Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How the heck should you address your cover letter?

From an astute reader who wrote in:
For every cover letter I've written, I don't know who to address it to.  For my first set I was using the "To Whom It May Concern" salutation, but recently have been using "Dear Hiring Manager".... Does this matter?  Some things I've read say it does, some not so much. Should I omit this entirely unless I know who I'm writing to?
Here are some to avoid:
  • Yo!
  • Dear Sir:
  • To the people I would French kiss if you gave me a job:
  • Dear Future Bosses:
Honestly, I have no idea how to write this -- my personal favorite is "To the Members of the Hiring Committee" or the classic "Dear Sir/Madam." Readers, any thoughts?

27 comments:

  1. "My fellow Americans"

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  2. If you don't know who the hiring manager is, you are off to an incredibly bad start. Your application is akin to lobbing it over the wall and praying for the best. In today's market, with the competition that exists, you might as well not bother.

    So, spend the time and work your contacts, and find out who the hiring manager is. Or, spend the time to develop contacts who let you know where a job is opening up. By the time it posts online, they often already have enough candidates.

    I've been through the mill once. And applied for my fair share of speculative positions (addressed probably to Dear sir/madam or Dear Hiring Manager). But I've read my fair share of interviews and blog posts where person X has been unemployed for 9 months and applied for 10,000 jobs or something crazy. I have a lot of sympathy, but part of me wants to scream to stop wasting your time. Apply for the very few jobs that you are actually qualified for and that you have some insight into the company and some contacts to talk to. If you don't know anyone, use LinkedIn to find someone you know who does. take the extra few days to do your research.

    OK, off my hobby horse now.

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  3. Taking the alternate view....

    http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/02/your_job_ads_are_driving_talen.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=linkedin

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  4. And if I must, I will write "Dear GSK Esprit Team,". Because I need kudos.

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  5. Dear Hiring Manager is fine. After you make it through the HR screen the hiring manager will probably be another scientist who won't care about petty stuff like that anyway.

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  6. "In the name of god the compassionate the merciful"

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  7. Also, it might be a mistake to refer to your previous job with a phrase "Blood of martyrs be upon them"

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  8. I used to address cover letters with "Hi there". My take was if someone found that offensive I probably didn't want to work for them. That said, I did end up with a couple of jobs that I quickly realized I didn't want to work at: nothing like waking up Sunday morning and dreading going into work Monday.....

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  9. "To The People Smart Enough to Hire Me"

    "My peeps"

    or

    "Enclosed is a check for $50 to grant me an interview"

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  10. To whom it may concern

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  11. I was going to say what BioBrit said above. If you're hoping the cover letter is what keeps your resume out of the trash, you're already behind. Doubly so if it hangs on the merits of your salutation.

    If I'm looking to hire someone, I'm much more likely to read a resume sent to me by a friend / coworker than any of the hundreds lurking in the internal HR site. I typically look at the resume first, even if a cover letter is attached. Job hunting today is all about getting real eyeballs on your resume. Taleo, brass ring, etc are just black holes. Getting your resume to the hiring manager give them they key to fish it out of the database so they can bring you in.

    Many companies try extremely hard so that you DON'T know who the hiring manager is. When I am obliged to include a cover letter, I address the company directly (e.g. "Dear Pfizer").

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  12. To BioBrit and JMB, I hope you realize that job seekers know that job searches without connections inside a company are exercises in futility. I’ve been looking for a job for months and I try not to annoy my contacts when I ask if they know anyone connected to hiring within a company. I fill out the useless online applications because it helps to give the illusion of control over my life. It helps to kill the time between emails as I search for a living, breathing person to send a resume.

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    1. Having been on the job market somewhat recently, I will agree with BioBrit SD and JMB. The internet and LinkedIn are very helpful resources to get your information into the hands of people who have actual influence on hiring. I've seen so many emb

      But I wanted to take time and address this specific comment that lots of chemists (and scientists in general) fall victim to. It's not as much of an annoyance as you think to ask your contacts for a leg up. I think this is a typical mindset for people who are introverted. Truth is, I always try to help people that I know when I come across positions. The last time we had a generic search for chemists in my company, I was very surprised at the low quality of candidates. I assumed with the large number of job seekers that we'd be swimming in talent, but at least 50% of the people were either unqualified or had some idiosyncrasy in their personality (yes this counts for a lot, I don't care how fair you think it is). Because of that I'm even more inclined to lean on my personal network.

      Bottom line: USE YOUR CONNECTIONS. You don't have to stop filling out online applications, but definitely don't expect much from those, the success rate is god-awful.

      Delete
  13. What about how to address it when you *do* know the hiring manager's name? I say "Dear Dr. Lastname" but that sounds weird to me because nobody is ever that formal these days. I haven't known anyone who uses titles in my time in industry (standard practice seems to be "Hi Firstname") but I figure applications should still hearken back to a different era. I was just wondering what other people do?

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    1. I am a "Dear Dr. Lastname" guy, but if you note in my writing, I trend towards the formal.

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    2. "nobody is ever that formal these days..." So, you should address someone you don't know by their first name? Unless you know them personally, I would suggest the Dr. Lastname as a good start until they tell you otherwise. From your post I can only guess your age group...I'll not comment on how younger people seem to think everyone should be your bestfriend/facebook friend/twitter friend/etc. Nobody uses titles in industry, once you are in industry. If I received a letter starting, Dear Lyle (vs. Dear Dr. Langley) - and didn't know them, that would lead to a quick delete - much like the "Dear Esteemed Researcher".

      Now, on to whether the "cover letter" really matters...

      Delete
    3. Whether I know them personally or not, I've never received an email from a colleague that has addressed me by title (I'm speaking only of internal communication because I'm not in a position that involves much professional interaction with people outside the company, so I don't have enough experience to identify a trend). I've certainly never deleted any of those emails over some perceived lack of respect. There is a clear culture and unwritten protocol about how email works and a strong pressure to conform to that regardless of age group. And the culture is pretty clearly in favor of the use of first names and no title. Job applications are probably different, so I use titles in cover letters because there is a very clear power differential, there could be a different expectation when dealing with unknown external people, and because interviews tend to be more formal than most other interactions. But to delete a job application (which has presumably been solicited by the posting of a job opening, it's not just an out of the blue Dear Esteemed Researcher) just because someone addressed it "Dear Lyle" seems irresponsible.

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    4. Um, you might want to actually read my post before responding. I clearly state that the formal greeting is for someone you've never met - e.g., job application. Someone that cannot address a letter/email properly shows laziness and arrogance, so no, it's not irresponsible to delete a letter that comes across as this. No different than if there are several typos on the resume or job seminar, laziness is laziness. Why not, "Hey There Big Guy".

      Again, once in the position nobody uses titles, but there is a clear protocol prior to getting that position which is lost on many people these days, unfortunately. The same group of people that have all of their drinking/partying photos on Facebook for all prospective employers to see. Real classy.

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    5. Honestly, I don't think we have any readers of this blog who don't have their privacy settings on Facebook turned to 11.

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    6. Unfortunately, Chemjobber, your readership is a small portion of the actual population.

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    7. Dr. Langley, I'm not sure I understand the need for your condescending attitude, stereotyping, and prejudice against the people whose age group you think I'm in (except that this is the internet, and shame on me for expecting any better...). There is a clear email etiquette, at least in the culture of the places that I've worked, that you address everyone by first name (even when you've never met them before). It's been some time since I've been in the job market, and the conventional wisdom about things like resumes has changed, so it seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask whether the once conventional wisdom about how to address a cover letter has changed. It would seem that it hasn't. Now I know, that's why I asked.

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    8. Sorry your feelings were hurt; another problem with the everyone's my BFF era. I have a hard time believing that anyone would assume it appropriate to send an email to someone that they have never met for a job interview and address them by their first name. As I've said twice now, I'm not talking about a colleague - someone you work with or know personally. Now I know why so email many get deleted...

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  14. Hey CJ, have you by any chance seen recent article about a Ernst and Young which apparently strives to make 50% of all hires through employee referrals? I assume that the other 50% are custodians and other support personnel.

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    Replies
    1. I did. I was saving that for an unhappy post.

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  15. "Sieg Heil".

    On a more serious note, I usually say "Dear SIr/Madam/Giant Primordial Eggplant"

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  16. I've always found it weird that the heading for official letters is "Dear". I think this implies a relationship (and no, not a "relationship... if you know what I mean"-relationship) with the person you are writing to. I know it's traditional and really devoid of any meaning, but I just don't like it.

    I tend to put "To whom it may concern" or "To the Chairperson of the Search Committee" (as fitting for many academic jobs). If I know a specific person to whom I am writing, I put simply "Dr. Lastname" or "Mr./Ms. Lastname" (if I am sure sure sure of the gender). In my most recent search, I got in the habit of calling places to ask questions about the position really just to try to get a name to put in the header and my name on radar (again, this is for academic positions, so maybe not applicable to industry).

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  17. Methinks y'all thinking too much. As usual :) Just dont put anything stupid down, I dont see how it matters.

    Although I do like the Giant Primordial Eggplant designation.

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