Cover letters accompany résumés for job-hunters applying for available positions or generally expressing interest in a company. Although these documents are often relatively short and to the point, employers still examine cover letters for clues about the applicant’s writing style, business acumen and professional presentation. Starting you letter with “To whom it may concern” immediately gets things off on the wrong foot. Choose from alternatives to create a better impression.
There are a few reasons why “To whom is may concern” poses a problem. First of all, it sounds old-fashioned and lofty, as if you’re issuing a proclamation. It also indicates that you haven’t bothered to research the company enough to know to which employee you should be addressing your cover letter. If the job posting indicates the name of the person fielding cover letters and résumés, using “To whom it may concern” indicates that you skimmed through the posting too fast to note that a contact person’s name was offered. Last, because any career counselor, job-hunting board or career-related website will tell you that this salutation should be avoided, using it might indicate to employers that you’re out of touch with current professional trends.
Your best alternative for “To whom it may concern” is the specific name of the person who will be reading your cover letter. Sometimes job postings will provide a contact name. If not, don’t give up. Hop online and click through your intended company’s website looking for the name of their hiring director or human resources specialist. Another option is to call the company directly, explain that you’re applying for a specific job, and ask for the name of the person responsible for accepting application materials. This is an effective strategy even if you found a contact person’s name online; sometimes personnel roles will change and company websites contain outdated information.
If you’re unsuccessful in determining a specific name for your cover letter salutation, another alternative is to address the document using a job title. For example, you might write, “Dear Hiring Director,” or “Dear Recruiting Coordinator.” Try not to make up a job title if possible; pick a likely job title from the company’s website or call the company and ask for the job title. Company representatives may share this information even if they’re unwilling to divulge an actual person’s name.
Another alternative to “To whom it may concern” is to begin your letter with “Dear Sir or Madam.” This creates a more formal tone than using the job title, so consider your potential employer’s work culture before using. A trendy, cutting-edge art studio or plumbing shop might find this salutation snooty; it could be the perfect fit for a traditional law firm.
Skipping a salutation instead of using “To whom it may concern” isn’t a good idea. This makes your letter look sloppy or unbalanced. Choose from other alternatives for a stronger approach.
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