Dear [first name / last name]
September 29, 2010 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm applying to a job where I recently worked for 2 years. In my cover letter and statement of interest, should I refer to my former co-workers (who are much older than me) by first, last, or full name?

I know the usual rule for job applications is to use last names. But I Googled for advice on this situation; some websites and books say it's OK to use first names if you are actually on a first-name basis with the people. However, I showed my cover letter and statement of interest to a friend, and she recommended using last names instead.

Here are some more details in case they're relevant (I'm erring on the side of more rather than less detail because I don't even know how much this hinges on the specific situation):

This is a paper application that I'm going to mail. I'm required to write a cover letter (which will be extremely brief) and a separate statement of interest.

The job is quite technical, formal, professional, with essentially no need for creativity or personal expression. Let's say it's a government agency.

The person to whom I'm addressing the cover letter is more-or-less the head of the whole agency. Let's call him Arnold Smith. He did the interview that got me my job there in the first place; I had several long work-related discussions with him during the job; and we would often pass each other in the halls and say "hi" by first name.

There's no question that if I still had the job and were emailing him, I'd start if with "Hi, Arnold." So my inclination is to start the cover letter "Dear Arnold," (with a comma, not a colon). But should I write "Dear Mr. Smith:" (with a colon) just to be all "Look, I'm following the proper rules for a job application"?

Another thing. In my statement of interest, I refer to 3 other people I've worked with. Two of them were my supervisors, with whom I worked very closely during the job and with whom Arnold has worked closely for at least 10 years. ("I have experience in X by doing such-and-such with [name] and [name].") The other is someone I rarely worked with, but who works closely with Arnold and who would be my primary mentor/supervisor if I got this job. I'm basically applying to be #2 to him. ("I look forward to working with [name] on X.") So what should I do here? First names, last names, or full names? This is another situation where I would definitely use just the first names if I were talking in person to Arnold (or anyone who might be on the hiring committee). But I have the same concern about balancing everyday genuineness (which would suggest first names) with job-application propriety (last names).

I'm 29; these people are all in their 40s or 50s.

I don't even know if the answer is totally obvious or if this is a grey area. Advice please?
posted by jejune to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "Dear Mr Smith" to start the letter, and "Firstname Lastname" for all the other people.

Everyone understands that job applications are formal; you can hardly be TOO formal, but you certainly can be too informal.

Also, if any of the first names are at all ambiguous, or their owners may have moved on since, you'll be helping out by being really clear who you're talking about.
posted by emilyw at 7:21 AM on September 29, 2010

First name on the salutation to someone you already know, but with a colon because it's still a business letter. First and last when referring to others in the body of the letter.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:21 AM on September 29, 2010

Response by poster: Also, if any of the first names are at all ambiguous, or their owners may have moved on since,

I'm pretty sure they're all still there. They've all been there for a long time, and my job there ended just a few weeks ago.

The one slightly ambiguous thing is that the guy who would be my supervisor if I got this job has the same first name as me.
posted by jejune at 7:30 AM on September 29, 2010

Best answer: I recently went through something similar. I would apply as if you didn't work there already. That is to say, treat your letter of interest the same as you would for any other job. Take it seriously (not that you wouldn't, but it is weird applying within an organization). Especially since you says it's technical, professional, and formal, I would probably use full names for the people in the letter.

So yeah, I agree with emilyw and ottereroticist.
posted by kendrak at 7:31 AM on September 29, 2010

Response by poster: OK, you've convinced me. Thanks!
posted by jejune at 7:40 AM on September 29, 2010

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