- Always try to address your cover letter to the manager who will be making the hiring decision
- Find out who is hiring for your role by reaching out to those in your network at your target company, or leveraging resources, such as LinkedIn.
- When in doubt, err on the side of caution and take a more formal approach
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a correspondence that is sent in for a job application in addition to your resume. The primary focus is to tell recruiters and hiring managers your motivations for applying to the job posting. While a resume typically highlights your roles, responsibilities, and achievements, a cover letter is meant to provide context to those achievements. It is also an opportunity for you to speak to specific moments and or hero stories where you went above and beyond your role.
In essence, cover letters are your best chance for standing out as a job applicant. With a resume, the format, language, style, and presentation need to adhere to a formal style. This is due to new technologies, such as applicant tracking systems, which help hiring managers filter job applicants by scanning the resume. Cover letters are less likely to go through such technologies.
How to address a cover letter – the 3 steps
When you’ve found your perfect role, take the time to craft the perfect cover letter. This means taking the time to build out your story that shows your unique value proposition to the company. With that, making sure you address the cover letter to the right individual can make a huge difference. Here are three steps for addressing your cover letter.
1. Understand your audience
When composing any piece of communication, the first step is to understand your audience. With a cover letter, this means understanding who will be screening your application. Some key questions to ask include:
Is this role being posted by the company or by an agency?
Is a recruiter reaching out to me regarding this role?
How large is this organization? Is this company the size of Google or more boutique?
Answering these questions will give you a sense of who your audience is. For example, if the role is being posted by the company, there is a high chance that your immediate manager will be looking at your application. If the posting is being advertised by an agency or a recruiter, you will likely be screened by that recruiter and then passed on immediately to the decision-maker.
Larger organizations receive hundreds of job applications and they will use technology tools and or easy filters to screen applicants. Cover letters addressed to the wrong individuals or addressed as “To whom it may concern” are easy ways to trim the pool. For a smaller organization, consider sending it directly to the hiring individual’s inbox.
2. Find out who to address the cover letter to
Step 1 will help you narrow down your focus for step 2, which is to do the detective work to find out exactly who is screening your resume. Hiring managers like candidates who take the time to customize their applications for the role. Therefore, simple things like addressing the cover letter to the right individual can increase your chances of landing the first interview.
But what if you do not know who the hiring manager is? Below are different ways you can find out who to directly address the cover letter to:
- LinkedIn – many times jobs are posted in multiple places and if it is posted on LinkedIn, there’s a chance it will tell you who specifically posted the job. This provides you with an opportunity to reach to ask who to address it to. Alternatively, you can also search through the company to see who may be the hiring decision-maker.
- Network – dig into your network to see if you know someone at your target company and ask for a coffee chat. If they do not know, they will likely be able to direct you to the right person. They may even be able to put your forward as a referral.
- Call the company – it sounds simple, but one can reach out to the HR department to simply ask. Most times HR Managers are willing to share this information.
- Job Posting – finally, in some cases, the job posting will list who to address the cover letter to – be sure to read the posting!
Resources such as LinkedIn can help you locate the hiring manager for the role. If you know someone at your target company, reach out to have a chat. Pick up the phone and give the company a call.
3. Addressing the cover letter
If your efforts from step 2 are successful, then simply address the cover letter directly to the hiring manager. For example, if the hiring manager is John Taylor, then address as follows:
“Dear Mr. Taylor,”
When the hiring manager is a woman, use the salutation of “Ms.” to ensure you are not making assumptions about the individual. For example, if the hiring manager is Jessica John, then address as follows:
“Dear Ms. John,”
So what if you are unable to find the name of the hiring manager? If your attempts from step 2 fall short, then here are some alternatives for addressing your cover letter:
“Dear Hiring Manager,”
“Dear Sales Associate Hiring Manager,”
While these do not directly address the cover letter to the hiring decision-maker, they are acceptable ways to address a cover letter.
Pro tip: Learn about the company’s hiring processes
A key factor that you should take into consideration is what the hiring process looks like. Organizations are looking for the best candidate for the role and that fit the company. With that, they may use different tools, such as case interviews or personality tests to determine whether the candidate is a good fit. Some companies will also put special requests in their job postings to ensure that potential candidates are reading the job posting thoroughly. Make sure you understand the hiring process to validate whether you need to include a cover letter.
All in all, having a strong cover letter to get you through the gatekeeper can be the difference between landing an interview. Thus, take the time to conduct your research to tailor your cover letter to the hiring and decision-maker of that role.
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