Your Phone Number