11/11/2014 05:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cover Letter Etiquette: Does 'Dear Sirs' Cut It?


How important is getting the name of the hiring manager for your cover letter? As a Career Coach I get asked this all the time!

If you are going to send a cover letter then you must (try to) find out the name and address the letter accordingly. In a competitive market it is the small things that can separate you from your competition, and correctly addressing your cover letter could be that defining factor.

However, often a name is not on the advert, so if you are serious about your job search and this is really the job you want, then it is certainly worth the time and effort to find this out.

So, here's my detective guide to sourcing the all-elusive name:

  • Do you know anyone who works there? Companies often have referral schemes so an existing employee could recommend you, which can add value to your application, especially if they are well regarded or in a senior position.
  • Call reception and explain you want to address the job application to the specific person. They should be willing to help and give you the name of the recruitment or hiring manager. However, some companies do have a no name policy and won't give you any information, yet other companies will put you through to the recruitment team (or even the hiring manager) without question.
  • LinkedIn is the next stop. An advert will normally state the job title of who the role reports, so gather whatever information you can from the advert and speaking to reception, then from here you can start a search.
  • If there are a few options on LinkedIn, identify the most likely person and revert back to reception asking to confirm the name. Name-dropping will often help due to familiarity. You can even just call and say, "I just wanted to check (name) is still the Recruitment Manager for the (relevant team where the job is based) as I am sending an invite to an event." Use whatever tactics you need to get the results you want. All you need to know is that you have the right person.

Once you have the name, should you aim to speak to the hiring or recruitment manager?

This is a difficult one as it does depend on the company, manager, culture, and how confident you are in picking up the phone and talking to a stranger.

But, there are huge commercial benefits to be gained from engaging the recruitment or hiring manager, so if you do have the opportunity of speaking directly to them and they are open and receptive to you, then I would take advantage of this and follow the next steps:

  • Have one or two relevant questions ready -- beyond what is available on the advert -- that will give you a greater insight into the role. Do not ask what is freely available on the advert, it must show thought and consideration has been applied.
  • Your question could be expanding on what is detailed in the advert. For example, if it says it is for a new team, is this Greenfield opportunity or just a restructure? This information can be used to highlight your experience in this area in your cover letter.
  • If you don't have specific experience requested in the advert you could ask, "in the absence of X what experience would you be looking for instead?"
  • Remember hiring is not solely down to experience, fit is often MORE important. If you can get an insight into the culture of the business then you can let your personality come through in your cover letter and at interview.

Your aim in this process is to find out additional information about the role and culture that you can use to enhance your cover letter and CV. What is it, in terms of skills, experience and fit, that they are looking for, beyond what is written on the job advert?

Essentially, any information you can glean from someone within the business is advantageous. From doing this process it will also give you the chance to learn more about the company, people and culture and decide before applying if it is the right job or company for you. You might decide it's not, and therefore have saved yourself a lot of time and effort.

So, although it is polite to address the cover letter to an actual person and the commercial benefits you gain from this process can be significant, if however you can't get the name, then don't worry, you are at no more of a disadvantage than anyone else.