I'm trying to expand my client base these days and wonder whether my standard cover letter (and even possibly my resume?) is woefully dull or old-fashioned. It's been many years since I worked in-house and was on the receiving end of such letters, so I don't know what the current style is.
Whenever possible, I address a cover letter to the person in question ("Dear Joe Shmoe"). Sometimes an ad will provide the appropriate person's name, or a friend or former colleague has given me the name of someone to contact, or I can do a little research within a company to find out whom I need to contact. I've also been known to write "Dear Managing Editor" or the like if a job title is all the information I have.
But sometimes I answer a blind ad (often from Craigslist), and I have no contact person's name or job title or even company name. For instance, imagine a listing that says simply “Small publishing house specializing in regional cookbooks seeks experienced freelance copyeditor” with a generic email address like “email@example.com.” In those cases, I fall back on the old reliable, "To whom it may concern." A while back I asked the folks on Twitter how they would address such a cover letter. Specifically, I asked whether there was any preference between "To whom it may concern" and "Dear Sir or Madame"—or whether there was something else I hadn't thought of. No one felt too strongly about either one (or offered any better alternatives), but as I recall, slightly more people preferred "To whom it may concern."
A couple of days ago I was Googling and came across a guy who maintains that "To whom it may concern" is the kiss of death, but he doesn't address the issue of what to use instead in the case of a blind ad. He talks only about the importance of doing research to find a person's name when you are directing a cover letter to a particular department within a known company. I left a comment asking him what he would suggest for a blind ad response, but he hasn't replied (yet?).
What do you all think? Are you still seeing/using "To whom it may concern"? Would you automatically discard a letter addressed that way? Got any other tips for me?
Choose the right greeting and sign off
It's important to start and end your letter on a strong note so that the recipient will respond favourably to your message. Choosing the right greeting and sign off will go a long way toward that goal.
This page offers suggestions for good ways to open and close your letters.
Formal or informal?
Before you begin writing, think about why you're writing your letter and who will be receiving it. The degree of formality in your letter (formal, semi-formal, or informal) will determine what kind of greeting and sign off you should use. Most business correspondence (e.g., cover letters for job applications, insurance claims, letters of complaint) should be formal. Business letters whose recipient you know very well (e.g., a former boss) may be semi-formal. Most personal correspondence (e.g., informal invitations, letters of condolence) should be informal.
In a formal letter, your greeting (or salutation) should strike a warm yet respectful tone. The most common greeting is Dear followed by the recipient's name.
Formal and semi-formal
For formal letters, address the recipient with a courtesy title (i.e., Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, Dr) followed by the person's last name. Be sure to confirm what title the recipient prefers before writing your letter. If you are unsure of a woman's title preference, use Ms. If you do not know the recipient’s gender, you may use the person's full name and omit the title. Formal greetings end in a colon.
Dear Ms Jones:
Dear Taylor Jones:
You should strive to address your letter to a specific person. Letters that aren't addressed to a specific person are less likely to be read. If you do not know the name of the recipient, use Dear Sir or Madam or To whom it may concern.
Semi-formal greetings follow the same format as formal greetings; however, you may refer the recipient by his or her first name.
Greetings for informal letters should similarly convey friendliness and courtesy. But because informal letters are reserved for personal correspondence between friends and family members, you have a greater degree of latitude in how you phrase your greeting. You may choose to use a more conversational tone. Some writers substitute Hello or Hi for Dear. Informal greetings end in a comma rather than a colon.
In your final sign off (or closing), you should aim to be brief and courteous. As compared to the greeting, you have more options of phrases to use at your disposal. Some common sign offs for letters of all degrees of formality include Best regards, Sincerely, and Yours truly. In all letters, the sign off should end with a comma.
Formal and semi-formal
In formal and semi-formal letters, it's best to stick with traditional sign offs, such as those listed in the previous paragraph. Avoid using sign offs, such as Love, that imply a high degree of intimacy between you and the recipient. Semi-formal letters often use a truncated version of formal sign offs. Some formal and semi-formal variants of sign offs are listed below:
|Best regards||Best or Regards|
As with greetings, sign offs in informal letters tend to have a more conversational tone than those in formal or semi-formal letters. Some common sign offs for informal letters include Love, Hugs and kisses, and Your friend. For letters to close friends, you may even use a personal catchphrase. You may also choose a phrase that relates directly to the content of your letter. For instance, if you are writing a letter of support to a friend undergoing a personal crisis, you might write In solidarity.
Back toLetters and invitations.
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