How to Address a Letter

Man opening mail in home office
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In this era of texting and direct messages, it's sometimes hard to remember everything we learned in school about writing formal letters. You might go years in your career without having to write more than a professional-looking email. But when it comes to job searching, you need to pull out all the stops. Casual just won't do when you're trying to impress a hiring manager and stand out from your competition.

The same goes for formal business correspondence once you're employed.

Address your letters the right way, and you'll never have to worry that you're starting off the interaction on the wrong foot, before the recipient even gets a chance to read your message.

First and foremost, know that when you are writing a letter or sending an email message for employment or business purposes, it's important to address the individual you are writing to formally, unless you know them extremely well. If you are unsure when deciding between a formal and casual (first name) address, err on the side of safety and use the formal designation.

How to Address a Formal Letter: Mr., Dr., Ms., or Mrs.

The appropriate title for writing to a male is Mr. For a female, use Ms. Ms. is more professional than Mrs. even if you know the person you are writing to is married.

For a medical doctor or someone with a PhD, use Dr. Alternatively, you can also use “Professor” if you are writing to a university or college faculty member.

If you don't know the gender identity of the person you're addressing, use a gender-neutral greeting and simply include their first and last name, e.g. "Dear Tristan Dolan."

The following is a list of letter salutation examples that are appropriate for business and employment-related correspondence.

Letter Greeting Examples

  • Dear Mr. Smith
  • Dear Mr. Jones
  • Dear Ms. Markham
  • Dear Kiley Doe
  • Dear Dr. Haven
  • Dear Professor Jones

Follow the greeting with a colon or comma, a space, and then start the first paragraph of your letter.

For example:

Dear Mr. Smith:

First paragraph of letter.

Finding a Contact Person

You don't absolutely need to know the name of the person you're addressing – and we'll get to that situation in a moment – but it doesn't hurt, especially if you're trying to score a job interview. Sometimes employers fail to provide a contact name in a job advertisement. If you take the time to discover who  your contact is, this demonstrates personal initiative and an attention to detail that will speak well for you when your resume is being reviewed.

The best way to find the name of a contact at the company is to ask. If you're networking your way into a position, this is pretty easy – just make a note to ask your friend or colleague for the name and email address of the best person to talk to. Barring that, call the main number of the company and ask the receptionist for the name and contact information of the human resources (HR) manager in charge of hiring (or the head of such-and-such department, etc.).

If neither of those methods work, you can often uncover the information you're seeking by doing a little internet sleuthing.

Start with the company's website, and look for listed personnel. You'll often see an HR contact.

If that doesn't yield results, it's time to hit LinkedIn and do an advanced search for job titles and company names. In the process, you might even find another connection to the person you're looking for – never a bad thing, when you're trying to get a human being to look at your resume.

When You Don't Have a Contact Person

If you don't have a contact person at the company, either leave off the salutation from your cover letter and start with the first paragraph of your letter or use a general salutation.

General Salutations

For example:

To Whom It May Concern:

First paragraph of letter.

How to Write a Cover Letter
Find out how to write a cover letter, including what to include in your cover letter, cover letter format, targeted cover letters, and cover letter samples and examples.

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