these are bad ways to start your cover letter

People often really struggle over how to start a cover letter, and as a result they often end up with lines that are overly salesy, gimmicky, or just very tired. Here are popular opening lines that you should purge from your cover letters.

* “If you are seeking…” — as in, “If you are seeking a skilled finance professional who consistently delivers strong results…” This sounds salesy and cliche, and it’s not the way real people talk. Write the way you’d really talk. (In fact, a good exercise is to pretend you’re writing an email to a friend about why you’d be great at the job — that will put you much closer to the language and framework you need for a cover letter.)

* “I am uniquely qualified” or “I’m the best candidate for the job.” This is a bad statement because you have no way of knowing that so it sounds silly/naive/hyperbolic — and plus, pretty much every time I’ve seen someone write this, it hasn’t been accurate. It can even be a strike against you, because if you’re a decent candidate but not perfect, now I have to worry that you don’t have a good sense of the job or of your own strengths and weaknesses.

* “Dear sir or madam.” In most industries, this will come across as an outdated and stuffy salutation. If you know the hiring manager’s name, use that instead, but if not, simply writing “dear hiring manager” is fine, and won’t make you appear to be from an earlier century.

* “My name is…” This makes you sound young. Like under-15 young.

* Defining words — as in, “the definition of leadership is…” This is pretty weak when high school students write it at the start of a paper. It’s much worse when adults do it! Do not do it.

So how should you open a cover letter? Be straightforward! Any of these work:

* “I’d love to be considered for your X position.”

* “I’m interested in your X position because…”

* “I was thrilled to see your opening for an X.”

* “I’m excited to apply for your X position.”

* “I’ve admired your work for many years and recently saw that you’re looking for an X.”

Simple, straightforward, and then launch into why you’d be great at the job. That’s all you need!

{ 375 comments… read them below }

  1. blackcat

    Re: “Dear sir or madam.”

    Is it out of touch to use “To Whom it May Concern:”?

    That’s my go-to for all formal correspondence (including my “WTF am I on the jury list for a county I haven’t lived in in 10 years?” letter I just sent). I’ve never applied to a job where I didn’t know the name of the person I was sending my application to, but I was curious.

    1. MuseumChick

      I won’t use that “To Whom it May Concern” I’m not sure why but it’s always come off to me kind of like the applicant didn’t really think through that they were applying to a job. But that could just be a personal thing.

      My go to is “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Human Resources” if I don’t know the name of the hiring manager.

    2. Tara

      Hmm. “To whom it may concern” is also my go to when I can’t figure out a name. Curious to see others’ take on it.

      1. AndersonDarling

        I learned that greeting at the same time I learned to diagram sentences. Old, Old School. I used to use it, but it has started to sound outdated so I moved on to Dear Title.

          1. Jim

            From my extensive knowledge listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, that type of language leads to dueling, which is generally regarded as not work appropriate.

          2. Anion

            Yep, that would definitely get you at least an interview with me.

            Bonus points if you abbreviate into “your obd’t servant.”

            1. Not Yet Looking

              So, thanks to Jim and LGC, I know that y’all are talking about Hamilton. Does a sizeable portion of the likely hiring community also know that? Just curious. I have the same issues with Game of Thrones references that seem to crop up in my friend circle continuously, and I don’t watch either of them, so the references keep sailing over my head. Now, if I were Drax, nothing would not fly over my head. My reflexes would be too fast, and I would catch it….

              1. Anion

                I had no idea they used “Your obedient servant” in Hamilton; it’s a common sign-off in old letters etc. I’m a history buff so I’m familiar with it that way.

                1. TardyTardis

                  I still use ‘Respectfully yours” at the end of the minutes I write for the local Democrats. Some of our members are 90+ and it cheers them up that some of the old forms are still used.

    3. Lana Kane

      I think Dear Hiring Manager is just a bit more up-to-date than To Whom It May Concern, although I wouldn’t say it’s a faux pas to use it. It has a more professional, less-generic sound.

      I work for a large institution, and when I have applied internally the application system doesn’t tell you who the hiring manager actually is. Digging around for it and adding it to the letter would seem strange in some contexts. Opening the letter with DHM sounds more appropriate for the context. Both greetings are generic, but DHM a bit less so.

      1. Lil Fidget

        I hate when people call me (lightly associated with the job and more easily found on our website) to “find out the name of the hiring manager.” Doubly hate it when they then want to pick my brain about the job etc. Just say something more generic.

      2. tigerlily

        Maybe it’s just me, but Dear Hiring Manager actually sounds very childish to me. It makes me think of little kids who say things like Hi Mr. Policeman! or call me Teacher Tigerlily.

        1. many bells down

          I feel really awkward using that too. I always send mine in the morning so I can start with “Good Morning” which feels less stilted than “Good afternoon” somehow.

          1. oranges & lemons

            I had a high school physics teacher who always greeted us with “good evening” no matter what time of day it was. I consistently found this hilarious. I wish I could get away with using it in my daily correspondence.

          2. MashaKasha

            I’ve been doing that too.
            “Dear (whoever)” weirds me out. I’ve gotten emails from a new guy at work that started with “Dear Masha”. For the longest time, I assumed that he was being sexist. Then one day I received a forward email he’d sent to someone else, that started with “Dear Bob”.

            1. Cordelia Vorkosigan

              I have to admit, I honestly don’t see the connection between starting an email/letter with “Dear So-And-So” and sexism. Actually saying “Hello, dear” to a female co-working when you run into them in the office is obviously sexist, but that’s because the co-worker deliberately used a gendered term instead of the person’s name.

              Opening a letter with “Dear [Name]” is a bog-standard salutation for letters, though. It has nothing to do with gender.

    4. rosiebyanyothername

      If I don’t have a name I’ve used “Dear [company] Representative.” It seems to work just fine!

    5. fposte

      Interesting to hear other takes on this–to me “To Whom It May Concern” is more stilted than “Dear Sir or Madam” (and it also opens up more of a capitalization trap).

      1. Lil Fidget

        I do hate that Sir or Madam is so gendered though. It makes me sound like I care greatly about the sex of the hiring manager and assume they do too.

        1. blackcat

          Yeah, and for whatever reason, I associate “Madam” with “female operator of a brothel.”

          I guess if you were applying for a job at a brothel, starting “Dear Madam” would be appropriate. In all other contexts, I find it weird.

            1. FD

              But only if you use, “Dear whomever the f*** is reading this.”

              We must be proper in a cover letter, you see.

        2. oranges & lemons

          At least it’s better than “Dear Sirs” which I see not infrequently, despite working in publishing.

          1. Book Lady

            I was going to say the same thing. I also work in publishing, and I get it a lot from academics.

          2. Jadelyn

            I saw this one again yesterday while I was reviewing resumes and it always infuriates me. I’m…well, genderfluid but I’m not out and am always read as female anyway, the senior recruiter I work with is a woman, our organization overall is about 70% women, and the hiring managers are pretty proportional to that. It’s entirely possible that a candidate would not, at any point of the hiring process, speak with a male employee. So for someone to start out with “dear sirs” makes me immediately think the candidate is a sexist jackass, and it’s very nearly a dealbreaker on forwarding the resume. Like I won’t withhold a genuinely qualified candidate over that, although it’s a strike against them in my opinion – but if I’m at all wavering on whether or not to allow them through to the hiring manager based on the resume itself, a “dear sirs” opening will tip them over into the “no” pile.

            1. Specialk9

              I think it would be plenty enough for me to throw out even a qualified candidate. Thanks for announcing you’re a sexist pig from the last millennium, usually we have to find that out the hard way.

            2. Anon for Team's Privacy

              I’ve tossed out a candidate over that. Doubly so as the instructions specifically said to send resumes to [CommonFemaleName]at[CompanyName].

              So you’re both a sexist and inattentive!

              (Granted, it would be possible for someone with another gender to have my name, but it’s still a bad assumption to make.)

              1. Ali

                I work at a large multinational investment firm and our entire staff of HR/recruitment are women, which includes two transwomen, and we are by no means unusual in our industry. In fact I struggle to think of an HR department in any industry I’ve worked in that isn’t majority women. I don’t know if this is a function of HR becoming more invested in employee well-being and drawing from psychology graduates who are mostly women, but that’s how it is now. Addressing a letter to “Sirs” is not only sexist, but shows you to be completely out of touch with how most HR departments are staffed.

          3. Nanani

            I see this a lot, even when everyone handling the case was a woman (though the writer of the letter had no way of knowing that, the assumption rankles)

      2. Hard Boiled

        On the other hand, I sent out a whole summer’s worth of internship applications addressed to “Dear Sir or Madame” in college, so spelling/capitalization traps abound.

      3. Anion

        IMO “To Whom…” sounds like you’re writing a letter of complaint or compliment, like you don’t know who’s going to end up with this random communication; not job-y. Whereas “Sir or Madam” sounds correct and respectful.

        1. ShellBell

          I have never been on the receiving end of a dear sir or madam cover letter and not laughed at how stupid it sounds. I’ve also never seen a decent letter start this way.

          1. Anion

            Wow, well, okay. I guess you’ve never gotten a letter from me, but have gotten a few from people who were taught by Miss Manners and other adults throughout their lives that “Dear Sir or Madam” is correct and respectful.

            It’s good to know people were potentially laughing at my husband’s cover letters because they started the way he’d been taught to start them, though.

            1. ShellBell

              I am sorry he was taught this. Miss manners is not a good source for modern job seeking advice.

    6. Fabulous

      I always use “Dear Hiring Manager” if the name isn’t listed in the posting and I can’t find anything on LinkedIn or company website.

    7. Observer

      I wouldn’t use if for a cover letter for a job application. It sounds like you are trying to document something or you are not sure who this is going to. Dear Hiring manager says that you don’t know which person is going to read this, but you do know that you are targeting the hiring manager.

      When I see To whom it may concern: I expect to see some variation of “This is to inform you that blah blah blah”

      1. AndersonDarling

        I think I remember a grammar guru make a similar distinction. If you knew where to send the letter, then you knew who was going to read it. “To Whom it May Concern” means that you don’t know who is going to receive the letter. For these purposes, we know the audience is the hiring manager.

    8. Jojo

      This is an interesting one and good evidence of how subjective some of this stuff is. “Dear” sounds juvenile and overly familiar to me (like you’re addressing your lover or your journal). I avoid “Dear” as an opener in all of my business communications for that reason.
      Come to think of it, I don’t think I actually address anyone in my cover letters. I just launch right in. If I’m emailing someone to submit stuff, yes.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        That’s so funny! I feel this way when using Spanish (i.e., I don’t use “Querido” in business communications), but I don’t at all feel that way about using “Dear” in English because it’s not really used in a familiar manner anymore.

        1. Emi.

          Hah, in German you say address letters “Very Honored Mrs Professor Leiendecker,” which is my favorite.

          1. Miso

            I’m German as well and since I’m so used to the “very honored” stuff I feel so weird using “Dear” in anything formal since it just does not feel formal enough for me at all…

            But then again I’m obviously no native speaker, so what do I know?

      2. JB (not in Houston)

        It may seem overly familiar to you, but it isn’t! You are projecting the word’s meaning and usage in one context on to another whether usage where it doesn’t belong. It’s a *formal,* polite way to address a letter that has a long, long history. If you google the history of the usage of that word in letters, you’ll see that it has a long history of use in very non-intimate letters. Feel free to leave it off if that makes you more comfortable, but know that adding it is very very very very not intimate (and leaving it off in a letter, as opposed to, say, a text) will come across to some as abrupt (and therefore possibly as rude).

        1. Specialk9

          I also feel that way, that calling someone “dear” in a professional setting is uncomfortably intimate. I think most of us know it’s Done, and Has Long Been Done, but it’s still squirmy.

          I call my husband and my baby “dear”. Not coworkers. I’m just imagining calling someone “dear” in person. “Andrew, dear, I was just going to grab coffee, want to come?” “Thanks, dear!”

          I do it anyway, because social conventions are social conventions, but I don’t like it.

          1. Lily Rowan

            I feel like it’s not even the same word “dear,” though. Addressing a letter “Dear Fred” really has no implication that you would ever say “Fred, dear, can you hand me the stapler?”

      3. Birch

        I feel this way too! I use “To the Office of the Editor” etc. For cover letters I use the name of the supervisor or hitting manager, but I’m in academia. It stil feels too familiar if I haven’t contacted them before. We have some Chinese collaborators and I’ve noticed they’re either very florid with emails (“my dear sweet Birch”) or very brusque with no greetings at all. I’ve just asked my partner, who is Finnish, and he says he addresses cover letters to the individual person using their first name, e.g. “Hei Pekka.” It seems that Finnish is in the opposite to German here… so funny!

    9. Anon for This

      Leave off the salutation/greeting completely! Just begin your message or email, or if it’s in a Word doc, drop down a couple of lines below the date and start your letter. You could add a subject in a Word doc or an email, such as “Re: Teapot Painter Position” or “Application for Llama Groomer Opening.”

      I’m in marketing and “Dear Somebody” is no longer considered a requirement for direct mail letters.

      1. Frustrated Optimist

        Yes, this is what I do.
        Example:
        To: Talent Acquisition, [Company]
        Re: [Position Title], Requisition/Job ID, etc. 12345

        1. Jadelyn

          That feels vagely…form-letter-ish, to me. Resume submission emails without any salutation in the email feel very abrupt and disconnected to me, I wouldn’t recommend skipping it entirely.

    10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I’m in a field that recommends using “to whom it may concern,” but I think it’s overly stilted and formal (equally if not more than “Dear Sir or Madam”).

    11. Uni Librarian

      I’m in Higher Ed so I always do “Dear Search Committee,” because there’s always a committee who is reading these things.

    12. Gloucesterina

      I only see the “To Whom” greeting on recommendation letters for students (which depending on the context, can be a bit of a formality to begin with and are often written to be easily re-submitted to lots of different institutions or programs, so there might not be the sense on the letter writer’s end that they are necessarily writing to a specific human being).

    13. PlainJane

      I used it recently when writing a letter of recommendation for someone applying to graduate school. I had no name, and “Dear Hiring Manager,” wouldn’t apply. Maybe, “Dear Admissions Representative?”

    14. SusanIvanova

      “To Whom it May Concern:” sounds like it belongs on a complaint letter when you don’t know who needs to be concerned, you just know that *someone* had better be.

    15. Cromely

      I’ve been using, “Greetings, [company name] team:” or some variant of that if I don’t have a specific contact.

  2. Loopy

    This is so useful! I often overthink things and try and approach the first line of a cover letter as if I’m writing a book- by thinking it has to grab the readers attention and interest.

    I’m so relieved I can keep it simple!

    1. DecorativeCacti

      It was the best of jobs, it was the worst of jobs, it was the age of Excel, it was the age of visibility…

      1. Jadelyn

        “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a growing company in possession of a job opening, must be in want of a stellar candidate such as myself.”

        1. oranges & lemons

          It probably doesn’t say much for my professionalism, but I would have a hard time resisting a cover letter that started this way.

          1. DecorativeCacti

            It probably doesn’t say much for my professionalism, but I’d be willing to try it! I’m not getting anywhere the traditional way.

          2. Jadelyn

            I once saw someone on tumblr bemoaning the fact that they’d written “I am a fish I am a fish I am a fish I am a fish…” as a placeholder for their “summary” section of their resume because they were having trouble writing a good summary…and then forgotten to change it before they submitted it. And all I could think was, I’d love it if I got a resume that started with “I am a fish I am a fish I am a fish”. Blank template spots that just read [placeholder] or have lorum ipsum in it are boring and just look like you’re not bothering to complete your template. “I am a fish” tells me at least that you were *doing* something with it, even if you didn’t finish it. Or that you want me to know that you are a fish. Either way, it makes you a more interesting candidate!

      1. oranges & lemons

        It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single employer in possession of a good budget, must be in want of an assistant.

        1. oranges & lemons

          Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of this job search, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. (stopping now)

              1. Stormfeather

                “Oh Mr. Bingley, we insist you hold a Hiring Fair! We DO so look forward to it…”

                And Mr. Darcy could stalk around the halls looking superior to all the fish microwavers and quacking people…

    2. PlainJane

      Whether I shall turn out to be the successful candidate in this search, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, this letter must show.

    3. Bitey Gobstopper Psycho

      If your opening be not tended,
      Look no further, your search is ended.
      For I am Bitey, of IT fame,
      ok sorry, this attempt is lame.

  3. library tech supervisor

    oh god cringing at myself for every cover letter i started with “My name is….”

    1. Fuzzy pickles

      Yup me too. I didn’t like it when I did it then, but it felt awkward to not introduce myself.

      I feel so much better already, knowing I can just jump right in!

      1. Jadelyn

        Same! I haven’t done it in recent years, but in my early 20s that’s how I rolled because, like you, it felt awkward not to introduce myself the way I would if I was talking to someone.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq.

      Yeah, I’ve used this a lot, just in the last few years even. I’ve knocked it off, but for whatever reason I still feel the impulse.

    3. esra (also a Canadian)

      Honestly, I really don’t mind it? As long as the next sentence is good, starting off with an identifier is A+ when I’m going through resumes and cover letters.

    4. HRH the Emperor Kuzco

      I’m luckily of the age group where I can’t help but end that sentence with, “…Slim Shady.” This has probably subconsciously prevented me from using that.

    5. P

      I actually do this in business correspondence fairly regularly – I try to address the “who are you/what do you want” as quickly as possible and starting with “My name is…” seems like the fastest way to accomplish it.

      But now I’m worried I sound like a tween. What should I use instead?

      1. Legal Beagle

        For business correspondence, I usually write “Hi, I’m the Teapot Acquisition Manager at Teapots, Inc. and I’m reaching out to discuss spout design/inquire about your chocolate teapots/etc.” I figure that my job title provides the relevant information up front (why is this person emailing me?), whereas it doesn’t matter if they don’t see my name until the end of the email. Also, if your email address is your real name, they have your name as soon as the email pops up in their inbox.

        For cover letters, I use a header with my name and contact info, and my resume has a matching header.

  4. Pickle

    I usually start with “I am writing with great enthusiasm to apply for the position of X”. Yay/nay?

    1. DMLT

      Eh, it’s too passive for me. Clearly you’re writing, because this writing that I am reading. Alison’s examples are much more direct. Reminds me of “I just wanted to write you and say that…” – JUST SAY IT ALREADY.

    2. Reba

      To me it reads as a bit grammatically tortured.

      Not to mention, the enthusiasm should show in the letter that follows, no?

    3. Guacamole Bob

      I’ve started some cover letters similarly, as in “I am writing to apply for the position of Spout Designer II, listed as position #123456 on the Teapots Incorporated website.” My last couple of applications have been for government positions where there are similar titles in different departments hiring simultaneously and I knew the first round would be an HR screener. I launch into my enthusiasm for the job in the second sentence. I also made sure to lay out how I met the minimum qualifications super-clearly in a way that might be stilted in the private sector.

      I’ve had a very good response rate to these applications, so I don’t think it’s holding me back, but I think I’ll come back to some of the examples from this post for the next round – I’ve always felt like this opening isn’t particularly strong.

    4. 42

      Not a fan either, so I’m a nay. It sounds too much like a foreign language –> English translator result to me.

      1. Struck by Lightning

        My first thought was that it sounds ESL to me. If I received it, I’d be looking for indications that the applicant spoke a second language (which would be a plus) but if I didn’t see any bilingual skills there would be very few positions I interview for that this wouldn’t knock someone down more than no cover letter at all. Everything we do involves writing and my little heart would tremble at adding yet another person to my team who I need to break of passive voice and edit for concises. (Takes me enough time to edit myself! lol)

    5. Jadelyn

      It’s a little over-formal, but definitely not hall-of-shame worthy or anything. I’d go with “I’m excited to apply for” or “I was excited to see your opening for” or something like that.

  5. MuseumChick

    Even worse than “Dear Sir or Madam” is “Dear Sir” I have seen this several times and I either laugh or bang my head on my desk depending on my mood.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe

      Or “Dear Mrs. Not a Real Giraffe.” I am not married and the assumption annoys me. Just use Ms.

      1. Lynca

        What’s hilarious is I am married and kept my maiden name. So I still get the Mrs. Lynca which isn’t even what it would be.

        People still ask me when I’m going to change it.

              1. Optimistic Prime

                I have a friend who didn’t change her last name after marriage and has a PhD and her in-laws deliberately address their mail incorrectly every. single. time. It’s Mr. Jones and Dr. Hanson, but they address them as Mr. and Mrs. Jones for pretty much everything. It drives her nuts!

                Me, on the other hand, I did change my name after marriage but I never actually use my married last name other than on legal forms and such – I use my original name professionally. So when people say “The Smiths” I’m always like “who are they talking about? Oh, right, me and my husband, lol”

                1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

                  My Dad does the same thing to me. I don’t really mind except I’m worried that one day he is going to send me an important package and I won’t be able to sign for it because “Mrs Husbandname” is not legally my name — Dr Maidenname is. I don’t know why he doesn’t get this.

          1. whistle

            On the flip side, I am a female with a PhD who kept my last name when I married, and we have received mail addressed to “Dr. and Mr. MYLASTNAME”. Always makes me chuckle :)

        1. Wendy Darling

          Are you like “Um, never?” because I sometimes have a tough time restraining myself when people ask me stupid-ass questions like “when are you going to change your name” and “why do you want to go to Starbucks?” (Uh, to get coffee and put it in my mouth? Why do YOU go there?)

      2. Specialk9

        Wow. That’s… Well that’s a thing. It’s shocking how many fossils are still walking around.

      3. Optimistic Prime

        Normally I don’t like going by Dr. and insist that people call me by my first name, but only when I see someone address me by “Mrs.” do I have the urge to say “It’s Doctor, actually.”

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

          Me too. I only really pull it out when I want to be snarky to someone who insists that I have to change my name, or repeatedly calls me Mrs Hisname in an academic situation.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz

      I was just about to write this myself. I despise “Dear Sir” because 90% of the places I’ve worked have had female majorities. And who even calls people sir or madam anymore anyway?

      1. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)

        Eh… German and Asian people? (I’m currently watching a Korean family reality show, and even among twins one has to be the “older” and addressed as such, even in casual conversation) Anyway, for me it’s the best opinion to weed out lazy and out of touch recruiters from proper ones.

        1. Jadelyn

          Wait, are you saying that you use “dear sir” when *you’re* applying to jobs, to “weed out” recruiters that react negatively to that? I’m genuinely confused here.

          1. Specialk9

            I read that as ‘I weed out the recruiters who use Dear Sir because they are lazy and out of touch’.

        2. Wendy Darling

          Okay true story, my hometown had a massive proportion of first and second generation Korean immigrants, and my social circle was mostly Korean American. Every time they met a new Korean American kid everyone had to figure out exactly when their birthday was and who was older/younger so the terms of address could be sorted out.

        3. Miso

          Uh, what? Germans don’t use sir, it’s an English word after all…
          Or do you mean as a way to address someone in formal language? That would be like Mister then though. And you can’t use the German version without a name.

      2. joriley

        Same. I work with a lot of current/former military folks so hearing people addressed as sir/ma’am is quite common, but they always get it right. Every time I’ve seen a “Dear Sir” it was going to primarily female staff and a female hiring manager.

        1. Specialk9

          The former military managers I’ve had had clearly had significant training on the transition to civilian life. I (female) once offered to get my (male) manager coffee, cuz I was going anyway, and he blanched – actually blanched – and fell all over himself telling me he’d never ask me to get his coffee.

          I’ve actually adored almost all formerly non-commissioned officer managers, and any former officer at equivalent Army colonel or above. Between those two, ‘meh’ and ‘meh’ again, with a sprinkling of ‘ack’.

    3. Minerva McGonagall

      I once saw a letter (not hiring related) that was addressed like this:

      Jane Doe
      Company X

      Mary Doe
      Company Y

      Dear Sir(s):

      Wanted. To. Scream.

      1. MuseumChick

        I literally had to read this three times to make sure I understood it. OMG. You have to wonder how some people get through life.

    4. Emi.

      One of the best Miss Manners riot-act-readings I’ve seen was when someone reported that their friend insisted that it’s “grammatically correct” to address a letter with “Gentlemen,” even if you KNOW it’s going to one woman.

      1. Moonbeam Malone

        For some reason I can’t not read “Gentlemen” in the voice of the mad scientist from Aqua Teen Hunger Force

    5. Joielle

      Same! I was involved in hiring the last time our office brought on a new attorney, and we immediately tossed the resume of one applicant who had clearly assumed the hiring manager was a man. Especially since the admin who was physically receiving the applications, whose name and email address were in the posting, was a woman. Lack of attention to detail plus obvious sexism = no thank you.

    6. Lou

      I work for a very, very old title in the UK and we still get letters from our more mature correspondents that start with ‘Dear Sirs’. They wouldn’t be inaccurate if it was 30 years ago but it makes me cringe. Luckily, the editorial team is no longer a boys’ club (just as well, or I’d be out of a job!).

      1. Specialk9

        What’s a “title” in this context? Not a book title, but there are editors involved. Is it a newspaper or a publishing firm?

        1. oranges & lemons

          Maybe the OED or similar? As I mentioned above, I also work in publishing, and it seems to attract the “Dear Sirs” crowd. There must be a lot of people out there who labour under the misapprehension that publishing companies are staffed entirely by elderly Victorian gentlemen with mutton chops.

    7. Starley

      This may have been overboard but I did toss the resume of an applicant once who used “sirs” and “gentlemen” throughout. I was the hiring manager (I’m female) and it was very easy to deduce who I was through the job posting. Both CEO and HR Director at the time were women as well, and two seconds of looking at the website would have told him that. I don’t know if it was the lack of attention to detail or the subtle sexism throughout his cover letter (I wish I’d saved examples but, alas, I gave it very little thought) but I was just totally put off by it.

    8. Another person

      My husband’s current work mission is to get his staff to stop writing their letters to clients with “Dear Sir”. Apparently the legal template that they are working off starts with “Dear Sir” and the way-higher-up guy who is in charge of legal compliance is super sexist and refuses to change it and for some reason his staff is unwilling to change the template even when OBVIOUSLY changing that initial address (even just to Dear Sir or Madam) would clearly not affect the purpose of the letter.
      (I may be slightly unclear about the purpose of these letters so sorry if it is confusing).

    9. SarahTheEntwife

      Yep. I give international applicants a pass since they often seem to be working from some “best practices for business letters” guide from the 70s, but if your first language is English, you should know better.

  6. WellRed

    Oh no, I don’t think I’ve done this for cover letters, but I often introduce myself with my name is, followed by a request to interview them for a story (I am a writer and I don’t like to assume they know who I am). Do I sound like a 14 year old?

    1. Pickle

      I struggle with this one too when emailing someone I haven’t been previously introduced to. I usually go with “I’m Pickle, Teapot Coordinator for Teapots Inc. I’m writing to ask you. . .” Not sure if others would agree that that’s better, but does sound a little less youthful than “My name is” to me.

      1. oranges & lemons

        I usually go with something like “I’m writing from [company name] to ask you…” I don’t think my name is really the most relevant piece of information, and it’s in my signature anyway.

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

      I think in that case it works more like an introduction outside of a business context, if that makes sense. It’s business for you, but not necessarily for them, so a friendly intro helps ease into the request for their time and input. A job application will include your name somewhere (on the online application form, the resume, the header, whatever) and both parties know what the cover letter is for, so that changes how a CL should approach the “here’s who I am, here’s why you’re hearing from me” bit.

    3. TootsNYC

      I think if you are emailing, your name is in your email address probably, plus it should be at the bottom, so they don’t need that. You can introduce yourself with “I’m a reporter at the Weekly Reader, and am covering…”

      That’s the introduction that’s important.

      1. Nanani

        This. Same reason you don’t need to put addressee and sender information in an email the way you would a paper letter. It’s redundant.

  7. Sherlock

    YES! I love practical advice like this. It’s so helpful even though I’m not job hunting right now. Please share more information like this with the masses. It’s wonderful.

  8. Tara

    Is it still good advice to include where you found the job posting? Like, “I was excited to see your job listing for a teapot designer on Indeed.com.”

    1. Joielle

      Honestly, that sounds out of touch to me. I think it’s assumed these days that you’ve found the posting online, on one of the main job websites. And typing out “.com” also sounds old fashioned. I may be in the minority here but personally, that would grate on me. I’d only mention where you found the job posting if it was referred to you by a current employee or if you saw it in a trade publication.

      1. please

        “I may be in the minority here but personally, that would grate on me.”

        Do you do any hiring? I do a little, and frankly don’t have the time or mental attention to let something like that grate.

        And frankly where someone found our posting is useful info for us as it can give us a sense of where good candidates are coming from. That said, it’s not particularly important – though when candidates get the interview stage I always ask. In fact, in pre-screens our HR does they ask too.

        1. Joielle

          Yeah, I do. We get so many applicants for each open position that every detail counts, unfortunately. Of course, if that person had great qualifications, I wouldn’t toss the resume on that detail alone, but if I have 150 applications in hand and I’m wavering between a “maybe” and a “no,” that kind of thing might make a difference.

      2. Nanani

        I am a freelancer, so my “applying to jobs” is slightly different, but when I contact a company for a first work order, or as part of pre-work registration and whatnot, I always specify how I found out about them.

        “Your project manager F came to me with this project, here are my rates” is very different from “I saw on Freelancer Message Board that you’re looking for someone to handle this project, here are my rates.”

    2. Moonbeam Malone

      Oh, this is something I was reconsidering recently! I used to always include it, but lately I’ve applied for more positions in the creative field I’m trying to move into and I’ve found the job via another artist’s twitter. I was still including it because I thought they’d like to know where people were hearing about positions. But not long ago an artist tweeted about hating it when applicants mentioned hearing about positions from people working at the studio and when they’d ask that person, assuming they’d given a reference, the person had no idea who the applicant was. I realized there was a chance I was giving that same wrong impression without meaning to, and I decided moving forward to leave it off, particularly when it’s from a social media source like that.

    3. Jennifer Thneed

      I include that in the email subject line, like so: “Technical Writing position – craigslist”. And almost all my cover letters start with “Dear Hiring Manager”.

      But then, I’m working in a tech industry where job hunting is almost entirely online AND thru recruiting agencies.

    4. Al Lo

      I do. I know that when I’m posting, I’m using 7 or 8 different websites, industry boards, etc., and I appreciate knowing where someone found my posting (the new grad boards at the university? the arts-specific classifieds?). I figure it only takes an extra 2 or 3 words to pass that along. I don’t use referral codes, unique URLs, or other advertising metrics in my postings, and would assume that anyone else I’m applying for probably isn’t either, but the information is helpful.

    5. Jadelyn

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but I appreciate that, because it helps us with our tracking to see what job sites we’re getting the best ROI from – job postings are expensive, so we want to target our budget to wherever we’re going to get the strongest candidates, and unless you actually apply via the link on the job site (like via Monster or Indeed or CL’s email relay) I have no way of knowing where you saw it if you don’t tell me.

  9. Not Today Satan

    And for the love of God: tell me why you want the job. I get that you might be applying to a lot of jobs and I personally don’t expect a 100% personalized letter, but a sentence or two is essential.

    I work for a nonprofit and get CLs from people who might have a decent skill match but who have only worked in for-profit. Literally all they need to add is something like “I am a committed volunteer at (similar org)” or something quick to show interest in the mission. Otherwise I throw it in the trash.

    1. Student

      A lot of job postings in my field are extremely vague on the job details. For an analog that’s relatable, imagine a posting for a teacher, that covers some obvious duties of any teacher – “grading papers” and “managing a classroom”. However, the posting doesn’t tell you what subject or grade level you’ll be teaching, by design. This might be a job application for second-grade gym class or 11th-grade calculus. You find out at the job interview which it is.

      The vagueness of the job advertisements makes it really hard to come up with a company-centric reason to want the job. Most of the time, I’m applying to see if I want the job – I don’t honestly know enough to be enthusiastic yet. If you get a lot of cover letters that don’t express clear enthusiasm for the job, you might want to look harder at your posting to see if you’re giving them anything to be enthusiastic about, vs. just listing your candidate requirements.

      1. MakesThings

        That sounds like an amazingly BS way to hire. Why do people do this? Are they not interested in getting applications from qualified, enthusiastic candidates?

        1. Student

          Two reasons, in my experience:

          (1) They don’t know exactly what they want or exactly what the job is themselves. They want to find somebody with a specific skill set who’ll make themselves useful and there are genuinely several ways to do that. to continue the teacher analogy, imagine a parent who’s homeschooling and wants an outside teacher to add some variety once every two weeks. Maybe the parent really doesn’t care if that variety is from a biology teacher, a gym teacher, or a European history teacher, as long as it’s something sufficiently different from what the parent already teaches but something the parent still values.

          (2) One of the requirements in the jobs I apply for is “able to obtain and hold a security clearance”. They don’t put in much detail on purpose, out of real security concerns, or imagined security concerns or an abundance of CYA. The ones I’ve seen from “the inside” are absurdly bland out of CYA instead of genuine security issues – they don’t even try. And yes, it leads to bad fits applying (and sometimes being hired), and I skip over applying to loads of these jobs that I might be qualified for and enthusiastic about if only I knew more. Your tax dollars at work, over-classifying everything.

        2. Close Bracket

          Because people who write job descriptions are the same people who at one point wrote lackluster cover letters. Lots of people are bad at expressing things.

      2. Tuxedo Cat

        In my field, that’s an indicator that the hiring manager already knows who will be hired. I know quite a few people who do that. They have to publicly advertise and such, but they already have a candidate in mind.

      3. Anxa

        Word!

        I just wrote the most bland cover letter this week for a job where it was just a qualifying list and mostly a list of the physical demands. And super generic skills like “attention to detail” “teamwork” “fast paced environment.” When 70% of the job ad is so generic, I can’d tell if my resume/CL needs to address that yes, I know Office. Should I mention working as a restaurant server (faced past environment) or devote more space to my technical skills that may or not be a match for this position.

    2. please

      This comment is an interesting contrast to the comments on the recent thread about a donor applying to work at a nonprofit, where a number of people said support for the organization is irrelevant.

      1. zora

        I see these as two different things, not a contradiction. Those responses were saying that announcing your specific financial support for that specific organization is odd. But applying for any nonprofit job, you should DEFINITELY say something about why you want to work on that issue or for that organization. The vast majority of nonprofit hiring managers are going to want some indication of passion for their mission.

    3. Mike C.

      Generally people want a job because of the steady paycheck. They may be other reasons of course, but the foundation is that paycheck.

      I totally get wanting something a little personalized, but I kind of get irritated when employers expect me to have some greater purpose when applying.

      1. Kitkat

        It seems unreasonably cynical, and almost patronizing, to say that everyone wants a steady paycheck only, and enthusiasm in cover letters is just a show put on for the employer.

        I do want a steady paycheck, of course, but if I can find it, I also want to do meaningful work at a well-run company that aligns with my values and goals. And if I run across such an opportunity, darn right I’ll be excited to apply for it!

        Yes, there can be a lot of privilege baked into the “follow your dreams/job as personal fulfillment” but I also find it insulting when people assume that because I don’t make a lot of money, all I care about is making more and that I can’t genuinely like and be excited about the work I do.

      2. Nanani

        The way I think about it is not “pretend you have some reason other than money”, but rather “Why do you want THIS paycheck instead of some other one you could apply to?”

        Works as well for widget engineering as chocolate teapot delivery.

  10. Yur a Wizard

    yikes – i use “my name is Harry Potter and i am excited to apply” – thanks for the tip to trim!

  11. Karo

    I did not read carefully and I thought the last half were more examples of what not to do and was feeling incredibly sheepish.

    1. a-no

      ME TOO!!! I usually use variations of those and was immediately panicked thinking that’s why I’m not getting any bites haha
      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one

  12. Sarasaurus

    Question re: “my name is.” I would certainly never use it for a cover letter, but is it ever okay to do in an email? I’ve found myself doing this occasionally when contacting someone for the first time:

    “Good Afternoon,

    My name is Sarasaurus with ABC Company and I am writing because of XYZ reason.”

    I always feel like it sounds kind of juvenile (and they can obviously see my name), but I haven’t found a better way to start a “cold” email.

    1. bluelyon

      I usually skip my name but include my title. So… Good Morning, I’m the Chief Llama Groomer at ABC – I’m following up on the email you sent our blind box”

      1. Squeeble

        Oh, this is good. I always felt awkward about the “my name is” but didn’t know how to get around it. This is perfect.

      2. Abigael

        I write a lot of emails to international partners or clients, and so I think it makes sense in my industry to say “My name is ____,” since it clarifies what I like to be called. Names/titles vary widely in different languages and cultures, thus an introduction can be helpful. I’ve often received emails from people with names like Phan Phoung Thi and I don’t know how to address my response (I’m not sure which is the first name or last name, which title I should use, etc). I appreciate it when someone clearly says “Hi, my name is Phan” to help eliminate that confusion.

          1. Delphine

            You’d be surprised at how many people call me by my last name no matter how I sign off. I’ve found introducing myself with my first name only is actually a better way to ensure they call me by the right name.

            1. MassMatt

              Interesting, I am struck by how often I am referred to as “Mr. first name”, and it’s not a cultural issue as with Asian vs: western name order. Though this generally happens over the phone talking to people in customer service. Maybe they are told not to use customers’ first names?

    2. Observer

      Introduce your title. So instead of “I’m Sarasaurus” you could write “I’m a tea spout designer at Teapots inc.”

    3. AndersonDarling

      It does sound kind of 6th grade. Along with the “I’d like to introduce myself, my name is AndersonDarling and…”
      But you can open with your title as in… “Dear Sarasaurus, I am the Rice Sculptor at ABC Designs and I was hoping you would be able to find the time to give a talk on macaroni sculpting at our organization.”

    4. Murphy

      I usually just start with “I’m the Llama Wrangler at Organization and I’m writing to XYZ”, rather than use my name since they can see it, like you said.

    5. Parcae

      I sometimes identify my role first if I think that gives context. E.g., “I am the Head Llama Wrangler at Llamas R Us and I am writing because…” Otherwise I jump right in. Starting with my name is something I only do when leaving a voicemail. With email, the reader probably saw my name before they even started reading, so it feels redundant.

    6. baconeggandcheeseplease

      I think you can just cut the “My name is” part, and just skip straight to your association with XYZ company, like “Dear A, I’m a photographer for Teapots Inc. and am looking to obtain a press pass for The annual teapots tradeshow.”

    7. please

      Your name is in the “from” field of the email, and probably you’ll sign off with it and/or have it in the signature at the bottom of the email.

      It might well be worth saying “Hi, I’m writing from ABC company” but adding your name is not useful info – it’s there already, and probably twice.

      If you like to be called something different than what is in the “from” field or signature, sign off with it. So if the the from field says “Catherine Hegemon” the end with email with something like:
      “Thanks,
      Cat”

      Title, which bluelyon mentions, may or may not be useful depending on the position and the purpose of the email. If it’s not very important to the message, having it in the signature is probably enough.

      1. please

        Oh, I’m speaking from a US perspective, where being succinct is important. In other cultures, this may not be appropriate.

  13. ArtK

    This brings up a question I have about formatting a cover letter. I’ve always written it like a formal business letter with my name/address in a block, the date below and then the recipient’s name/address. Is that still acceptable or am I wasting valuable real-estate by putting too much extraneous stuff in?

    One of the things that prompted this question is the “My name is…” opener — my name is at the top of the page so that would feel ridiculous in the body of the letter.

    1. AndersonDarling

      If I am attaching a pdf or Word Doc as my cover letter, then I use the formal letter format. I still feel like it’s an important skill to write a proper letter and I want to show it off. But if I am cutting and pasting into a form, or writing an email, then I begin with the salutation.

    2. The New Wanderer

      I have been writing my cover letters as just starting with “Dear Hiring Manager” and nothing about mailing addresses for myself or recipient.

      I also was advised to take my street address off my resume as unnecessary (but leave the city/state) – the comment, which applies to both, was that no one is going to need my mailing address at the beginning stage of the job contact since everything these days happens over email or by phone.

      1. Jennifer Thneed

        I leave my street address off. Nobody needs that information at this stage of the game. If online apps require something in that field, I’ve done a single space with the spacebar, “n/a”, and if forced to because the field sees no digits, “123 Main St.” (GRRR! So Stupid! I won’t give you my SSN at that stage, either. And if I’m ruled out because your software is so stupid, I probably don’t want to deal with other aspects of your company either.)

    3. Joielle

      I do that! And I appreciate when applicants do it. I like that it takes up some space and forces me to be succinct in the rest of my cover letter. Plus I think it makes the page look nice and it improves readability since it adds white space.

      1. Joielle

        Although I do agree with AndersonDarling, different rules if it’s in the body of an email or an online form. Would look weird otherwise.

        1. ArtK

          I agree with that. I should have been more clear that this is when it’s an attachment. If I’m cut-and-paste into an application or e-mail, I leave the extra cruft out.

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      If your cover letter is in the body of the email, definitely don’t include that stuff. But if you’re attaching it as a separate document, it’s fine either way. I think the candidates I see are probably 50/50 on whether they include it or not.

      1. zora

        I used to do that for all of my cover letters, even in the body of the email, until I started running into more than one job posting where there wasn’t a mailing address indicated at all. And either none publicly available, or companies with many different office locations, so I had no idea which one to use.

        That’s when I realized the mailing address is much less important than the email address nowadays.

  14. limenotapple

    Oh, that defining words thing! I immediately check out when that’s the first sentence of anything, be it cover letter, presentation, or any other medium.

  15. k

    I don’t start the letter this way, but I sometimes include “I believe that I’m uniquely qualified because of XYZ.” My job history is a little all over the place, so occasionally I’ll be applying for something where two of my unrelated jobs are relevant. Let’s say my last three jobs were a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker, and I’m applying for a job at the Food-Shaped Candle Emporium (I’m terrible at fake examples forgive me). Since most people don’t have both food and candle experience, does it still sound too overconfident?

    1. AnotherAlison

      I’ve done that. I don’t think I’ve said “uniquely qualified” but I have written things like “with my unique background in llama roping and human cosmetology, I believe I bring the skills needed for your llama grooming position. . .” I’d love suggestions on how to marry two weird pieces of your background to explain why you fit this job without using the word unique.

      1. Lil Fidget

        I guess the problem is that as someone who’s looked at a lot of resumes for a position, you better be sure it’s really “unique” because if I’m reading two llama wranglers and one is telling me their experience is so unique, it’s hard not to mark them down mentally. You just don’t know who else is in the pool.

      2. Jennifer Thneed

        Skip the adjective entirely. Just say “With my background in llamas and catering…”

        Unique is an opinion. Your background is a fact. Stick to facts.

    2. Snark

      I think the issue is that it’s possibly presumptuous to state you’re uniquely qualified. I usually err on the side of just stating that my background includes both X and Y, trusting it to be fairly obvious that X and Y rarely go together and spoon up nicely with the job requirements.

    3. K.

      I would stay away from the word “unique” when you’re describing your qualifications. The word “unique’s” definition has become watered down, but it really means “the only one of its kind.” You don’t know what the pool looks like, and it’s entirely possible that there are people in it with qualifications like yours or very similar to yours.

    4. Reba

      Instead of using the phrase “uniquely qualified” which is both trite and a bit weird/stilted IMO, what not just jump ahead into what you want to say? To extend your examples:

      “I have both food and candle experience that have shaped how I approach X [key skill or issue in applying job].” Or “In X role, I would be able to draw from a wide range of experiences in both candle and food work, and apply Wax, Knife-sharpening, and Pan skills to the problems of Food-shaped candle development.”

      Also good to skip “I believe” type language as it’s needlessly emotion-adjacent and also kindof introduces doubt. Your skills are not an article of faith! Instead of “I believe that I am good at Stuff,” write “I have gotten great results with Stuff at X place” or whatever.

      Caveat that more circumlocution may be normative and read as respectful in your area/field/culture.

    5. Ask a Manager Post author

      In general, I’d stay away from drawing any conclusions about how qualified you are — that’s for them to do. Instead, just present the facts. In your case it might be something like, “I was intrigued to find a position that combines two very different facets of my professional background: butchering and candlestick making.

      1. Lissa

        Oh I love that! “Unique” just doesn’t work for me at all in these contexts because — how do you know? I think in general comparing oneself to other candidates is not a great idea, even if (like with the word unique) it’s implicit.

    6. Typhon Worker Bee

      I’ve used something like “I believe the combination of my formal training as a certified otter wrangler and my ten years of experience as a project manager make me an excellent match for your beaver dam construction programme”, followed by some examples of my skills and past accomplishments that refer back to some of the specific qualifications and experience they asked for in the ad.

  16. H.C.

    Also, avoid vague statements “As someone touched/impacted/affected by [employer-related issue] . . .” Either go into specifics or don’t mention at all.

  17. Kendra

    I have a question about how to write cover letters for internships. Most of what I’ve seen about cover letters on this blog says to focus on a particular position and how you will benefit the hiring organization by filling that position well. But internships aren’t as specific and aren’t as immediately focused on how you will benefit the organization. How would you change the language and focus of a cover letter to reflect that?

      1. Joielle

        Agreed! I hire interns regularly and that’s what I like to see. If the posting describes what the intern’s responsibilities will be, then of course also talk about how your skills are a good match with those responsibilities. But you would be shocked at how many cover letters I get where the person doesn’t even mention what our office does or any interest in it. It may be different since we’re a government agency and specifically looking for people who are interested in a career in public service. But, I think most people hiring interns know that it’s more about finding someone who’s interested and teachable, rather than someone who’s a perfect match in skills and experience.

        1. Kendra

          Do you have any suggestions on how to show that you’re teachable? My first thought is to say that I was able to get a basic understanding of the chocolate teapot production pipeline in a short amount of time, but that would probably sound more like I don’t understand the chocolate teapot production pipeline as well as I think I do rather than show that I learned it quickly.

    1. CatCat

      It’s been a while since I was involved in hiring interns, but, to me recall, the best letters still focused on what the potential intern could bring to the internship. I don’t think it’s that different, at the end of the day, from applying for any other job because you’re still looking for the best match between the applicant and what the internship entails.

      So if you’re applying to Llama Wrangling Inc. where the internship involves feeding llamas, teaching llamas to walk on a lead, and assisting clients who need help wrangling their llamas… I would be interested in a cover letter that would address how you are suited to do some of all of those things (emphasize whatever is your best skill here). For example, say there are three candidates. Candidate A has a cover letter that just focused on how much the candidate loves llamas, has brushed llamas, and hopes to learn a lot about llamas at the internship. Candidate B focuses on how they have studied the latest llama leading techniques at the Llama Academy and have also been responsible for feeding alpacas, which have similar feeding needs to llamas. Candidate C focuses on how they have helped clients or customers solve problems at a prior job. Candidates B and C are much more competitive than A because they have some skills that set them up for success at the internship (even if they don’t have all the skills). It’s certainly nice that A loves llamas, but A doesn’t seem to have any skills related to the internship.

      1. please

        Some employers do view intern selection in the same way as employee selection, so your advice is right in a lot of cases. But if they’re really chosen in mainly the same way as employees, at least for unpaid internships, I don’t believe the organization is doing things right.

        Internships (at least unpaid internships) are supposed to be primarily about the intern learning, not benefit to the employer.

        As in intern manager I obviously don’t want to bring in someone who will screw up, and they have to have the minimum skills for the job and be able to contribute in some way. But the career trajectory is important. All intern managers should be thinking that way.

    2. Nesprin

      I hire lots of interns, and I always want to see three things in cover letters that are almost never actually stated. 1: Evidence that the applicant knows what we do, 2: An explanation of why they want to work with us and not someone else 3: and what they hope to gain from the internship experience. I hired one intern to work with me in a breast cancer lab because in her cover letter, she described her career goals as a doctor focused on women’s issues, explained how working in basic research would be useful to that goal and described how our work breast cancer research was unique and valuable to her.

  18. Snark

    The worst one I’ve ever gotten went like,

    “Dear. Mr. Snark,

    You’re hiring a llama groomer. You’re hiring me because I’m the best llama groomer that’s going to apply for your position.”

    Probably not, my guy. Probably not.

    1. AnotherAlison

      No superlatives allowed!

      Related: I received a resume that had a summary line about being “remarkable” with computers and staying up to date on technology. My focus immediately became to prove he wasn’t remarkable with technology as I scoured his resume. His contact email was a hotmail account. Done. : )

      1. Eye of Sauron

        Oh c’mon don’t hat the hotmail :)

        *sighs* I still have my hotmail account, granted it’s only used for password retrieval, sale notices, and shipping notifications.

        1. Turquoisecow

          I still have an AOL account I use on occasion. But that’s not as bad as my father-in-law, who has an EarthLink account — and pays for it. He also refuses all attempts by his children and his 93 year old father to switch to Gmail.

      2. Fabulous

        I hate the Gmail platform (aside from the Drive) and will probably never get rid of my Hotmail. And I technically qualify as a millennial too.

      3. accidental manager

        One of the strangest applications I ever got to read included the statement that the applicant was a voracious writer.

      4. Carley

        Being a hotmail user is justification for automatic rejection? That seems awfully arbitrary. Granted I don’t use my old hotmail account for job applications, but still a terribly presumptuous thing to do.

        1. Snark

          If someone’s representing themselves as an extraordinarily tech-savvy and up to date with technology, I think it’s at the very least terribly unself-aware to use a Hotmail address.

    2. Millennial Lawyer

      I often wonder if women apply for positions saying things like that or if it’s mostly men? It baffles me that someone could think that overconfidence is okay.

  19. Mockingjay

    The worst one I got was something like this [note, this was a Dark Age newspaper advertisement]:

    Dear Mrs. Mockingjay,
    I don’t meet any of the requirements listed in your advertisement, but I know I can do the job!

    It was a government contract position and the terms couldn’t be budged. The ad clearly stated the specific degree and the exact type and years of experience required.

    I admired his verve, but no can do on an interview.

  20. Millennial Lawyer

    I learned from law school career services the best course of action is to call and find out who you should address your cover letter to, if it isn’t obvious from the application instructions. Is that good advice?

    Second, what do you do if you don’t have time to call?
    I was in the situation where I didn’t realize I was eligible to apply until late, and had to do my application over the weekend so I couldn’t call anyone. I basically searched to find out who was the head of the division I was applying for, and the person in charge of hiring, and addressed my letter to both of them (this is a position within my office already so I wasn’t sure who was directly handling it).

      1. Millennial Lawyer

        Hmm, thanks – then what should you do instead? Dear Hiring Manager/Recruitment Officer?

      1. Millennial Lawyer

        Oh goodness, thank you! My law school career services went even further than that LW – it wasn’t that it showed initiative and attention to detail, but that it was straight up *unprofessional* if you put Hiring Manager/generic title instead of a specific name! Yikes.

        1. Busy Trap

          That’s … just awful. Big Law firms and a lot of medium-sized firms have a recruiter doing first pass, so Hiring Manager or Hiring Partner is just fine. For anything in-house or government, you can use Hiring Manager. Because that’s typically what they are (myself included).

    1. Artemesia

      Nobody wants to field calls from people who can’t just read the ad, follow the directions and apply. It is extremely annoying to call for this kind of trivial information. If they wanted you to target the letter to a specific person that name would be in the ad. Otherwise it is ‘hiring manager’ or ‘re: Llama massage position.

      1. Millennial Lawyer

        The career office explicitly said if you call and it’s already in the ad you’ll look terrible, it was meant as a “what to do” if there’s no name in the ad, because it’s more professional to say Dear “Person.” Thanks for letting me know, I imagine it would be really annoying!

  21. Llamarama (Ding Dong)

    My last cover letter started with” To Whom It May Concern: I am interested in the Llama Safety position you have advertised. I feel my Llama Wrangling work at Llamarama would make me a good fit for this position because…” I then went on to detail a few specific examples that aligned with their job descriptions and listed skills I have that are related to Llama safety that would not be immediately obvious from my resume.

    I ended with “I have found that I truly have a passion for finding new and better ways to keep llamas safe. The work we do is not easy, but the non-tangible rewards have been fantastic.” I’m pretty sure that this line is what sealed the deal as it came up in every interview I had for my current position.

  22. Sara without an H

    I’m fine with cover letters that start with any of these combinations, as long as the rest of the letter indicates that the applicant has actually read the job listing. You’d be surprised at how many don’t.

    Long, long ago, when I was on a search committee at the Library of Alexandria, we had an HR manager with a simple, Scottish name. Let’s call her Jane MacDonald. All job postings clearly stated that applications were to be sent to Jane MacDonald. (We accepted papyrus scrolls back then.)

    Library jobs were scarce, so we received lots of applications. After looking through a few of them, we decided that our first cut would be to screen out everybody who couldn’t spell “Jane MacDonald.”

    1. Another Sarah

      I once spelled my name last for somene over the phone and and was not specific enough with my first-” Sarah with an H”. I recieved a message addressed to Sahra.

      1. Guacamole Bob

        This is how someone I know named Elisabeth ended up with a library card in the name of Elizabeths.

      2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels

        I used to live on a street named Stephens, and I had to give my address over the phone for something to be mailed. I said, “12345 Stephens… P-H-E-N-S”.

        The address on the envelope was:
        12345 Stevensphens

        :D

    2. Higher Ed Database Dork

      I work at state school in North Texas, and we have a ton of colleges, and I’ve read tons of cover letters that make it quite clear that the person applied to every single school out there. Most notably, they’ll leave the wrong school name peppered throughout the cover letter. Sometimes there’s more than one school in there. Proofreading fail!

    3. many bells down

      My husband just reviewed a application where the applicant was clearly using a cover letter template. “Dear Company X, I am very interested in the exciting opportunities at Company Z…”

      If you use a template be damn sure you’ve put the right info in the blanks. Although that’s not the reason why they passed on an interview.

    1. nep

      Can’t stand a start of ‘There are’ and ‘There is’. I’ll admit I catch myself saying it sometimes. Writing it, of course, is worse. Slay it wherever you see it.

  23. Sara without an H

    Am I the only curmudgeon who finds applicants who claim to be “thrilled” or “excited” about the position to be a bit over-the-top? During my last round of hiring, I got several applications that started this way and, while I didn’t hold it against any of the applicants, I thought it made them sound a wee bit over-excitable.

    1. nep

      I often wonder about that. I wouldn’t use ‘thrilled’, but I have used ‘excited’ a couple of times — both times on the fence about it. Perhaps ‘pleased’ fits better… I often run through all these when working on a cover letter.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think it depends on whether it’s credible or not. I do nonprofit hiring, and people often are generally excited about the job they’re applying for. But I know there are fields where it doesn’t go over well, like law, which tends to like more conservative cover letters, and I think possibly all of the UK.

      1. Bagpuss

        I’m in the UK.
        It sounds bit over the top to me. I think partly because it’s framed as “I’m excited to apply”, which sounds as though the mere act of applying is exciting in itself.
        So I wouldn’t start a letter that way, but I might put something in the body of the letter, about being excited by the opportunity to work directly with bearded llamas, or whatever may apply.

        1. Isobel

          “Excited to apply” makes me think of those GIFs with someone (or a cat) typing frenetically. Mind you, a friend had to go through my cover letter to suggest I change “I’m quite good at x,” and “colleagues say I’m not too bad at y” to something more enthusiastic!

        2. Betsy

          I’m Australian, and I don’t think it would go down well here, either. I usually indicate that I’m passionate about the field a bit later on in my cover letter, but it might seem a bit smarmy here to start with ‘I’m excited to apply…’

    3. oranges & lemons

      I can’t really bring myself to say “thrilled,” although I do rarely use “excited.” I feel like we’re a little more buttoned-up in Canada.

    4. Sam (UK)

      I’ve only received one cover letter with this sort of wording – it was immediately obvious that the applicant was American. I’ve hired candidates from many countries, no one else ever gets this enthusiastic in their cover letters.

      We still remember that letter with fond amusement.

      1. Tara

        From what I hear, there is a big difference between the US and UK as far as enthusiasm in work communication. There was a thread on Nicole Cliffe’s twitter about when the firm she worked at got recommendation letters from Americans, they were always overflowing with praise, while the UK ones, for the same quality of people, were more along the lines of “This person is adequate, perhaps even beyond adequate.”

    5. nep

      Now that I think of it, I used ‘excited’ in my last cover letter, because I am pretty excited about the prospect.

    6. Higher Ed Database Dork

      I have a really, really hard time using any kind of emotional words like thrilled in my cover letters. Granted, my cover letters tend to be pretty boring. The most emotional word I use is “interested.”

    7. zora

      I think it can depend on the job as well. It would seem really weird to get a cover letter saying “I am thrilled to apply for your job as a Data Entry Clerk”. …. I like data entry more than most people, but I would never be able to be “thrilled” about it.

  24. nep

    Bit of context — the company I was applying to is certainly a bit quirky and the job announcement itself showed a great, smart sense of humor. The ad even said something along the lines of ‘whatever you do, don’t send a cover letter that bores us.’
    I started my cover letter to them with: ‘When I read your ad for the XY position, I wondered: How do you know so much about me?’ (Many points in the job description really did fit me perfectly.)
    The entire letter was one of my favorites I’ve written. The employer even commented that they liked it — in their rejection email. My letter didn’t work any miracles, but I think I hit the right notes with it.
    One of these times all will align for success. Working on it.

    1. Berry

      I had something similar! Applied to a position that part of the staff of a TV show. I threw in a bunch of references and maybe a pun to the show into my cover letter. Got me to the edit test (which I then didn’t move forward past), and was proud of that!

  25. Macedon

    I think “Dear Sir or Madam” is preferable to “Dear Hiring Manager”, if I’m honest — more often than not, your cover letter will be read by HR or a more junior person than your would-be hiring manager, so addressing it to the hiring manager seems out of place to me.

    1. adam807

      I know this is a fairly narrow case, but I work at a small company (5 full time and one part time staff), and I react very negatively to “Dear Hiring Manager,” because it only takes a cursory glance at our website to see that we don’t HAVE a hiring manager, or anything resembling one. I’m perfect fine with a “Hello,” for people who aren’t comfortable with “To whom it may concern.” (We’ve also definitely gotten “Dear Sirs,” and as I’m the ONLY man in the office those generally get thrown right in the trash!)

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Hmmm, I think you are misinterpreting the phrase! Hiring manager isn’t “the person who manages all the hiring for the organization” — it’s the person who manages the position that’s being hired for (i.e., the manager who is hiring). So you definitely have one or more hiring managers in your organization, unless no one there reports to anyone!

        1. adam807

          Good to know, thanks! Yes, I thought it was an HR term (having never worked at a company with an HR department). I still think it’s too formal and sounds weird for our little office, but I’ll cut them some slack from now on. Thanks! (I definitely came back here after your latest post…never been sub-blogged before… )

      2. Jennifer Thneed

        The hiring manager is the person who will hire me! And who will be my manager! They’re usually not the first person I speak to, but they’re the person I want to speak to, certainly.

        Maybe you’re thinking of someone in an HR position who’s in charge of recruiting, or something?

    2. nep

      When I use this, I don’t have in mind that the person reading it has the precise title ‘Hiring Manager’ necessarily. I think of it as a general ‘key person who’s involved in hiring for this position.’

      1. zora

        Exactly. It’s not quite that literal, other people will possibly see the letter, but the person you are addressing your points to is “The Person Who is Going To Decide Who To Hire.” That is the “Hiring Manager.”

        1. Macedon

          That’s actually my point — the hiring manager, in my view, is the person who makes the final call on your hire and who eventually becomes your manager (or grand-manager). That’s often not the first point of contact, who usually read cover letters and do the first round of resume filtering prior to the interviews. They are not, in effect, the hiring manager.

          Whereas “Dear Sir or Madam” covers HR, hiring manager’s second-in-command, hiring manager’s manager — anyone reading that letter. It feels like a more accurate starter to me.

          1. WBee

            That seems really weird to me. You are addressing the Hiring Manager. The fact that others might read it too is not really relevant! I read stuff sent to my boss all the time, I don’t expect it to be addressed to include me.

    3. Anonymouse

      But what if the person doing the hiring is non-binary or intersex? “Dear Sir or Madam” would be incredibly insulting to them, along the lines of “Dear Sir” when you’re sending your letter to a woman.

  26. CatCat

    I vote that “Hail, Caesar! Those who are about to die salute you!” becomes the globally accepted generic salutation so we can avoid all the “To Whom it May Concern/Dear Sir or Madam/Dear Hiring Manger/Dear [person who’s name applicant scrounged up after calling around to find out the actual name of the hiring manager]” angst.

    I mean, it is a *tad* dramatic. A tad. But so much more interesting.

  27. Carley

    Ah, defining words. I remember coming across those for the first time in high school (I think someone used it as an opening in a public speaking competition or something) and thinking it sounded so sophisticated LOL.

  28. Candi

    “Dear sir or madam.”

    (humor) Hey, that’s how I learned to start official letters back in high school!

    Which was, in, um, the 1990s. :P

    So, yeah.

    (/humor)

    (bookmarks for future reference)

  29. YaYaYa

    So how off-putting is it to open with, “Dear Company Name”?
    So often I have no clue who the hiring manager is, and I’ve often been applying to somewhat odd interdepartmental positions (like an IT Analyst in the marketing department, or a Marketing Strategist working in IT).
    “Dear Llamas-R-Us”

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Hm, that would strike me as a little odd.

      Just go with “Dear Hiring Manager:” and be done with it.

  30. Kinsley

    I got a cover letter today that was written in third person. “Lucinda is successful at blah blah. Lucinda has performed highly at blah blah.”

    That was definitely a new one I hadn’t seen before!

    1. Adjuncts Anonymous

      It sounds like someone else wrote the letter for Lucinda, and she didn’t bother to change it. I am not a hiring manager, but YUCK!

      1. nep

        Right — it would be so confusing because it sounds like a letter of recommendation from a third party.

  31. Me

    One of my pet peeves is when people bold certain statements or words in their cover letter. They are usually descriptive words that aren’t backed up with any examples, too. I don’t need these things pointed out to me, plus it makes me question your judgment and understanding of communication norms.

  32. Student

    Is:
    “Sincerely,
    Student”
    an acceptable end of a cover letter? Too stuffy?

    I usually do
    “Thanks,
    Student” for most other correspondence but that seems too informal for someone I’ve never met, and I know for some people it implies that I expect I’ll be getting something worth thanking them for.

    1. anon Fool

      I usually use ‘Sincerely.’

      An exception — In a cover letter for a position with The Motley Fool, I closed with ‘Foolishly, [Name]’.

      If you see what they write about their culture, you’ll see just how they regard/use the word ‘Fool.’

      It fit. (And truly, one and only time I could sign a letter that way.) I was told they liked the letter.

    2. Canadian Natasha

      For business communications where saying thank you or thanks doesn’t fit I generally use:
      Yours,
      (Canadian Natasha)

      1. Canadian Natasha

        I also dislike using sincerely but that is due to my own personal quirk. I always imagine someone wondering why I have to clarify that I’m sincere. It’s not like I’m going to say haha just joking at the end of my cover letter.

    3. user987

      I’m not a native speaker of English but I use English at work. I always found “Thanks, [coworker]” a bit of… patronizing? Arrogant?

      This is something, my bosses would write. It assumes the issue is closed and no further discussion is expected.

      So I wouldn’t write like this myself.

      Could some native speaker write whether “thanks, [student/coworker]” really has this vibe?

      1. Morning Glory

        Native English speaker here.

        I think that ‘thanks’ shows that the sender is acknowledging a request in the email/letter. The candidate is asking to be considered. Your boss is asking you to do a task.

        It is not the best way to end a cover letter, but it doesn’t strike me as arrogant or patronizing.

    1. EnobyPro

      Though it could be argued that if a paperback writer has to beg the recipient to “read my book”, it’s clearly not working. ;)

  33. Greg

    I think I’ve mentioned this is previous threads, but one of my biggest pet peeves is candidates who take too long on their windup pitch: “I am writing you this letter to express my interest in having my application be considered for …” My advice: Look at the first sentence and ask yourself which words you could take out without sacrificing any meaning.

    Actually, that’s good advice for writing in general.

  34. Rocketship

    I got one not too long ago that used what I am now referring to as “The Dave Anthony.” The very first sentence was “Tyrion: brother, son, mead lover.”

    This was for a tech job, so even the factoid about what he likes to drink was completely irrelevant.

  35. Anonymous for now

    This came just in time! So question, if it says to email a cover letter and resume, do you put the cover letter in the email body or would you attach it? Thanks.

    1. kitryan

      I think that the verdict from past posts is that either is fine- just don’t do both as it then leads to confusion as to whether both need to be reviewed and whether they’re different in any way. And always, if one or the other option is specified in the application instructions-do it as specified for that particular position.
      And if attaching, then the text in the body of the email for the submission would be quite brief as all the info would be in the attachments. You could probably search within AAM for ‘attach cover letter’ or something like that and get a lot of more detailed info and various commentator opinions.

  36. Lindsey

    This will vary by industry, but I’d avoid contractions and use “I would love to be considered” and not “I’d love to be considered.” Most people won’t care, but some might, and the former doesn’t sound overly formal or uptight to me.

    I work in finance/insurance. Usually correspondence is relatively casual but for something like a cover letter, I expect professional/more formal business writing, which to me means avoiding contractions. We sometimes write memos and proposals that we would avoid contractions in, and I would expect a cover letter to also be on the formal side.

  37. Cari

    “My name is” drives me batty as does “This is so and so from org X”. I know you, your reply name tells me that and um, we email a few times a month. Stop!

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