How to Address a Business or Professional Letter

Man opening mail in home office
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In this era of texting and direct messages, it's sometimes hard to remember everything you learned in school about writing formal letters. You might go years in your career without having to write more than a professional-looking email. However, professional letter writing is an important skill when you're job hunting, career networking, or sending other business-related correspondence.

When it comes to job searching, you need to pull out all the stops in looking professional. Casual just won't do when you're trying to impress a hiring manager and stand out from your competition. The first thing a potential employer sees is how the letter is addressed, so following the proper rules of addressing a letter or professional correspondence is essential for your career-related and business communications.

First and foremost, when you’re writing a letter or sending an email message for employment or business purposes, it's important to use formal language when addressing the individual you are writing to unless you know them extremely well.

If you’re unsure if you should use a formal or casual (first name) form of address, err on the side of professionalism and use the formal designation.

How to Address a Letter: Mr., Dr., Ms., or Mrs.

The appropriate title to use when writing to a man is Mr. For a woman, use Ms., even if you know the addressee's marital status. Ms. is more professional than Miss or Mrs.

For a medical doctor or someone with a Ph.D., use Dr. as a title. Alternatively, you can also use “Professor” if you are writing to a university or college faculty member.

If you don't know the gender identity of the person you're addressing, use a gender-neutral greeting and simply include their first and last name, e.g., "Dear Tristan Dolan."

Letter Greeting Examples

Many letter salutations are appropriate for business and employment-related correspondence, including:

  • Dear Mr. Smith
  • Dear Ms. Markham
  • Dear Kiley Doe
  • Dear Dr. Haven
  • Dear Professor Jones

Follow the greeting with a colon or comma, then use a line break and start the first paragraph of your letter. For example:

Dear Mr. Smith:

The first paragraph of the letter.

Finding a Contact Person

Alison Czinkota © The Balance 2018

You don't need to know the name of the person you're addressing, but it doesn't hurt, and in fact, it can make a positive impression especially if you're trying to score a job interview. Using a name can be a challenge as employers often fail to provide a contact name in a job advertisement, especially on large job search sites.

It’s worth trying to find the contact person because taking the time to discover that person's name will demonstrate personal initiative. It also shows an attention to detail that will speak well for you when your resume is being reviewed.

The best way to find the name of a contact at the company is to ask. If you're networking your way into a position, ask your network contact for the name and email address of the best person to talk to about the position. Barring that, call the main number of the company and ask the receptionist for the name and contact information of the human resources (HR) manager in charge of hiring (or the head of the such-and-such department, etc.).

If neither of those methods works, you can often uncover the information you're seeking by doing a little internet sleuthing. Start with the company's website and look for listed personnel. You'll often see an HR contact on the personnel page or company directory.

If that doesn't yield results, it's time to hit LinkedIn and do an advanced search for job titles and company names. In the process, you might even find another connection to the person you're looking for. That’s never a bad thing when you're trying to get a human being to look at your resume.

Sample Letter With a Contact Person (Text Version)

FirstName LastName
Your Address
Your City, State Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email

Date

Contact Name
Title
Company Name
Address
City, State Zip Code

Dear Mr./Ms. LastName,

I’m writing regarding your university’s upcoming student career networking event. I am interested in reserving a booth because we are looking to hire two new designers. 

The name of our company is Blue Fox Designs, and I would like to connect with some of your design and art students who will be graduating this year. We focus on contemporary home interior design and decoration. 

Please let me know if you have room at your event. You can email me at myname@anemail.com or call my cell phone at 555-555-5555.

Sincerely,

Handwritten Signature (for a hard copy letter)

Your Typed Name

When You Don't Have a Contact Person

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 or use a general salutation. For example:

  • To Whom It May Concern
  • Dear Hiring Manager
  • Dear Human Resources Manager
  • Dear Sir or Madam (be careful about using this one, it can sound antiquated)

Follow the general salutation with a colon, just like this:

Dear Hiring Manager:

The first paragraph of the letter.

Sample Letter Without a Contact Person (Text Version)

FirstName LastName
Your Address
Your City, State Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email

Date

Dear Hiring Manager:

I am writing to inquire about the possibility of any job openings at Woodlynn Publishing. Specifically, I’m looking for a position as an administrative assistant. I have six years of experience as an administrative assistant at Wedgewood Realty in North Grove, but I’ll be moving to your area next month so I’m seeking a new position.

If you do have any opportunities available, please let me know. I’ve attached my resume for your consideration. My current manager, John Anderson, and two of my colleagues are very willing to provide references to attest to my qualifications.

You can contact me at myname@myemail.com or by phone at 555-555-5555. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Handwritten Signature (for a hard copy letter)

Your Typed Name

Addressing the Envelope

Use a business-sized (#10) envelope for all mailed correspondence, folding your letter into thirds.

  • Your return address (name, street address, city, state, and zip code) should be on the top left of the envelope, with the stamp on the top right.
  • Ensure that the recipient's name and address (contact person, company, street address, city, state, and zip code) are centered on the envelope.

Professional Communication Skills

Properly addressing a business or professional letter isn’t a skill you’ll only need when you’re searching for jobs. Once you're employed, there will be times when you'll need to write letters that require formal addresses and salutations.