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5 Ways to Screw Up Your Cover Letter Greeting

Dear Cover Letter Writer:

You probably think the greeting of your cover letter (the "Dear..." line) is pretty simple. After all, it has only four little parts:  the Dear, the Title (Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.), the Last Name, and the Colon [:]. How can you screw that up?

Ah, we have our ways. In fact, there are at least five common mistakes people make in their cover letter greetings, any of which might affect their chances of getting an interview. Are you guilty of any of these? 
 
Mistake #1:  Dear Miss DeVille:

Should be:   
Dear Ms. DeVille:

WHY?  "Miss" and "Mrs." are archaic in business settings, because marital status is irrelevant. "Ms." is the business-appropriate way to address a woman – unless of course she’s earned a title such as Dr., Rev., Sgt., or Prof. Be sure to use Ms. (pronounced "miz") when speaking, too.

Mistake #2:  To Whom It May Concern:

Should be:    Dear Mr. or Ms. Lastname:

WHY?  "To Whom It May Concern" just sounds lazy and form-letterish. Check the company web site or make a phone call to find out who "Whom" is. Be the one who takes the extra step. It demonstrates your attention to detail.

Mistake #3.  Dear Sir or Madam:

Should be:    Dear Mr. or Ms. Lastname:

WHY?  Let’s see… "Dear Sir or Madam" is dated, stuffy, awkward, and has the same problem as "Whom." (And don’t EVEN get me started if you try just Dear Sir.) Get a name! If you really, truly can’t find the hiring party’s name, use their job title. It’s (marginally) better to say Dear Marketing Manager than Dear Sir or Madam.

Mistake #4.  Dear Steve,

Should be:    Dear Mr. Lastname:

WHY?  First names are too informal, unless you and "Steve" have already been corresponding and he has clearly set the standard of using first names only. A cover letter is a formal piece of business correspondence, so keep it formal until you've established a relationship. Many workplaces today are informal, and it's typical to move quickly to a first-name basis, but let "Steve" be the one to decide when.

Mistake #5.   Dear Mr. Radcliff:

Should be:    Wait a minute... this looks fine, right? 

WRONG! It would be fine, except the guy’s name is Radcliffe with an “e.” Some folks might not notice a typo like manger instead of manager (though most will), and hardly anybody will get miffed about a comma instead of a colon. But everybody knows when their name is misspelled. Proofread, proofread, proofread — especially the recipient's name.

Summary
In your cover letter greeting...
•  DO use this format:  Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Lastname:
•  DON'T address women as Miss or Mrs. 
•  DON'T use a generic or gender-specific greeting (find a name).
•  DON'T use first names unless the employer sets the precedent.
•  DON'T misspell anyone's name!

Leave us a comment if you've got other cover letter bloopers to share!

RELATED LINKS
Write a Real Cover Letter, Not Just a Resume Rehash
3 Tips to Avoid a Boring, Self-Absorbed Cover Letter
6 Reasons You Won't Get Hired Without a Cover Letter
Good vs. Bad: Make the Best of Your Cover Letter

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