How to Choose the Right Greeting for Your Cover Letter

This illustration shows different cover letter salutations including "When You Have a Contact Person: Dear Mr. Jones, Dear Ms. Smith:," "When You Don't Have a Contact Person: Dear Sir or Madam," Dear Hiring Manager," and "To Whom It May Concern:"

Hilary Allison © The Balance 

A salutation is the greeting at the beginning of a cover letter that is included with a resume when applying 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 to set the tone for your letter, which should be professional and appropriate. 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.

Cover Letter Greetings to Avoid

Using casual greetings, such as “Hello” and “Hi” can make your letter seem unprofessional. 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.

“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. "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.

Beginning your correspondence “To Whom It May Concern,” on the other hand, may seem too impersonal and make the hiring manager believe you do not care enough to find out whom you should be addressing. The only time to use "To Whom It May Concern" as a cover letter greeting is when you simply 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 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

When You Don't Have a Contact Person

If this information was not provided in the job announcement and you cannot find it on the company’s web site, then you may be able 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.

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.

LinkedIn is also a great tool to find out the name of the hiring manager. You can do a search for the company you are applying to with 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. This approach may help you pinpoint the appropriate 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 manager 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.

Examples of General Salutations

When using a general salutation, capitalize the nouns.

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

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 these tips on choosing the right greeting:

  • For people who you know well on a first-name basis, it's okay to 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].

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, 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"). Follow the salutation with a colon or comma, leave one line blank, and then start the first paragraph of your letter on the following line.

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.

Cover Letter 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 

Cover Letter With Salutation 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. I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Respectfully,

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