is it worth calling to find out the hiring manager’s name?

by Ask a Manager on June 16, 2011

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A reader writes:

I am a new graduate looking for my first job and have spent hours on your site learning to become the best candidate. My question is, should I call a company to find out the name of the HR Manager when its not provided so I can address my cover letter to that person? Many people seem to be offering the advice that is shows initiative and attention to detail. However, I am of the belief that it is a waste of their time and my resume will get to where it needs to go, especially because I am applying to small 10-30 employee companies and often submit my resume to the specific email address listed.

I’m so glad you asked this, because I see that advice all over the place too and I always wonder why it’s emphasized so much.

If the hiring manager’s name is easily available, sure, go ahead and address it to her. But calling to find out is overkill. It just doesn’t matter that much.

I’ve never once thought, “Oh wow, this person took the trouble to call and find out my name. What amazing initiative!”  And I’ve also never once thought, “I can’t believe this person didn’t bother to address this letter to me by name. What a slacker.” It is an issue if they inject a mistake in there though, like misspelling my name (lack of attention to detail) or addressing it to someone who deals with a whole different area (comprehension problems).

So do it if it’s easily available, but don’t spend time on it if it’s not. I’d much rather you put that time into crafting an awesome cover letter and not worrying so much about what name to open with.

{ 31 comments }

Jessica June 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Thanks you! I’m glad that the type of person who would see my cover letter thinks along the same lines as me. Many of the companies I have applied to and/or interviewed to aren’t large enough to have an HR department, its just a few of the higher ups making the decisions so its impossible to know which of them to address it to.

Naama June 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Right on. If you target your cover letter to that job & company, it will show that you’ve taken initiative and done your research in a much more impactful way than knowing the hiring manager’s name.

Cruella June 16, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Probably wouldn’t hurt to find out if the company accepts unsolicited resumes. My company only accepts resumes when there is a position open and any unsolicited resumes, whether addressed to our hiring manager or not, are discarded.

Dawn 2 June 16, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Yes, yes, and yes, AAM. I don’t care if you address the letter to Hiring Committee or John Smith as long as it’s good. One thing I have noticed that I would want to caution applicant of: know the gender of the person you’re addressing the letter to or don’t include a gender-specific title. I have a male hr director with a gender ambiguous first name and although it makes me giggle inside, it doesn’t do the applicants any favors to address him as “Ms.” so-and-so.

Anonymous June 16, 2011 at 9:28 pm

I have addressed cover letters without names and got interviews for. I don’t think it matters that much, thankfully, but I always try to include the name if possible.

Joe June 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Searching for the hiring manager’s name on Google or LinkedIn sometimes works; I’ve never been able to get past HR/reception.

Nathan A. June 17, 2011 at 12:33 am

If the information is available, it’s usually obvious (such as “address all inquiries to ____” in the job posting), or unearthed through light digging. The only digging I would feel would be necessary is if you are applying to an internal position. Since this is your first job, this wouldn’t be the point to stress.

I would just look to see if the posting has the person’s contact name and go off of that. If you can’t grab that, “To whom it may concern” or “to the hiring manager” should more than suffice.

jennie June 17, 2011 at 8:46 am

Just don’t put “Dear Sir(s)”. It makes a terrible impression in our all-female HR department.

dazed and confused June 17, 2011 at 11:33 am

Why? How’s an outside applicant supposed to know the HR staff is all female?

I thought “dear sir(s)” was understood to be generic

Ask a Manager June 17, 2011 at 11:35 am

I don’t think that’s been an appropriate generic for a few decades now :) At best, it comes across as dated.

Cari Ann June 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Dated, indeed! In my experience, the applicants that consistently use the “Dear Sir” or “Gentlemen” tend to be male and born in the 40′s. This is why I appreciate that our system places the resume first, so I can review their experience to screen if they would be eligible for further consideration. Once I read the cover letter addressed to, “Dear Sir,” my inner-monologue is always the same. “Well! This isn’t addressed to me! Delete!” I DON’T, but it’s very tempting to my equal opportunity advocate sometimes!

Jamie June 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Personally I like “To whom it may concern” when I’m receiving it, but so many people think it’s cold so I always feel weird using it.

I do though, because even though it’s correct, Dear Sir or Madame seems even more stilted to me.

I like the former – because it is to whom it may concern – until you have a name, anyway.

dazed and confused June 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm

good point.

Anonymous June 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm

AAM, do you have a preference of generic salutations? I know it’s a small point, but I do wonder what’s best: Dear Sir or Madam (agree with above commenter; it feels stilted), To whom it may concern, Dear Hiring Manager/Dear HR, Hello/Hi?

Ask a Manager June 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm

It’s totally not at all a make or break kind of thing, just personal preference, but I have a mild preference for “dear hiring manager” if you don’t know the name. Dear Sir or Madam feels dated to me (in what other context would you ever address someone as Madam?!), and Dear Hiring Manager just seems direct and to the point.

Jamie June 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Something to keep in mind – if you do have the name and it’s something that could be male or female I would skip the Mr./Ms. designations and just go with the name – unless you are 100% sure.

I would much rather something come to me as Dear Jamie Keyboardmonkey (not my real last name) rather than Dear Mr. Jamie Keyboardmonkey….because I’m many things but have never been a mister.

I wouldn’t hold it against someone, but it is a little tick in the negative column. Probably because when I was management in a non-technical field the vast majority of my cold correspondence used Ms. Now that I’m in IT it’s almost always Mr.

I know that they are playing the odds – but I find the assumption to be grating.

So on behalf of all people with gender neutral names I ask that people please don’t assume. We don’t like it.

Nathan A. June 17, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I am now changing my last name to Keyboardmonkey, haha!

Steve June 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I have to disagree here. It is not wrong to use a general salutation, but as a recent graduate all you have to really sell is your potential. Taking the minimal amount of time and effort to address it properly conveys a message to me – that you are socially savvy and willing to go the extra step to do a good job. Your cover letter and resume represent a sample of your work product.

Turn it around – how are you going to feel if you receive a rejection letter addressed to “dear applicant”?

Ask a Manager June 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm

It just doesn’t make that much of a difference though. A great cover letter (and resume) are way better things to put your energy in to.

Esra June 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Back when I was job hunting, just RECEIVING a rejection letter would have been great, dear applicant or no. Better than stony silence.

Jessica July 1, 2011 at 4:55 am

I wouldn’t expect someone to spend their time resending a personalized email to each rejected applicant (though they should for viable candidates since they have a piece of paper with my name on it.) “Dear Applicant” would be fine with me.

TheSnarkyB April 10, 2013 at 11:48 am

I disagree with you, Steve. In some instances, I’d agree: For instance you have an email address that is jkeybrd@corp.org, it’s reasonable to do the work to figure out that it’s gonna be “Dear Jamie Keyboardmonkey.” But I’ve seen a lot of people go deep-digging for a name associated with HRmgmt@corp.org. Those are often shared email addresses or ones where the person on the other end doesn’t necessarily want you to know their name. While light googling and LinkedIning seem fine, if you have to dig deep… they probably don’t want you to dig at all.

also, general commentary: Dear Sir or Madam isn’t gender neutral, it’s gender binary.
To whom it may concern and Dear Hiring Manager are gender neutral.

HM June 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I agree about the gender neutral names. I’ve gotten a lot of “Dear Mr” on letters. Granted I am applying for a technical position in tech companies but the assumption of maleness grates at times. I tend to put no salutation if I don’t know the gender.

wits June 20, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Another point: Cover letters and resumes are rarely reviewed by just one person. Usually it’s at LEAST the hiring manger and the person you’ll report to.

Ask a Manager June 20, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Well, usually the hiring manager and the person you’ll report to are one and the same. But often it’s the hiring manager and an HR person, or so forth!

Lizzie June 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm

I never hold it against applicants if they call and ask my name so that they can address their cover letter to me. I do, however, find it to be a huge waste of my time. It certainly doesn’t make me think any better of them as a candidate because they called me to ask an irrelevant question.

What does color my impression is being called sir! It is pretty chauvinistic to assume that anyone with the authority to make hiring decisions must be a male.

adrian July 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm

The hr manager’s name is not available on the firm’s website, but I did a little research online (15-mins) and found the name of that person, which I’m pretty sure is the hr manager. (can’t be 100% sure because she might not be there anymore. I only found different sources that says that person has worked in the firm, but whether that’s current or not I’m not sure.) My question is, is it worth the risk to address directly to her? (I’m only following up a job application). And would it appear kinda creepy to her? Her name is not even showing up on LinkedIn, but when I searched for it, the profile of that firm’s HR manager comes up.

Ken H. August 16, 2011 at 11:39 am

I landed my “dream position” not quite 2 years ago. When I submitted my resume, I made a point to call the office and obtain the names of both the managers in the office and verified the spellings too. After both interviews, I wrote personal “thank you” notes to both individuals. I found out from both of them that my efforts was a key determining factor in my making the top-2 and, ultimately, the selected candidate. My personal opinion: take the few minutes necessary and simply call the receptionist and politely ask for the info…it’s “public” info and the receptionist just may let the manager know you called too. You never know just who or what may be the factor that sways the decision.

Jerseygirrlll September 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I just found your blog, and I will be following your advice with my next letter — in fact, I did.

I figure that if the letter should be addressed to a specific person, the announcement would say so. When it doesn’t, I suspect that the employer does not want applicants bombarding them with calls and emails for trivial things.

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Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.

Joe May 24, 2014 at 5:22 am

I am a recent Geology graduate seeking to get into the mine industry. I put forward multiple applications but seem things aren’t going my way. I was thinking about doing cold canvassing but not sure whether to ask a receptionist and leave my application with or ask to meet HR manager?.

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