Learn How to Address a Business or Professional Letter
In this era of texting and direct messages, it's sometimes hard to remember everything we learned in school about writing formal letters. You might go years in your career without having to write more than a professional-looking email. But when it comes to job searching, you need to pull out all the stops. Casual just won't do when you're trying to impress a hiring manager and stand out from your competition.
The same goes for formal business correspondence once you're employed. Address your letters the right way, and you'll never have to worry that you're starting off the interaction on the wrong foot, before the recipient even gets a chance to read your message.
First and foremost, know that when you are writing a letter or sending an email message for employment or business purposes, it's important to address the individual you are writing to formally, unless you know them extremely well. If you are unsure when deciding between a formal and casual (first name) address, err on the side of safety and use the formal designation.
How to Address a Formal Letter: Mr., Dr., Ms., or Mrs.
The appropriate title for writing to a male is Mr. For a female, use Ms. Ms. is more professional than Mrs. even if you know the person you are writing to is married. For a medical doctor or someone with a PhD, use Dr. 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." The following is a list of letter salutation examples that are appropriate for business and employment-related correspondence.
Letter Greeting Examples
- Dear Mr. Smith
- Dear Mr. Jones
- Dear Ms. Markham
- Dear Kiley Doe
- Dear Dr. Haven
- Dear Professor Jones
Follow the greeting with a colon or comma, a space, and then start the first paragraph of your letter.
Dear Mr. Smith:
First paragraph of letter.
Finding a Contact Person
You don't absolutely need to know the name of the person you're addressing – and we'll get to that situation in a moment – but it doesn't hurt, especially if you're trying to score a job interview. Sometimes employers fail to provide a contact name in a job advertisement. If you take the time to discover who your contact is, this demonstrates personal initiative and 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, this is pretty easy – just make a note to ask your friend or colleague for the name and email address of the best person to talk to. 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 such-and-such department, etc.).
If neither of those methods work, 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.
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 – never a bad thing, when you're trying to get a human being to look at your resume.
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 of your letter or use a general salutation.
To Whom It May Concern:
First paragraph of letter.
How to Address a Cover Letter
Addressing a cover letter can be tricky if you are responding to a job listing and either don’t have a contact person’s name or don't know the hiring manager's gender.
First of all, take the time to try and find out the name and gender of the contact person. Some employers will think poorly of an applicant who does not take the time to find out the hiring manager’s name.
However, if you do some research and are still not sure to whom you are addressing your letter, it's better to be safe and use a generic greeting or none at all.
It's acceptable to start a letter without a greeting.
Read below for advice on how to address a cover letter, and example salutations.
Options for Addressing a Cover Letter
When you're not sure to whom to address your cover letters, you have a few options.
The first is to find out the name of the person you are contacting. If the name is not included on the job listing, you might look up the title of the employer or hiring manager on the company website. If there is a contact number, you might also call and ask an administrative assistant for the name of the hiring manager.
If you cannot discover the name of the contact person at the company, you can either leave off the salutation from your cover letter and start with the first paragraph of your letter, or use a general salutation.
Tips for Using a General Salutation
There a variety of general cover letter salutations you can use to address your letter.
These general cover letter salutations do not require you to know the name of the hiring manager.
In a survey of more than 2,000 companies, Saddleback College found that employers preferred the following greetings:
- Dear Hiring Manager (40%)
- To Whom It May Concern (27%)
- Dear Sir/Madam (17%)
- Dear Human Resources Director (6%)
How to Address a Cover Letter for a Non Gender-Specific Name
If you do have a name but aren't sure of the person's gender, one option is to include both the first name and the last name in your salutation, without any sort of title that reveals gender:
- Dear Sydney Doe
- Dear Taylor Smith
With these types of gender-ambiguous names, LinkedIn can be a helpful resource. Since many people include a photo with their profile, a simple search of the person's name and company within LinkedIn could potentially turn up the contact's photograph.
Again, you can also check the company website or call the company’s administrative assistant to get more information as well.
What Title to Use
Even if you know the name and gender of the person to whom you are writing, think carefully about what title you will use in your salutation. For example, if the person is a doctor or holds a Ph.D., you might want to address your letter to “Dr. Lastname” rather than “Ms. Lastname” or “Mr. Lastname.” Other titles might be “Prof.,” “Rev.,” or “Sgt.,” among others.
Also, when you address a letter to a female employer, use the title “Ms.” unless you know for certain that she prefers another title (such as Miss or Mrs.).
“Ms.” is a general title that does not denote marital status, so it works for any female employer.
How to Format a Salutation
Once you have chosen a salutation, follow it with a colon or comma, a space, and then start the first paragraph of your letter. For example:
Dear Hiring Manager:
First paragraph of letter.
Spell Check Names
Finally, before sending your cover letter, make absolutely sure that you have spelled the hiring manager’s name correctly. That is the kind of small error that can cost you a job interview.
Cover Letter Examples
Here are examples of cover letters addressed to a hiring manager, cover letters with a contact person, and more samples to review.
How to Write a Cover Letter
This guide to writing cover letters has information on what to include in your cover letter, how to write a cover letter, cover letter format, targeted cover letters, and cover letter samples.