According to Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, you'll always want to direct your cover letter to a specific individual (unless the posting is anonymous). Otherwise, you might give the impression that you didn't put any effort into your application or you don't pay attention to detail.
So how do you figure out who's doing the hiring? Augustine shares her top strategies:
1. Reread the job description.
Before you panic and conclude that there's no name listed, go back and reread the job posting very carefully. There might be a name and email address lurking at the bottom of the posting that you missed the first time.
2. Use the email address provided to search for a name.
Sometimes companies will direct candidates to send their applications to a specific email address, without providing a name to go along with it.
That's a big clue. There's a good chance the email address is the person's first initial and last name (for example, mine is email@example.com), or maybe just their first name. Once you have that information, you can run a Google search for "S Lebowitz Business Insider" or "Shana Business Insider" and see what you come up with.
3. Look for the person who created the posting.
If you found the job posting on LinkedIn, oftentimes you'll see it was created by a specific recruiter or hiring manager, depending on the size of the company.
In that case, you should address your cover letter to him or her because that person is obviously directly involved in the hiring process.
4. Look for information about who you'd be reporting to.
Maybe the job posting says you'd be reporting to the director of marketing analytics, but doesn't give that persons' name. Run an advanced search on LinkedIn for any current directors of marketing analytics at the company and see who comes up.
If that doesn't work, you can run a standard Google search for "director of marketing analytics" and the company name. You might even find that person's spoken at a recent conference, for example, which would give you some insight into what interests her and what kinds of information you should include in your cover letter.
5. Search the recruiting agency's website.
If the job posting was created by a specific recruiting agency, go to that agency's website and look at the bios of all the recruiters who work there. See which one works primarily with the company you're applying to.
6. Google part of the job posting.
It's possible that the website where you spotted the job opening isn't where it was originally posted.
To find out, take a portion of the job description that describes the specific role or requirements, put it in quotation marks, and hit search. You might find the original posting, which includes the name and/or email address of the person in charge of the hiring process.
7. Leverage your network.
Here's where a large professional network comes in handy.
Run an advanced search on LinkedIn to see if you have any connections who currently work at the company you're applying to. Ask that person if he or she a) knows who you should address your cover letter to and b) would be willing to pass your application onto the appropriate person.
You can use the same strategy if there's a company employee you met once at a networking event. Simply email that person: "I don't know if you'll remember me, but…" Express your interest in the position and ask if he or she can direct you to the appropriate person.
This tactic is especially effective, since studies suggest that applicants with someone to vouch for them are more likely to land the job.
Make sure you submit your application through the standard method as well as through your mutual connection. The company may want to track each application that comes in for their records.
How to open and close your cover letter
On a cover letter, formality is rarely a bad thing.
Write your cover letter opening and closing with these tips.
In a tight job market flooded with resumes and cover letters, it’s a given that your documents and messages need to be error-free. So how else can you distinguish your communications? Appropriate openings and closings that convey professionalism and polish.
Use our tips below on how to start your cover letter with a proper greeting and sign off with a polished signature. And if you need additional writing tips, join Monster today, so the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter.
Cover letter openings
Write a formal greeting, such as Dear Ms. Alvis or Dear Mr. Yang. If you're unsure of the person’s gender and can’t find out, write the full name, as in Dear Chu Li or Dear Chris Beltran.
While it is increasingly common to see greetings without the "Dear" in business, it is less formal. When applying for a job, sometimes you want to start off formally, even though you may take a less formal tone in subsequent written exchanges.
If you’re unfamiliar with someone’s name, be sure you don’t confuse the first name with the family name, which can easily happen in today’s global business environment, depending in part on the languages you know. For example, the CEO of Lenovo is Yang Yuanqing. His surname is Yang and his first name is Yuanqing (in Mandarin, the family name is written first), so if you are addressing him, you would write Dear Mr. Yang and not Dear Mr. Yuanqing.
A final comment on people’s names: be sure to spell them correctly. That is one typo no recipient will miss.
What if you cannot track down a contact name for your cover email? Use a generic salutation, such as Dear Hiring Manager, Dear Recruiting Manager or Dear Human Resources Professional. (Avoid To Whom It May Concern; it is antiquated.) Another option is to write Greetings, which is somewhat informal but polite. You could also dispense with the opening greeting altogether and start with your first sentence, although some recipients might find that approach to be abrupt.
In all openings, be sure to capitalize the first letter of every noun and follow your greeting with punctuation. Use either a colon (Dear Mr. Yang:) or a comma (Dear Recruiting Manager,).
Cover letter closings
End your message with a formal closing, such as Sincerely, Regards or Best regards. If your closing contains more than one word, capitalize only the first word, as in Best regards or Sincerely yours. And be sure to put a comma after your closing. A common error in business communications is the omission of that comma.
Your full name goes on the next line. No need for the extra space that used to go on letters for the signature. Write your telephone number and email address on separate lines after your name. Although this contact information is on your resume (and your email address is on your email), including it with your cover message makes life easier for the recipient.
This post is by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, authors of The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job