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Cover letters are tricky. You’ve found a job you’d be absolutely perfect for, and you can’t wait to start talking up your skills and qualifications and telling these folks why they’d be fools not to hire you. Those are tough things to communicate, but before you can even start worrying about that stuff, you’ve got to address the letter. That opens up a whole other can of worms.

Luckily, Lily Zhang can help you put the lid back on. In a Daily Muse post titled “The 3 Rules of Addressing Your Cover Letter,” the MIT career development specialist provides excellent advice on how to craft the appropriate greeting. Scroll down to read her tips.

1. Be Formal — In most cases, you want to use the full name of the hiring manager, including a “Mr.” or “Ms.” (Example: Ms. Jane Doe.) The only exception is when you’re applying to a company you know to be super casual. As for starting the letter with “Dear,” Zhang says a “Hello” can sometimes work. The key is to avoid “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” Find an actual name. “Your cover letter could be the first opportunity you have to make an impression on the hiring manager, so make sure you show that you did your research,” Zhang writes.

2. Guess If You Have To — In some cases, you won’t know the name of the hiring manager, and even Googling around won’t give you the answer. In those cases, find a list of the company’s execs and address your letter to the head of the department you’d be working in. You might aim to high and list too senior a person, but that’s OK. It’s still shows you’ve taken the time to do research. “In the end, no one will fault you for addressing the letter higher up than necessary,” says Zhang.

3. As a Last Resort, Be as Specific as You Can — If you’re dealing with a privately held firm whose website doesn’t list employees, simply be as specific as you can with your greeting. Use a term like “Senior Accountant Hiring Manager” or “Assistant Editor Search Committee.” By doing so, you’ll prove that you’ve written your letter for a particular audience — namely the folks who might interview and possibly hire you.


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