|  January 6, 2015

How to address a cover letter

Who do I address my cover letter to?

This is a question that recently came up twice in one day. When I googled it for a second opinion, I discovered that I don’t totally agree with some of the advice out there. Much of it conflicted with my own experience as a recruiter and what I cared about when it came to cover letters. After reading articles from many reliable sources, this is the consensus:

  • Address a cover letter to the hiring manager
  • Go to great lengths to find out who that person is
  • Some articles suggest calling the front desk of the company, or even taking your best guess if you can’t find out
  • They also say that “to whom it may concern” is lazy and outdated.

Here’s where I agree:

In the best case scenario, you know who posted the job and is in charge of screening the incoming applications (FYI, not always the hiring manager!)

In that case, yes, you should address your cover letter to that person. I also agree that “to whom it may concern” feels pretty stodgy, so let’s put that one to bed.

Here’s where I disagree:

Taking a guess and addressing your cover letter to the wrong contact is way worse than a general greeting. Companies are purposefully secretive about who the decision maker on the job is as they’re not looking for them to get bombarded with inquiries. Being overly aggressive to find out who the right contact with can backfire for that reason as well.

In general, it’s going to be very tough to figure out who that person is, and I genuinely don’t think companies would fault candidates for not knowing (I definitely wouldn’t have).


Another thing that most people don’t realize is that at any company with a recruiting team, the hiring manager probably doesn’t even read cover letters – it’s the recruiter assigned to the job that does it. They are the ones who sort through the many applications and they only present the top resumes to the hiring manager for input. I’m not saying the process is exactly the same at every company, but this is certainly the norm.

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Here’s my suggestion on how to address a cover letter:

Assuming you don’t know the proper person to address your cover letter to, go with something somewhat personal but also general like…

Dear [Company Name] team,

This allows you to personalize to the company, but covers your bases no matter who is reading your cover letter. In my mind it’s pretty foolproof.

When I gut-checked this concept with a handful of other recruiters I knew, they all agreed that they wouldn’t think less of a candidate who addressed a cover letter in this more general way. 

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