How to open a letter inclusively?
November 11, 2021 1:31 AM   Subscribe

I've just got to the "write a cover letter" stage of applying for a job, and the old standard "Dear Sir or Madam" isn't doing it for me. I don't care about the recipient's gender, and I don't think "Sir or Madam" covers all the options even if I did. "Dear Hiring Manager" sounds weird to me, but is the best I can come up with. Can anyone help me with the first line? This blank page is bothering me.
posted by pompomtom to Society & Culture (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: To Whom It May Concern:
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:33 AM on November 11, 2021 [28 favorites]

Dear Search Committee

Dear (Head of Organization) and Members of the Search Committee
posted by bluedaisy at 1:39 AM on November 11, 2021 [14 favorites]

You could just dispense with this line all together. The whole "Dear X" thing is a hangover from the days of more formal written letters. These days people are more used to the idea of looking at the "To" list - and they are probably reading your document electronically just as they would an email. Addressing your letter to a named person is good if you (really) know that person's name and you know it will not be read by anybody else. I do agree that "Dear Sir or Madam" seems to be addressing a whole audience of people who do not classify themselves as either.
posted by rongorongo at 2:43 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I read a shit ton of academic job cover letters most years. I don’t think I ever consciously notice the salutation. “To the search committee” or “To whom it may concern” would be fine. So would no salutation, although I don’t think I’ve seen that.
posted by spitbull at 3:02 AM on November 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: "Dear (Name of Company) Team," is what I usually go for, addressing the collective rather than an individual.
posted by guessthis at 3:22 AM on November 11, 2021 [33 favorites]

In German-speaking Europe, where I have spent my entire professional life, this has happened to me twice. Both times, I phoned the respective company’s HR office and asked for the name of the primary contact for applicants to a specific position. Both times, I then simply started my cover letter with the German formal equivalent of “Dear Mr/Ms [Name]”.

No idea if your country’s corporate culture is very different. For what it’s worth, I got both jobs, so I don’t think the HR people were too bothered by my call.
posted by wachhundfisch at 4:01 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

My wife uses "Greetings".
posted by NotLost at 4:31 AM on November 11, 2021 [9 favorites]

Dear Hiring Manager or Dear Hiring Committee is fine. I have reviewed a ton of resumes at various jobs and frankly “to whom it may concern” just sounds totally silly to me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:34 AM on November 11, 2021 [17 favorites]

Agree with wachhundfisch. I'd address my future HoD if that is easy to discover; failing that it might be fun to write to the CEO. I also think it is useful to add a centred para above the greeting:
re: Pompomtom and Chief Telephone Sanitizer position
makes it easier to file
posted by BobTheScientist at 4:35 AM on November 11, 2021

Nooo don’t do something gimmicky like addressing it to the CEO, a person who is extremely likely to never set eyes on the thing. Don’t pick a specific name at all. To me it doesn’t say “oo gumption this person checked the website!”, it’s just weird and also inaccurate because almost always, multiple people will screen resumes, not just a single manager. It’s you going out of your way to make an incorrect assumption and then include that incorrect assumption in your application. Don’t do it.

You do not want people having any thoughts whatsoever about your greeting, because that would distract from the content of the letter, ie the part that actually matters for getting you a job.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:40 AM on November 11, 2021 [27 favorites]

My wife uses "Greetings".

This, or "Good Day" work.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:52 AM on November 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

I've always started cover letters with,


because I've never said "to whom it may concern" in my regular life.
posted by entropone at 5:32 AM on November 11, 2021 [19 favorites]

UK here - I would go for 'Dear (Name of Team) Team', or Dear Search Committee. I wouldn't agonise over it, but agree that Sir or Madam is out of date. Good luck!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 6:00 AM on November 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

A former colleague recently asked me to go over a cover letter she was submitting for a senior professional job for which she is extremely well qualified and suited. She takes great care in being as inclusive as possible. Her opening was, "Dear Reader." At first I thought the next line would be, "I married him," but she's 35 and I'm in my 60s and it probably works with The Young People of Today. I made no suggestion that she change it.

I have also reviewed cover letters as part of hiring teams. The only thing that I would find jarring would be poor spelling ("Deer Hiring Manger") or something completely fringe ("Howdy Y'all!"). The form of the greeting otherwise would be irrelevant, but I agree with everyone else that "Dear Sir or Madam" should not be used.
posted by angiep at 6:25 AM on November 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

Don't do "to whom it may concern", because you do actually sort of know who you're addressing. I agree with the "dear hiring manager" suggestion, but you can also be a bit more specific if you know which department they're likely to be in. Personally the people I write to are often unknown and unnamed editors, so I start with "dear editors", but it could also be something like "dear CompanyName sales team " if you're applying to a sales team, for example. So just try to narrow it down as much as possible and make it obvious that you wrote the letter to them and it isn't just a generic one to send to everyone (which is what "to whom it may concern" reminds me of...)
posted by easternblot at 7:03 AM on November 11, 2021

"To whom it may concern" and "Dear Sir or Madam" are both archaic.

"Dear Hiring Manager" and "Dear Hiring Committee" are current standard, but "Dear [Company] Team" is better because it conveys you took the trouble to tailor the letter.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:04 AM on November 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

My advice does seem to be quite specific to my part of the world. Out of the ten most recent job ads listed on my local newspaper’s website, nine mention the name of the applicant’s primary contact (occasionally even very prominently right above the “write to us” button). Out of the ten most recent job ads I found on a website for pompomtom’s location, only one does.

From this I conclude that in the asker’s country, knowing who exactly you’re expected to write to is not the norm to the same extent that it is here. So please disregard my advice—unless the job you’re applying for is in Germany or Austria.
posted by wachhundfisch at 7:29 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would avoid "Greetings" in the US because if someone older reads it, it's going to remind that person of the cliche draft board salutation used as a joke in sitcoms. (As soon as the character reads "Greetings" out loud, cue laugh track because it's a draft notice.)
posted by FencingGal at 7:32 AM on November 11, 2021

posted by oxit at 8:16 AM on November 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm in somewhat of a casual industry, but unless I know the specific individual I'm contacting, I prefer "Hello, [CompanyName]!"
posted by caitcadieux at 8:27 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

nthing "Hello" because a) no one much thinks about the salutation unless it's weird, which "Sir or Madam" definitely is in this day and age, and b) it's neutral to recipient and not overly formal. Brevity, wit, etc.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 8:30 AM on November 11, 2021

I typically have my contact information, the month/year, and "reference: X role - Y company" at the top and avoid salutations altogether. If I really had to add a greeting I would just write "hello".
posted by Papagayo at 8:53 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Interesting. "Hello," would be far too casual for the PDF cover letter in my industry.
posted by slidell at 8:53 AM on November 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm an attorney/mediator. I use "Greetings" even when I am writing to a number of individuals that I know the names of, but don't want to address by name. I've read many cover letters in my day, and prefer "Hello," or no salutation, to sir or madam.
posted by furtheryet at 9:13 AM on November 11, 2021

Another vote for Greetings. I'm approaching oldishness and I'm fairly confident that nobody who reads it will think about a draft board.
posted by scratch at 9:37 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't write cover letters anymore but my go-to was "Dear Hiring Manager" even though I, a person who interviews and makes hiring decisions, have literally never gotten the cover letter for any of the candidates I've met.
posted by sm1tten at 9:51 AM on November 11, 2021

"Hi/Greetings/Hello "

'Dear so and so' is pretty antiquated.

posted by so fucking future at 9:53 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

nthing "Hello" because a) no one much thinks about the salutation unless it's weird

Starting an actual letter with Hello would be exceedingly weird to me. As would Greetings, which sounds like a sit com alien is about to demand to be taken to your leader.

I think it does partly depend whether you're submitting an actual letter (like, as an attached document, with traditional letter formatting), or whether it's an email which has your CV attached.

I'd cast another vote for 'Dear [company] team' in either case as being suitably non-descript and not too weird. If an email, could potentially start with Hi.
posted by penguin pie at 10:08 AM on November 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Dear committee is my default. (I work in a field where every application is reviewed by a committee.)

Dear colleague is a little old fashioned, but also not bad. (edit: but, perfect for cases where you have no idea who or how many will read it. Also, the same goes for recommendation letters for others.)
posted by eotvos at 10:52 AM on November 11, 2021

Also, there's lots of advice online about addressing letters to specific people, e.g., a named hiring manager or committee chair. Among the letters for competitive jobs I've read that attempt to do that, something like a third of them get it wrong in a way that causes laughter in the room. I don't think I'd ever consciously hold it against the applicants. But, I'd feel silly if I did it. (It's not impossible I have.)
posted by eotvos at 11:08 AM on November 11, 2021

I’ve skipped the greeting entirely as it feels outdated. Just put the regular company info in the header area. Depends on the formality of the industry I suppose.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:53 AM on November 11, 2021

As a hiring manager, i almost literally couldn't care less, with 2 exceptions:

1. Addressing it to a specific person who is the wrong person. Don't do this. You don't actually know who will be reading the letter and it's irksome.
2. Anything specifically and only male-gendered. (e.g. Dear Mr. Hiring Manager). That is an auto-reject without any further reading of cover letter or resume. I've gotten at least one or two of these every time I've opened a position.

I personally like Dear Hiring Committee, but basically anything semi-polite and generic is fine.
posted by brainmouse at 12:05 PM on November 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Basically all of these are perfectly fine, really. As is none. We get so many awful resumes and covers, or no covers, that really anything within the realm of acceptable is fine (probably not “Dear Sirs” or “what up, homies?” or “Greetings Earthlings” but who even knows). I think you can also just start your letter without a letter though. You could also put Good Morning or Good Afternoon as though a person will read it the moment you send it. It’s all fine.
posted by vunder at 1:30 PM on November 11, 2021

To the hiring committee, to whom it may concern, dear hiring manager, dear hiring committee, dear [company name] and hello are all completely fine and interchangeably so. none are weird. you do not need to know whether hiring is being managed by a single person or by a committee, you are not expected to know, and you will not be judged on whether you know (unless you were referred by someone who does know, and told you.) If you are responding to a job ad it is worth checking several times to make sure there's no "address applications to so-and-so" buried in there anywhere, but that is the only situation where it matters or would help to use a specific person's name to prove you paid attention or whatever.

There is absolutely no problem with slight archaisms as long as they are not also offensive (and Dear Sir or Madam, while not in the top rank of choices for a reason you have already noted, is still miles above "Dear Sir," which is still very much alive and actively destroying people's chances of having their letters read all across the world today.) things to not write are "dear CEO" when you know very well you are not writing to the CEO, and "greetings", but not because it's old-fashioned which doesn't matter. it's just stilted and hokey.

I have done first passes on several hundred cover letter/resume packages and I never threw any out for the manner of address alone unless it was "Dear Sir." which sometimes it was, and I very much did throw out all of those. No address at all is somewhat off-putting - I would always favor "Hello, / I'm writing to apply for..." over a bald "I'm writing to apply for...--if you're sending the letter as the body of an email. but if a cover letter is attached as a separate document, it's not an issue and you don't need anything.

(another reason not to dig for an individual's name, besides it not being necessary, is: if two people are involved in the decision, and you only know about one, and that one is a man and the other is a woman, and you address your letter to the man only, it looks Bad. easy to have happen through chance or bad luck alone, but it simply looks very Bad.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:22 PM on November 11, 2021

I usually go with "Hello, [Company] Team!" which I think helps a) identify that I at least bothered to customize that part of my cold opener and b) acknowledges the general truth that it's almost always going to be multiple people ultimately reading the thing. I make exceptions for when I actually know specifically who will be opening the letter, which happened exactly once during my most recent job search. I think the "Greetings," suggestion is a great one too.
posted by saramour at 4:11 PM on November 11, 2021

An ex-boyfriend once suggested "Good Morning" and I've used that in all cover letters since then.
posted by bendy at 6:49 PM on November 11, 2021

May not work outside academia, but I (legitimately; I was reading applications for admission, which is part of my job) saw a recommendation letter with "Dear colleagues:" and liked it so much that it's what I use on rec letters now.
posted by humbug at 5:12 AM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm currently on a hiring committee. All of the cover letters we received start with "Dear [Company Name]".

I would find "Dear Colleagues" weird, since we are not actually colleagues at this point.
posted by belladonna at 5:58 AM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

My dad always went with “Dear people”, which I don’t, because I no longer use salutations. But I’ve always liked thinking about the ones reading the letter in that way.
posted by bigbigdog at 10:49 AM on November 12, 2021

"Hello" or "Greetings" would both be very jarring and odd.
posted by turkeyphant at 11:28 PM on November 12, 2021

I had a professional resume and cover letter consultation with someone who had been involved in hiring for a long time. She said to just leave that line out altogether where they didn't indicate anyone. I can't imagine anyone would have a complaint about doing that, whereas based on the above it seems easy to go wrong with coming up with something else.
posted by lookoutbelow at 3:05 PM on November 13, 2021

brainmouse has it; I've also done a lot of hiring. Obviously, adjust for your industry norms, but generic/non-gendered works fine. Please, don't address it to the wrong person; you don't know who's doing the hiring. I like when people have done their homework, but unless you're 110% certain that's who's reading it, don't do that.
posted by liquado at 8:37 PM on November 17, 2021

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