I am helping interview candidates for a job opening and of the 6 applicants I have seen, only one has addressed a cover letter to a specific person. Most have addressed their letters to “To Whom it May Concern:” or “To the Search Committee:”, while others have abandoned all effort to format the letter and went with what looks like an email.
The position is at Notre Dame and finding an appropriate name to address one’s letter is fairly easy to do with 5 minutes of searching on our websites. The one person who did address the letter stands out in a positive light – she may not get the job but everything else being equal, she is already starting off on a good note in my opinion.
It is so important to address one’s cover letter to an individual when possible. It communicates that you went the extra step in researching the position/organization and a level of professionalism in your work. Spending as little as two minutes searching, one can often find the name of the hiring manager or head of the department at small to medium-sized firms (under 500 people). At large organizations it is often difficult, sometimes impossible, to find a name of a person to address a letter to – ex: good luck trying to find the hiring manager for a Financial Analyst opening at Ford Motor, Co. – but at smaller organizations, a little research can go a long way.
- Look at a company’s website, especially firms that are smaller in number of employees (under 100), for a listing “About Us” or whom to contact for specific inquiries.
- Use LinkedIn to look for names of people in the division to which you are applying. Many times you can find the head of the department and cross check with the firm’s website and other company profile vendors (Hoover, Factiva, Wetfeet, Inc, etc.)
- Call the main number of the firm, ask the receptionist for the name/spelling of the head of the XYZ department as you need to address some materials to that person. Works over 50% of the time at small to medium-sized companies. They may not give you email addresses or phone numbers, but names are still available for the asking.
- Speak to an employee of the organization to inquire who is the head of the specific department or the hiring manager. Ask your contacts if they know of anyone at the firm whom you may be able to ask for a name.
- It is okay if you accidentally address the letter to someone higher up within the department than the actual hiring manager. Again, it shows you have done some homework and it can be beneficial as the hiring manager may think you know the boss and may give your materials a second look.
- For larger organizations and one where, despite your best efforts, you strike out, at least address the letter to a specific group (ex: To the Financial Analyst Hiring Committee:). Never put “To Whom it May Concern:” or “Dear Sir/Madam:”. Ever. Really.
In this world of hundreds of resumes per posting one needs to stand out. This small step – addressing one’s cover letter to a specific person will help you stand out for the right reasons.