If you’re applying for a job and writing a cover letter, it may seem natural to just start off with “To whom it may concern”. It’s a standard form of address and it gets you right to the heart of your qualifications. No-fuss, no muss.
But for the person reading such a letter and deciding if you’re hirable, such an address doesn’t really put you in a good light. It may imply a lack of imagination on your part, or perhaps even a lack of effort. It may show that you don’t really care. All these possible conclusions don’t make you look like an attractive hire.
So what can you use instead? Here are some more effective alternatives that are much better than the generic “To whom it may concern”:
How to Write a Cover Letter
Formal or Informal
How formal is the culture of the company? A bank or a law firm can be very conservative, so you’ll need to use the term “Dear” and then using the full name of the person you’re addressing. You may want to use an honorific, especially an academic title such as “Professor” or “Doctor” for those with a Ph.D. You can also use a gendered honorific (Mr., Mrs., or Ms.) if you’re sure you’re correct. If you’re not sure, then don’t use any term with a gender.
If the culture is decidedly more informal, then you can start off with the friendlier term “Hello”. You may even consider using their first name, though you have to be careful. If uncertain, always err on the side of formality.
Dear (or Hello) “Name of Potential Boss”
Who are you going to report to as your immediate superior? This may not always be easy to find out, but then again you can still try to discover the name of your future boss should you ever get hired. This shows initiative and smarts on your part, and at the same time, it strokes the ego of an important person.
“Name of the Head of the Department You’re Trying to Join”
Perhaps you’re joining one of the engineering teams of a company, but you’re not sure which team leader will be your boss. You can play it safe by just addressing the cover letter to the head of the entire department. It still indicates that you made an effort to do some research, and besides it makes you look more polite to your boss’s boss.
“Name of the Department”
If even the name of the department head isn’t mentioned on the company website or in any forum, just start off your cover letter with “Dear Research and Development Team” or “Hello Photography Team”. You can also add the name of the company at the beginning.
“Name of Head of Recruiting (or Human Resources)”
This person is probably going to read your cover letter to decide if your application will progress to the next stage. At least you can win points for yourself by getting one person’s name right.
“Name of Recruiting Department”
Again, it’s very possible that the name of the head of recruiting isn’t on the website. You can then just address that particular department. You do need to make sure that you get the name of the department right. They may call this “Human Resources”, “Talent Acquisition Department”, or “Recruiting Department”.
Again, place the name of the company right there in your address. That means if you’re applying to Company XYZ, you can use “Hello XYZ Recruiting Team”.
“Dear Hiring Manager”
Or you can use “Dear Recruiter”. Both options may seem a bit generic compared to our first suggestions, but then again these terms aren’t as tired and overused as “To whom it may concern”. You can use any of these terms if for some reason there’s no data you can uncover regarding the people in the company.
“Dear (Name of Position) Hiring Team”
So let’s say you’re applying for the sales manager position for Company XYZ. You can then start off with “Dear Sales Manager Hiring Team” or something similar to “Dear Sales Manager Search Committee”.
At least you show you’re aware of the name of the position you’re applying for. At the same time, you again sow a bit of flair and unique, against a horde of other cover letters using the same old “To whom it may concern” address!