how should I address my interviewer in application emails?

A reader writes:

I have a question about how to address someone at a company you’re applying to during the process. Recently, a colleague of mine passed along my resume to someone they knew was hiring informally and great news! My colleague got back to me and said something to the effect of, “Bob Smith was really interested in you. He asked me to pass along his email and direct phone number. Reach out to him to set up an interview for this week.”

Here’s the question: My spouse thinks that I should have addressed this email “Dear Mr. Smith.” In my mind, I should address the email “Dear Bob.”

My spouse stressed that I need to show respect/reverence for the person who might become my future boss, but I don’t see it that way. I’m thinking of this as a business transaction and I certainly wouldn’t call my boss Mr. Smith day-to-day if I do end up working for him later. For what it’s worth, my spouse would also address the email Dear Mr./Ms. [Last Name] if it was a recruiter reaching out for a phone screen as well.

What’s the correct business etiquette here?

Either one is fine!

“Dear Ms. LastName” has long been standard business etiquette. Lots of candidates still use it, and no sensible hiring manager will hold it against you.

But in the vast, vast majority of industries, first names are totally fine and there has been a rapid increasing move in that direction. Plus, it is especially fine when you’ve been referred by a mutual contact.

That’s the short answer. Here’s the longer one:

Generally, when you’re talking with prospective employers about jobs, it makes sense to interact with them in a way that’s similar to how you would interact if they were current colleagues. Not the colleague who you go to drinks with every week and gossip about your boss with, obviously — but a colleague who you feel warmly toward and have a friendly relationship with even though you haven’t worked together much.

Some people approach interviewers more like your husband does — but those people tend to come across as more stiff and formal and less personable. In some fields and with some hiring managers, that might not matter. But more often than not, you’ll come across better if you relax a little and treat the person like a colleague.

What you definitely don’t need to do is show reverence for a hiring manager! Any hiring manager who wants that is someone who you don’t want to work for, and good interviewers will be a little put off if they pick up on it. I’m not talking here about just opening a letter with “Dear Ms. LastName” — that’s just old-fashioned business writing and it’s not a big deal. But actual reverence won’t come across well in a healthy workplace. I suspect your husband doesn’t really mean reverence though; hopefully he just means respect. And respect is good — but most people these days consider first names in hiring correspondence perfectly respectful.

{ 217 comments… read them below }

  1. bubbleon*

    I wouldn’t hold “Dear Ms. Bubbleon” against anyone but I would probably cringe. It seems so strange as an adult (in the US, working primarily with adults in similar cultures) to call another professional adult Mr. or Ms., even if you’re trying to show respect.

    1. DataGirl*

      I’m the opposite, I would cringe at a stranger calling me by my first name vs. Mrs. Last Name. Guess I’m old fashioned.

      1. ThatOnePlease*

        Just curious, do you use Mrs. at work? I’m married but would cringe at being addressed as Mrs. in a work email. I tend to be on the formal side, and for this situation I think Mr./Ms. is more appropriate. Using the first name seems overly familiar and too casual for the inquiry.

        1. Sasha*

          Depends very much on your profession and company culture.

          We are all first name terms within our team, regardless of seniority and discipline. The professor of medicine is “Claire”, the junior nurse is “Vera”, because we are a team and everyone is valuable.

          But outside the team? I’m Dr Smith, and you will get a very frosty reception if you call me Sasha before you are invited to. It is extremely disrespectful (and usually goes hand in hand with other sloppiness). You would also always use full titles in front of patients, to communicate that your colleague deserves respect.

        2. DataGirl*

          In general, if someone is writing an email I don’t care if they use Ms. or Mrs. to address me. If it’s in conversation, I’d introduce myself as First Name Last Name, no title. But when I used to work with kids, it was absolutely Mrs. Last Name.

          1. ThatOnePlease*

            Ah that makes sense! Working with kids definitely has different title norms than between adults.

        3. Greg*

          I work for a foreign diplomatic mission that frequently sends out formal invitations (or, at least did before Covid). My contacts are all businesspeople, so I always err on the side of “Ms.” for women, since that would be expected in the business world. But I know some of my colleagues whose contacts are (conservative) politicians and (even more conservative) clergy have to tread carefully, because in some cases NOT using “Mrs.” may cause offense.

      2. always in email jail*

        Same! In formal business correspondence from a job applicant I tend to expect “Ms. alwaysinemailjail:” and then use my first name after we have spoken or met.

        1. Weekend Please*

          Me too. It feels weird to jump straight to first names when you are complete strangers. Once that first exchange is done, I do use first names.

      3. pleaset cheap rolls*

        Yeah – in general (working in a US-based NGO) for people I haven’t met who I’m sending an email of the length/formality of a letter, it’s Ms. or Mr. or Dr. on first contact. Once a dialogue is underway I’ll shift to first name.

        Oh, I see Weekend Please saying the same thing.

        Had to draft a letter to Bono from my boss once, years ago. That made me think a bit.

        1. Goldenrod*

          “Had to draft a letter to Bono from my boss once, years ago. That made me think a bit.”

          oh my god! How did you address it??? “Dear Bono”?? “Mr. Bono”????

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            I ended up doing “Dear Bono”

            And a few week later my phone rang (this was year’s ago) and a very squeaky female Irish voice from someone in his office said “Hi, this is Bono’s office in Dublin”

      4. ThatGirl*

        I’ve been married for 13 years and I hate when people call me Mrs (or even Ms LastName). But that’s me.

          1. Jean Pargetter Hardcastle*

            @Goldenrod, same! One time someone did refer to me as “Mrs. Hardcastle” in meeting minutes. I laughed a little at the formality but was also really delighted.

            1. Goldenrod*

              :) it’s so sweet and old-fashioned. Plus, in the region where I live, it’s actually the rebellious choice!

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Going on 20, but same. Mrs. is an announcement that you’re married, like that matters. There is no married title for men, so apparently announcing their marital status is not a critical part of their worth/identity. It’s passé because it’s sexist.

          The only place I really see Mrs. in regular use in a business context is my kids’ schools, too. They are also one of the few places that calls me “Mrs.” and always pair it with my spouse’s last name and not mine. (One of my son’s elementary school teachers told him it was “disrespectful to her husband” to call her Ms. LastName. I told him it was disrespectful to her to not call her what she preferred to be called and that some people, his mother included preferred Ms. )

          1. Pepperfishes*

            I made a big deal about becoming Mrs. when I got married. But probably because that was the only part of my name that changed. (My husband took my last name, instead of the reverse.)

            My husband and I have questioned what the male version of “maiden” name is supposed to be, and we’ve decided that he has a “master” name instead of a maiden name.

          2. Zeldacat*

            You want an oddity – there’s an admin in a different department at my company that goes by Miss! Her choice, but it startled me when I saw her email signature the first time. My default to use is Ms and is what I vastly prefer. By the old rules I’d still be a Miss at 45. No thank you.

      5. DataSci*

        I’d be OK with FirstName, Ms. LastName, or Dr. LastName (I have a PhD but never use my title). But Mrs. LastName would be a deal-breaker. Anyone assuming (a) that my marital status is the most important thing about me and (b) that *I* consider my marital status the most important thing about me is someone I want to interact with as little as possible.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      I work in medicine/medical research, so in my experience it’s not uncommon to use titles in e-mail, especially because half of the people you’re corresponding with are “Dr.”. In person or with people you know, it’s not common.

      I frequently run into people newer to the professional world though, like medical students, so I was amused to find one who addressed an email to “Mrs. Lastname.” I added at the end of my reply that I use Ms. instead of Mrs., but Firstname is fine.

      Her reply started with “Ms. Firstname.”

      1. Weekend Please*

        That reminds me of when I babysat in high school. Some of the parents would tell their kids to call me “Miss Firstname” which always felt really weird to me but I wasn’t going to contradict their parents.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          In some parts of the country this is the polite way for a child to address an adult.

          1. H2*

            Yeah, it’s very much a thing in the south. I would say it’s fairly uncommon for kids to call adults by only their given name, and for a young adult (or an adult you know well) Miss Firstname is super normal. (Most of my kids’ friends call me Miss Holly, even though I haven’t been a miss for many, many years). A lot of people would find it impolite for a kid to address them with just a first name.

            1. DataGirl*

              I’m in the Midwest and we always use ‘Miss’ First Name for any teacher of younger kids, like say preschool or kindergarten, plus teachers outside of school like dance class, music class, Scouts, etc. It would be considered impolite for a kid to address an adult by their first name. Same with family friends and the parents of their friends- if they aren’t super close it’s Mrs/Mr. Last name, if they are close it’s ‘Aunt/Uncle’ first name- even if there is no relation.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              This is also very common in our DC suburb, too. People arrive here from all over, and it’s interesting to watch the reactions to it. One of my long-time coworkers is from the upper Northeast, and the convention drives them crazy – they prefer Mr. Jones, not Mr. Bob and do expect their teenager’s friends to call them Mr. Jones and not just Bob.

          2. happybat*

            I was charmed to see this in action. A friend was studying here in Scotland and she addressed the lady in the local shop as ‘Miss Shirley’. Miss Shirley was utterly charmed and delighted – verbal respect is not a normal feature of shop work in Scotland. She still asks after my friend!

            In terms of emails, you are Title Lastname to me for our first email, and thereafter will be addressed by the name you use to close your reply (usually first name). I think slightly over-formal is a better look than slightly too familiar.

      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        For some reason “Ms. Firstname” grates on my nerves more than any other possibility. It makes me feel like I’m either 100 years old or 5 years old.

        1. Sasha*

          Try “Dr Sasha”, which my nurses seem to love. I feel like I should be singing and dancing on a children’s TV show.

          1. H2*

            I’ve been getting “Dr. Holly” from my students a lot lately, and I find it so weird. It’s a weird awkward gap between casual and formal.

            I also resent it because my male coworkers don’t get the same treatment—it’s noticeable that students address them more formally.

            1. 3co*

              At my university, different professors’ level of formality with students seems to vary a lot. I’ve had some professors (especially white men with Ivy League degrees?) who prefer just going by their first names with students. They’re more confident that students will respect them even without the title–they get respect by default, and they also get goodwill from students because they’re so cool and laid back. It’s also thrown off, though, in departments that have a lot of grad student instructors. They go by their first names because they don’t really *have* official titles. And because undergrads don’t all understand the university’s hierarchies, they continue to follow that precedent even when they’re taking a class from a full professor (and some of them probably don’t realize that there is actually a difference).

              In my role as a full-time university employee, I tend to default to first names with faculty, which seems to be what other staff members do as well (I still mentally flinch a little whenever I call my college’s dean by his first name, though).

              As a student, I try to default to Dr. Lastname if I’m not 100% sure about someone’s preference. If they would prefer something less formal, I figure that they can say so without burning social capital, getting a reputation for being uptight, or risking hostile course evaluations; the reverse isn’t necessarily true if they have to ask for more respect.

              1. H2*

                You are spot-on. I definitely prefer Dr. Lastname from students, and that’s how I introduce myself to them, but it’s very awkward to correct people up so I let pretty much anything slide.

                From anyone working at the university, I want to be Firstname. I really prefer it always, in all parts of my life, but as a youngish female in stem, I definitely get walked all over by some students if I don’t set some boundaries (which I learned the hard way).

    3. Lucy Halldane*

      Huh. I’m the exact opposite. Someone I don’t know addressing me by first name comes across as pushy and overly familiar. It’s just kinda sales-y and presumptuous.

      And I’d never even think of approaching someone else that way. I’d be mortified! :)

      1. Mialana*

        This. I just started work fully remote due to COVID and even receiving e-mail from coworkers I’ve never met addressing me by first name feels super weird. I know that it’s normal but it just feels off (I’m not in the US for what it’s worth).

        1. MapleHill*

          Wow, pretty shocked there are multiple people that feel this way. But before you hold it against anyone, consider that they may not know your gender or what you identify as. If you address someone by their last name, you have to choose a gendered pronoun. But you don’t run into that problem with first names.

          Many people have gender-neutral names now and more and more names extremely common to one gender are now used for another (I’ve seen James becoming increasingly popular for baby girls). Also, you are not from the US or if one has a name that’s not a traditional anglo name (here in the US), people may not know what gender it’s associated with, so they are supposed to guess? I’d find that more offensive.

          So it just makes sense to adopt the practice of using first names across the board and play it safe.

          Aside from that, I always feel weird being called Ms/Miss by other professionals, especially my colleagues! I’d be miserable in such a formal culture you have to call everyone Ms and Mr . It’s also annoying being called Mrs when I’m not and never have been, but I guess people just think that’s ok to assume? So please, go with my first name.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this is very much a cultural thing. I’m in Finland, and here kids routinely address their teachers by their first name, or in my son’s case, by their nickname, from daycare onward and nobody finds it disrespectful or overly familiar. That didn’t faze me when we moved to the UK for a year and I had to address my teachers by their last name and Mr/Mrs/Miss, or honorific Sir/Miss (rather than the American Ma’am, used regardless of marital status).

            I must say, though, that I wouldn’t enjoy working in an organization where I’d be expected to address my managers with honorifics, no way!

            I’m just wondering why the “Dear Firstname Lastname” format hasn’t caught on in the US. It’s perfectly polite, eliminates any misgendering, and in addition, it doesn’t care whether the given name is first or last, as in Dear Ro Laren.

          2. Mialana*

            Actually, my language is structured in a way that you do have to chose a binary gender when addressing someone by their first name in a letter. In an e-mail you might say “Hi first name” which doesn’t require grammatical gender but it’s also to informal most of the time.

            1. allathian*

              That’s true. At least Spanish and French require it, even if you use a Dear Firstname format, which I can’t imagine doing in either of those if I’m writing to someone I don’t know personally. I hadn’t thought of that, but then, I haven’t written business letters in either since I was in college.

          3. Margaery Tyrell*

            I really wanna +1 that to use the last name like this assumes pronouns, which you may not know unless they include it in their email signature.

            In my experience (tech professional), Dear FirstName is perfectly fine and should be more widely used for this reason!

      2. wordswords*

        Same here. It would feel pretty presumptuous to me to address someone as Bob rather than Mr. Smith (or whatever) in an initial email contact — even though in my field, I would expect them to sign the email “Bob” and would reflect that by using first names thereafter. I would have to get very strong formality vibes from the reply email to stick with the title-and-surname form, and I can’t imagine calling a colleague Ms. Warbleworth in the office! But that initial contact would still start with a bit of formality. Doing otherwise would feel to me like walking into their office only to put my feet up on their desk and slouch back, you know? Presumptuous and/or a power play.

        And, depending on the genders and ethnicities at play here, starting off with first names can definitely feel like a power play. I’ve always worked in first-name-basis offices, and even so, there have definitely been times where I got the very strong (and uncomfortable) impression that someone was using my first name specifically because I was a youngish woman and they weren’t. Not a fun feeling, and absolutely not one I would want to risk causing!

        All that said, it sounds like the initial contact here was kind of made by OP’s colleague on their behalf. That gives more of an argument to the “Bob” tactic, because the ice has already potentially been broken. In that case, it’s more up to OP’s sense of the dynamics and personalities here and the tone the colleague has already set.

    4. Anononon*

      I don’t think there is one cultural norm in the US for this type of thing. I’m in the legal field, which definitely skews more formal. However, I also make a point of using first names in initial emails/reach outs to opposing counsel. At my last job, I defaulted to Mr./Ms. on most correspondence, and it was so hard to switch to first names once you do that, so I made it my internal policy just to do that initially.

      (The confusing situations for me is emailing with court staff – I email with some of them often, and sometimes, they’ll use my first name and sometimes last, and I never know how formal to go. I usually error on either Mr./Ms. or just “good morning/good afternoon”.)

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        I think this touches on something – are you in a “relationship” with the person you’re writing to? Opposing counsel – even if you haven’t met them you’ll be “working with them” (even in opposition) for a while. That’s an argument for less formal.

        Similar (I’m not in law) I think it’s better to go with Mr/Ms with with court staff/officials you have to deal with as a professional (unless you know them) because otherwise it can come across as the lawyer/other professional being condescending.

        One of my bosses, who is known powerful white person, was writing to a young Black man to start a working relationship (long-story). She’s really informal and caring, but I urged her to not start with just his first name – it could be taken the wrong way. He wrote back with her first name and it was on – first names all around.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          Building on what I just wrote – part of it how much of a peer are you in relation to the other person you do not know. If you have clearly higher status, using first name can seem condescending. Similarly if they have clearly higher status, they might find first name presumptuous. Whereas if you clearly are similar status – writing to opposing counsel, or for me writing to another person in a similar role at another NGO, then going first name may work better.

          1. wordswords*

            A very good point about both work relationship and relative status, agreed! (I say as someone with very little knowledge of the legal field, but I think the broader point holds true in other industries as well.)

        2. Anononon*

          I think that is a good point about an ongoing working relationship. Many of the opposing counsel I work with, I have and will work with on multiple cases for years (it’s a relatively small practice area). Even though we’re on opposite sides, most of the times, we have similar resolution goals. So, I want to open our relationship with cordial and friendly.

      2. Jlynn*

        Anononon: I am court staff and work directly with the judge. I too think those in the legal field tend to lean on the more formal in a lot of situations, especially to the court. That being said, most of us in my court prefer the less formal – first name address. I almost always laugh when someone addresses the email Ms. Last Name….I’ve just never been that formal (think my mother in law). Just address it Jlynn: and I’m more comfortable. That’s also in my signature block. I don’t even sign my formal first name it’s just J___, with full name listed below, then my title.

        1. Jlynn*

          Oh – and I meant to add – Especially go less formal if it is someone I interact with all the time. My first emails may be to Mr/Ms Soandso – but if they sign them first name – that’s how I’ll continue to address you.

        2. Cough cough hack hack*

          I was court staff 20+ years ago, when things were more formal, and I was in my early 20s. I always addressed attorneys formally, and sometimes (it was always older white men) they would reply using my first name. It kind of irked me, so then I would switch to their first names, which took them aback. But they usually got the point after that.

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        This can be a minefield of cultural assumptions and norms, so I hold it with the engineering principle: “Be liberal in what you accept and conservative in what you send.”

        (I’m in academia, and when I apply for jobs I address it to “Dear Dr. [name of chair of search committee]” even when this is someone I am on first name basis with. In the interview we will then continue with first names – but what is in my file should conform to academic norms.)

      4. iliketoknit*

        Yeah, I’m in the legal field, and in my region, lawyers get addressed as Attorney Lastname in court, and most people when contacting you for the first time will use that form of address. I always make a point of signing just with my first name and at that point most people will shift to my first name (but not always). I don’t exactly cringe if people I haven’t met yet use my first name but it does stick out a little (depending on context; if there’s a mutual connection first name doesn’t seem weird, or if they’re associated with a client even though I haven’t met them yet, first name makes sense). I actually find that opposing counsel I haven’t met yet are pretty careful to call me Attorney.

        I get the point about court staff but in my court they’re always introduced to you by first name so it feels really weird to say Ms./Mr. to them. I definitely notice myself doing much more traditionally “female” self-deprecating language with them, though, as an alternative way of not looking like I think I’m superior to them by being a lawyer (whereas I’m very careful to avoid such language with opposing counsel).

    5. Womanaroundtown*

      Interesting, because it would make me cringe to get an email from a candidate I haven’t met who called by my first name. I’m a lawyer (but I’m also pretty young – 30), but even in the public interest field it seems off to me to use a first name before introductions. That said – I have been in charge of hiring before, and what makes me most uncomfortable is when I have responded to emails and introduced myself using only my first name, and I continue to be called “Ms. X.” I expect and appreciate the title in a formal first message, but then expect you to follow my lead. Maybe this is overly picky, maybe it’s part of the formal nature of most legal fields, maybe it’s just me.

      1. ThatOnePlease*

        Law is generally much more formal than other fields. I’m a lawyer in a legal-adjacent field that is more casual, and I have to consciously un-lawyer my email writing style.

        1. ThatOnePlease*

          Oh sorry, you said that! Didn’t read carefully. And agreed – I used to be a public interest attorney and although the norms are different, there is still a good deal of formality.

    6. Rach*

      I tend to be less formal so would also prefer my first name and not Mrs. Last Name. Especially since I started my career late and most of my peers are younger than me (and male as I work in tech), I would really dislike it if I was singled out in that manner.

    7. Cat Tree*

      I agree. It would seem really weird and almost immature. In was most recently on a hiring team for several senior level individual contributor roles. If one of them had addressed me as Ms. Tree, it would seem like they don’t really understand business norms. It would be less noticeable for an entry-level candidate who probably got some weird advice. But at a senior level, it would be really jarring. I wouldn’t intentionally hold it against them, but it would definitely stand out.

      Now if someone was presumptuous enough to call me Mrs. Tree or Miss Tree, that would bother me a lot.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely first names all the way in my British company. I’d think it a bit weird if someone used Ms X to me. If I were contacting someone while applying for a job in a similar company to mine I’d use first names and go “Hi X” or “Dear X”. Mind you the last few jobs I went for used an online application system so you didn’t actually write to the hiring manager directly, you submitted a form through the online system.

    8. FYI*

      To be precise, the question is how to address someone in the very first correspondence with them. Not after an interview, not after you’ve met, not on the follow-up email, etc.

      Never in a million years would I expect an applicant to write Dear [firstname] in a first email to me. No way. Super presumptuous.

    9. cat lady*

      yeah, I had Ms. Last Name because it foregrounds gender in a way I think is outdated in a business context– part of me would love to see a gender neutral honorific like Mx. applied to everyone (but don’t want to appropriate terminology used by nonbinary folks). I hate Mrs. Last Name even more because it makes heteronormative assumptions that female adult = married.

      1. Cough cough hack hack*

        I hate Mrs. Lastname, even though I’m married, because I didn’t take my husband’s name. So Mrs. Husbandslastname irks the crap out of me because I consciously chose to keep my last name for reasons that are very important to me, and Mrs. Mylastname is incorrect.

  2. OP*

    Hi Alison, just wanted to thank you for answering this question and provide a somewhat related update already. After that interview I mentioned above, I got this job! Thanks for all you do.

    1. Spring Bean*

      Really happy for you, so nice to hear some good news.

      Great question by the way, it’s occasionally crossed my mind.

  3. Lily Rowan*

    I’m pretty conservative when it comes to hiring, but am working on it, so I might pause at “Dear Lily,” but I wouldn’t hold it against anyone. What makes me laugh is “Dear Ms. Rowan” from an internal candidate I already work with.

  4. California Typewriter*

    I might be an outlier but I usually start an application email like this:

    Hello Bob Dole and Hiring Committee….

    Seems a good mix between formal and informal to me, but I rarely have to email applications like that.

    1. Hula-la*

      I also like it because then I don’t have to worry about getting the pronoun incorrect for someone. It seems more inclusive to me.

      1. California Typewriter*

        My thoughts too. I have a first name that is, in English speaking countries, often a female name, and I get stuff for Ms. California Typewriter all the time. Annoys me to no end so I always try to get it right or err on the side of caution with others.

    2. wordswords*

      Oh, good point! If it makes sense to either leave out the name or use the full name (rather than a title) in a relatively formal context like this, I prefer to do so, unless I’m very sure of the gender of the person I’m addressing.

  5. Paris Geller*

    I tend to go with Dear FirstName LastName. I don’t love it, to be honest, but it avoids some of the pitfalls. Dear FirstName can sound too casual, and with Dear Mrs/Ms/Mr LastName if it’s someone I don’t actually know, I don’t want to guess at their gender–they could be nonbinary, or have a typically masculine name but be a woman, etc. I can’t think of many situations where I would actually call someone their full name, but it doesn’t seem to have held me back in my career.

    Generally, after the initial email contact, if it’s an ongoing conversation I then default to whatever they’ve put in their signature and try to match their tone (so if the tone is friendly and casual, I might go to just first name at that point).

    1. Nom*

      Woman with masculine first name here!!
      Yes, i agree this is the safest option and what i usually do.

      By the way, i do a lot of hiring in the Philippines where they address everyone as Sir or Ma’am. I get endless amusement out of getting emails addressed to “Dear Sir FirstName”

    2. DavidPL*

      I second this. Unless I know the person is a doctor, in which case I would use Dear Dr. Bob Smith. It might even be a good idea to try to find out something about the person by doing a internet/company search to find out something before actually writing the letter. (The email address might give a clue.)

  6. Metadata minion*

    Oh, that’s good to know! I’m not interviewing now, but I haven’t in quite a while and I would definitely have defaulted to last name. Using the first name also conveniently gets around the worry of potentially misgendering the interviewer :-)

    (I’m also really hoping “reverence” was a translation error or otherwise that the LW’s husband didn’t really mean that. That would be…weird.)

    1. OP*

      My husband did say reverence but he may have meant something different. He described it in the same situation as “respect your elders” and you want to “show respect” to their authority which is what made this feel so weird! He was raised in the American South and I in the North so it could be a value difference maybe.

      1. ThatOnePlease*

        Oh, that’s interesting! I’m not Southern but my impression is that age/relative status is more emphasized there. Like kids addressing their friends’ parents as Mr. and Mrs., or calling all women ma’am.

        1. Save the Hellbender*

          FWIW I’m Southern and growing up would never have called a friend’s parents by their first name (and still have trouble doing so today, lol) but all my jobs have been at first name places, including a pretty uptight law firm. I hope neither one is the reason anyone is not hired but agree with Alison that Dear Firstname helps you sound more like a colleague.

      2. JillianNicola*

        Removed this and the replies because it devolved into personal sniping. – Alison

  7. KHB*

    Maybe it’s a bit different because I’m in a field where everybody has a PhD (and addressing people as “Dr. So-and-so” somehow feels less weird than “Mr./Ms. So-and-so”), but I’ve had it drilled into me that you’re not on a first-name basis with anyone until they say you are (e.g., by signing their own email to you with their first name only). If someone I’ve never interacted with before is reaching out to me, I’d prefer that they call me “Dr. B” rather than “KH.” It wouldn’t poison my interaction with them either way. But that’s my preference.

    1. JustEm*

      I’m a medical doctor and I am slightly taken aback when someone I don’t know emails me in a work context as Firstname instead of Dr. Lastname. I don’t hold it against them per se, but it definitely strikes me as overly familiar. After the first email, I don’t mind being called Firstname if that’s how I signed my reply

  8. Roeslein*

    Unless you’re in Germany, in which it’s very much still Herr/Frau (Dr.) LastName. The French always confuse me though, as sometimes they use “vous” with first name and sometimes with last name… If anyone in the commentariat know the current French business conventions, I’d love to hear their opinion on this one as I never know how to address my French clients!

    1. Emi*

      I honestly wish the US were more like this. There’s something nice to me about marking the intimacy of friendship as different from even warm/friendly but less-intimate relationships. I haven’t lived in Germany since I was a kid so everyone called me “du” but I still remember the first time I saw someone invite my parents to duz them, and I was like “aww, we don’t have this at home.”

    2. Myrin*

      Until reading this comment, I was sure that “Sie” and “vous” are basically perfect equivalents and that where you would use “Sie” in German is where you use “vous” in French (in fact, I follow a very articulate French writer who was just last month asked by an English speaker about using “tu” vs. “vous” and what she described sounded like my German experience to the t). Now I’m confused!

      1. UKDancer*

        I don’t know. I have some German contacts I use “sie” and first name with because we’re acquaintances but not exactly friends. For example I usually stay in a small hotel and I’m on first name terms with the young owners but we still use sie because that seems more appropriate. I use Herr and Frau with their parents who are the older generation because I’ve not been invited to do otherwise.

        I can’t think of any comparable French situations. With my French acquaintances and friends it’s more like once you’re on first name terms you tend to move to “tu” a lot more quickly.

        My (probably inaccurate) impression is that the process moves slightly faster in France than in Germany. It could also be that the French people I know are in the main younger and less formal but I don’t know if that’s it.

        1. Myrin*

          Ha, I remember that you talked about the hotel owners before but I could’ve sworn it was another commenter – did you use to have a different username by any chance? Or has it really come to the point where I’m confusing all the “UK[name]” commenters with each other? D:

          And for what it’s worth, it’s very unusual to use “Sie” and first names together so I don’t think (general) you can include that in a comparison (at least where I am – I have personally encountered it exactly once which was in my first year of university with a lecturer who was only a few years older than most students in his course and he specifically said we would be using that mode of address during the very first lesson, and literally all of us just looked uncomfortably at each other and felt semi-awkward about it for the rest of the semester; but it’s possible people from other regions would feel differently).

          1. UKDancer*

            Hi no that was me mentioning the hotel owners before. I’ve always used this name (being from the UK and dancing).

            I hadn’t realised sie and first name was unusual so that’s interesting. I always feel slightly uncomfortable moving to the informal as I worry I miss context being foreign so by and large if the native German speaker doesn’t suggest it, I don’t either. It’s such a minefield. I speak German well enough to pass so am expected to get the manners right. Whereas my mother, who learnt German from my Godmother in the kitchen, uses du with everyone and they just smile and nod.

          2. Libervermis*

            Oh that’s interesting, because my German professor in college (Austrian, if it matters) specifically taught us that first names + Sie was the way to go for professors addressing college students and sometimes even Abitur students. That’s how he spoke to us, and we of course called him Herr Dr. Surname + Sie. Then again, I never came across that situation while actually in Germany. My colleagues all invited/expected me to dutz them when I worked there, and I never had to think about it with students because my job was to speak English with them.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, that works in France too, teachers start addressing their students with first name + vous around age 14 or 15. When I was in college, I spent 2 trimesters in France on exchange. One of the teachers/professors was young, barely a few years older than we were and in her first teaching job. She asked all of us to call her by her first name + tu, but it was totally impossible for all of us to do, including me, and I’m used to a much less formal environment. But when in Rome… We finally compromised on using first names + vous both ways.

      2. Washi*

        Can you link this article? I am watching a French TV show (2nd language) about a workplace after having worked with Russians (3rd language) for a long time and I am so confused by the tu vs. vous! It’s pretty different from the informal/formal distinction in Russian.

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        No, it’s not the same – or only superficially. I am German and moved to France in my 20s, where I stayed for over 10 years. For example, one difference is that young people (my age at the time) will start defaulting to “vous” and then pretty fast shift to “tu” after getting acquainted while in Germany you’d start out with “du” among the student-aged population. Also, in France it is not uncommon to use “vous” for one’s in-laws, in more formal/conservative circles. In Germany, students addressed university professors with “Herr [or Frau, but there weren’t any] lastname” and only used doctorates when, eg, presenting a speaker or formally writing about someone.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah. I went on student exchange to a fairly prestigious business school and some of my classmates were members of the French nobility. Some of them used the formal vous with their own parents, which to me seemed a bit excessive.

    3. WritingIsHard*

      From what little I remember about French pronouns, “tu” is singular and informal whereas “vous” is formal and/or plural. My guess is you’d use “vous” with a first name when you’re more familiar with the person but it’s still a formal situation.

      1. meyer lemon*

        I’m not a fluent French speaker, but I am trying to imagine a situation where I would be familiar enough with someone to call them by their first name but would still use “vous.” In my (admittedly limited) experience, the “vous” is pretty quick to drop when you get to know someone. Like any question of formality, I think there are a lot of nuances at play, including generational and regional differences.

        1. allathian*

          This is true, but the vous + first name is something the French are used to, because that’s how teachers address their students once they’re clearly adolescents rather than children, so around 14 or 15.

          Take a look at a French news stream online if you can, and you’ll quickly notice that news presenters tend to address reporters out in the field by their first name, but also use vous, even if they might be friendly enough to use tu with each other in private.

    4. Mx*

      I am French. I haven’t lived in France for over 15 years, but I remember that my boss used to call me and my coworkers “vous” while also calling us by our first names. We called him ‘vous’ and Mr Lastname. Calling our boss by first name would have seemed disrespectful as we weren’t on the same level.
      We also called our clients Mr/Mrs/Miss Lastname while our clients called us (the petty staff) by our first names (but they called the boss Mr Lastname).
      This was normal 15 years ago. I don’t know if this is more relaxed now.

    5. alas rainy again*

      I am not French. As my native language is French, I’ll answer. It varies by region, with a divide less evident than the North/South styles.
      In some regions, “tu” is only used for close friends, i.e. people you’ve “driven herds with”, as the quip goes. In those regions, “vous” does not preclude familiarity nor love, and I’ve used “vous” to my grandmothergrandfather while giving them bear hugs. They would also address 4-years-old me with “vous”. It is a game of chicken. With a person I want to show respect, i.e. anybody that’s not a close friend
      I would not switch to “tu” unless invited to. And once the invitation is issued, it would be weird to decline.
      In other regions, though, “tu” is used more freely, with the caveat that people might use “tu” with somebody they expect a “vous” from, depending of the perceived power level. I would chafe at saying “vous” to somebody who says “tu” to me.

      1. allathian*

        Indeed. When I took French at college, one of our native teachers told us that even the President uses vous when speaking to servants. For the record, my experiences of living in France are from the northeastern parts of the country.

    6. Laure*

      I am French, and working in Paris right now. I teach in an art school and work with writers, so clearly a very liberal, informal field.
      I “tutoie” (use tu) the students right away, whatever their age – 16 to 50. I use their first names. They use my first name and “tutoient” me instantly, if they don’t I just say cheerfully, “Oh on se tutoie!” (please use tu)!
      For my colleagues and the director of the school : first and “tu”.
      If I contact a publisher I don’t know, I would use his first name and “vous”, like “Bonjour Jean-Michel, comment allez vous ?” Chances are the emails will stay on “vous” because it seems a little awkward to change it during an email exchange, but as soon as we meet in person, one of us will say “on se tutoie ?” in the first minute and we will go on with “tu”.
      For people I kind of know, like my dentist, my doctor, my baker, a vague neighbour, the pizza delivery guy, it is always “vous”. No first name, but not last name either, it would be “doctor” for my doctor or my dentist, and for the other people I would work around it, saying “thank you so much!” or “how are you today?” vzcsude

      1. Laure*

        Sorry, posted too early, I did not have time to edit the comment!

        I was saying, people I kind of know would be “vous” and no name, because a first name would be too familiar and monsieur or madame too weird and formal. Sometimes you have no choice though! If I really have to, I would say, “Monsieur ! Monsieur ! You forgot your jacket!” but it does feel a little old fashioned already, I think. No alternative solution though.

  9. DataGirl*

    It’s not completely relevant to this letter, but I’d throw out there that if the person has a title like ‘Doctor’, ‘Judge’, etc you should probably go by Title. Last Name. I work in medicine in an administrative role and there is still a very clear delineation between anyone who is a doctor and anyone who is not. Even people I’ve worked with for years are still Dr. Last Name, while other colleagues and managers who are not MDs are referred to by their first name. The only other exception at my work is very high up people at the executive level who are not doctors are addressed as First Name Last Name- never just first name and also not Mr/Mrs. Last Name. But again, medicine is a weird subculture. I’d better there are similar structures in academia.

    1. Sparrow*

      Also applies to clergy titles. If you’re emailing someone whose title is Rabbi, for example, always start out by calling her Rabbi Lastname – and probably continue doing so until she indicates otherwise. ESPECIALLY if she’s a woman, because women rabbis tend to get their titles dropped left and right even in situations where their male colleagues are still being called Rabbi.

      1. DataGirl*

        In my synagogue it seems most of the female Rabbis get called Rabbi First Name, whereas their male colleagues get called Rabbi Last Name. I can imagine that gets very frustrating.

    2. Somebody*

      Agreed. The only time I use something other than first name is when I’m reaching out to a politician, then it’s Councilor, Representative, Senator, etc.

    3. Sasha*

      Yes this. As I mentioned above, within my team we are all first names, but that is a deliberate choice to encourage multidisciplinary working/flatten the hierarchy. And it’s unusual outside of my particular specialty.

      Interestingly within most UK medical teams, junior doctors go by first names and consultants (staff physicians/attending physicians) go by Dr Lastname. Even for their direct subordinates who work with them every day. The last vestiges of the medical hierarchy, I suppose (used to be far more hierarchical even 20 years ago).

      1. DataGirl*

        There is definitely a lot of conservatism among older medical staff, and younger ones are more likely to be relaxed about hierarchy. That being said, I work with Residents, and make sure to refer to them as Dr. Last Name unless we are corresponding and they sign their email with just their first name. I feel like it’s disrespectful to not give them the title they’ve earned, just because they are young and still in training, but I know a lot of other support staff refer to them by their First Name.

        1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          I worked in a hospital a loooong time ago in on a patient floor, and the regular doctors were all addressed Dr. Lastname, but addressing the interns and junior residents was more dependent on their personalities. Some were always Dr. Lastname, but others were Firstname with no title (or nicknames!), unless we were referring to them in conversation with a patient or senior doctor or staff we didn’t know well.

  10. AthenaC*

    Fun fact – I actually had to tell an intern that he didn’t need to address me as “Dear Ms. Carson” over email. “Hi Athena” or even just “Hi” was fine.

    First names are really much more the convention for email.

  11. Esmeralda*

    Academia is different. Don’t first-name us in job/application related communications. You can first name us once we first name you.

    That’s not just for academic departments or faculty positions, btw. I’m in an academic-adjacent department and “Dear Esmeralda” would definitely signal “too casual, doesn’t understand the culture of higher ed, maybe unprofessional…” It won’t knock you out of consideration, but I’d be alerted to look more closely at culture fit and, if it’s someone we hire, to whether the person will need direction and oversight on dealing with social and cultural expectations.

    1. MCL*

      Yeah I’d agree that academia tends to lean a little formal on job application protocols in my experience. I would not address someone by first name in an application for an academic job.

    2. ValkyriePuppy*

      I also think it is totally different if the person interviewing you has a non-gendered title. For example, Dr. Who, Colonel Charmander, Father Frankenstein (for clergy, which I guess could also be Pastor Pikachu), etc. vs. using titles just for the hell of it. I feel like most work places outside of more formal/ conservative places like academia, military, etc/ it’s weird to use gendered stuff any more.

  12. Bookworm*

    I used to but I noticed that many interviewers/hiring managers seemed to sign off with only their first names, the messages were often less formal, etc. So I switched to first names but do keep this in mind. AFAIK I’ve never heard of anyone being rejected or thrown out of consideration for being less formal but YMMV.

    Glad you got the job, OP! :D

  13. Detective Rosa Diaz*

    I tend to start off with

    “Dear Mx Lastname
    Dear Firstname”

    …in situations like this. People can address me as they please AND use the desired skgnoff, which clears things up by email two.

    1. Manon*

      Agreed, I usually address the first email with “Dear Ms./Mr. Lastname”, then on the second email change to their first name because it feels like we’ve been “introduced” at that point.

  14. DAMitsDevon*

    This isn’t necessarily applicable to the OP since she has a colleague who knows the hiring manager, but in instances where you don’t know and you’ve never seen the person or a picture of them on the company website, going with the more formal Ms./Mr. can backfire if you misgender the person.

    I have a gender neutral first name and it kind of annoys me when people send me emails and address me as Mr. Lastname, which is formal, but misgenders me, instead of just calling me Devon, which is more casual, but correct. I know people have good intentions and try not to hold it against them, but I consider it more impolite to have people assume I’m a man than when they call me by my first name.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, there are lots of potential pitfalls with using titles. Personally, I’d really bristle at Mrs. or Miss rather than Ms. But I know some people would really bristle at Ms. rather than Mrs. Then there’s the issue of someone having a PhD but not advertising it. In my industry, PhDs are juuuust common enough that it’s not routine to call anyone Dr. but there’s a legitimate chance that someone on the hiring team has one.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        At the organization where I worked, Dr. Bigboss was called Dr. Firstname by most staff, which I thought was kind of ridiculous but fit in with his image-conscious personality. He thought it was deferential but cozy, yuck. There were several other PhDs on staff, but NOBODY called them by anything but their first names, and their titles were only used when they published or gave public lectures or were on display for fundraising. There was one person I worked with for years before finding out they had a PhD – all of them had to be VERY careful not to mention their degrees around DOCTOR Bigboss of the Overinflated Ego.

    2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      Yes, this so much. I also have a gender-neutral first name and get misgendered in emails all.the.time. It immediately poisons the encounter for me and frankly did not incline me to donate money to their organization. (I ran our charitable giving program.)

    3. Never Nicky*

      Another gender neutral first name female identifying person here and it annoys the hell out of me because the default is ALWAYS male.
      Although now people have seen my work in academic journals and/or because I work for a health charity, I do get the odd ‘Dr’…

      1. Hazel*

        I have a friend with a name that, to English speakers, seems clearly male. So she has added “Ms.” in front of her name in her signature. It won’t help if you’re emailing her first, but after you get her response, you’ll know.

  15. MCL*

    I had a boss once whose first name is gender neutral (it used to be used more common among men, but more popular for women now). She was always annoyed when people wrote to “Mr. Lastname,” because it was easy enough to Google her. I was very early in my career when I worked for her and learned to always try and look up who I was writing to!

    I’m married but continued using my original last name, I was startled when a customer service rep started calling me “Mrs. MyLastName” last week! I don’t think I’ve been addressed any way other than “Ms.” in years. It seems so old-fashioned!

  16. Guacamole Bob*

    Please, hiring managers and others, sign your emails how you want to be addressed, especially the first time you’re exchanging emails with someone!

    It used to drive me nuts in college specifically – some faculty were Professor Smith, and some were Bob. And I’d look to their email signoffs and signatures for clues, only to find that many of them signed off with their initials! Or a closing like “Thanks,” or “Best,” and then their signature block, or no signature at all.

    Give people clues how to address you!

      1. Gumby*

        Yes! I had to communicate with someone at a different organization for a year who did the signature block thing but the signature block didn’t even give his name! It gave his email, from which I assume he goes by his middle name based on the format (like jrobertdoe). But no indication on what he wanted to be called! Other paperwork had his full name, his email address emphasized his middle name so I used Robert in our earlier emails. When it became clear that despite me signing my emails, he just went with “Hi” or something nameless when writing to me, I started doing the same. But once you are 20 emails into contract negotiations it is **weird** to not know what in the heck the other person goes by. And it even made internal conversations strange. Instead of “I heard back from Bob at Company (or John, or Robert, or whatever)…” every conversation just defaulted to “the guy at Company.”

    1. Nightengale*

      I often use my initials as a compromise. I’m a medical doctor who would prefer to be called by my first name by coworkers, but in my organization pretty much everyone insists on calling doctors Dr Lastname regardless of individual preferences. Since I don’t feel I can sign off e-mails Firstname in this culture, and I don’t want to be signing e-mails to colleagues as Dr Lastname I often use my initials for informal communications and my full name (no title) for more formal ones. I am hoping I can eventually get some of my coworkers to just call me by my firstname. . .

    2. Esmeralda*

      College/University — you really can’t go too wrong with “Dr.” People who don’t have a PhD or who do but don’t use the title, won’t be offended (ok, there are a few pricklepusses out there), and they’ll just correct you. People who do have a PhD and you don’t use the title, well, there’s a decent chance they’ll be peeved.

      Outside of academic, research institutes, and medical settings — it’s a crapshoot…

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Oddly, no one used Dr. at my small liberal arts college! It was either first name or Professor.

  17. Hymdal*

    I avoid Mr/Ms due to possible misgendering. If I feel like “Hi FirstName” is too informal for the context, I just go with “Good afternoon” — can’t imagine many people would take offense to it.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I have been landing on this as well for the same reason. More and more, it doesn’t seem ok to assume honorifics that are gender-based.

  18. Smithy*

    This gave me a real chuckle, because in my field I’m seeing Dear FirstName as the more formal since Hi FirstName seems to have largely taken over email.

  19. Richard*

    I’ve had trouble with this looking for jobs in academia (including administrative) make this tricky when many but not all hirers have PhDs, and many but not all of them want to be called Dr. LastName. Taking an extra 10 minutes to find their bio or CV or profile to guess at their credentials and preferences is a pain, but it often pays off and I don’t have the courage to write “Hello FirstName,”.

  20. Danielle*

    But I DO have a coworker that I (jokingly) call Mr. LastName.

    Because I work closely with 2 different folks, on 2 separate, but closely related teams, who have the same first name.

    1. Sasha*

      Then surely it’s Bob G and Bob S, or Big Bob and Small Bob, or Ginger Bob and Grey Bob? Bob with the shoes and Bob with the glasses? Christmas Party Bob and Bob with the dog?

      Honestly, no imagination :)

      1. Loredena*

        One of my coworkers goes by the first syllable of his last name. Apparently when the company was founded they had five employees with the same first name so all went by variations of their surname and it stuck. It’s even his email

      2. DataSci*

        If they’re on different teams, I’d probably go with something like Finance Bob and Analytics Bob.

  21. Just Me*

    I always struggle with this. I never know if I’m misgendering someone with ms./mr/mx and mx isn’t widespread enough to use it with new folks for a couple reasons. If it’s an email I love a Good morning/ afternoon and avoid names entirely, and love to use Dear Search Committee they few time I *have* to use dear (almost exclusively on cover letters). Being in academia I am able to sometimes cheat with Dr., but that one’s is easier, you know?

  22. Asenath*

    I would address someone I didn’t know as Ms (or other title) in the initial contact and would expect the same title in reverse. It is customary in my area to go to first name when you’re actually co-workers. I don’t fuss over it much, although it still seems to me that someone I don’t know who calls me by my first name, just like my actual friends, co-workers and family is trying to imply a relationship that doesn’t exist.

  23. not actually Jane Jones*

    When I’m emailing someone who hasn’t previously emailed me, if it’s an “upwards” email (i.e. they’re at a higher level than me in the organization, they’re significantly more experienced than me, and/or I’m asking for something big from them), I typically use “Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Smith” (it’s usually Dr.–I’m in academia) and sign myself “Jane Jones”. Then after that, I take my cues from how they respond: if their email in return begins “Dear Jane” and is signed “Best, Pat,” I begin my next email “Dear Pat” and sign it “Thanks, Jane.” If their email begins “Dear Ms. Jones” and is signed “Sincerely, Pat Smith,” I stick with “Dear Dr. Smith / Sincerely, Jane” for my next email. Basically, I let the person with more authority in the situation signal what level of formality they prefer.

    I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bad reaction from this–the occasional professor who favors the “ok. -p” school of email etiquette has found my style slightly amusing, but one of those was a former boss who hired me partly *to* write his professional emails, so.

    1. not actually Jane Jones - also not actually Terry*

      My real first name is slightly androgynous, although more common for women; I’m in fact female, and most people get it right (or guess correctly), but I do sympathize with the commenters who are nervous about using Mr./Ms. for a first-time email in case of getting it wrong! If you google my full name, profiles of me do come up that indicate my gender, so I hope that makes it somewhat easier for people.

      I did once have a long email exchange with someone I was going to be working under, in which she began her emails “Dear Terry” and I replied with “Dear Jane,” until she finally wrote a letter of support for me, in the third person. “We are very much looking forward to working with Terry,” it said; “he will be a great addition to our organization”! I have to say, it would have been easier to correct a “Dear Mr. Jones” the first time we emailed than an entire letter full of “he”s and “him”s months later.

  24. Sanity Lost*

    What about addressing cover letters when no hiring manager or contact is named? I find “to whom it may concern” rather off putting myself.

    1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I’ve started using “Dear [Company] Leadership Team” and it seems to be going over just fine. Most of the time there’s no way to tell from the outside who the hiring manager will be, and application materials are almost always looked over by more than just one person anyway.

    2. WhoKnows*

      I just posted below, but I’ve been using “To the Hiring Manager” which I don’t like a lot either, but haven’t come up with anything better that doesn’t seem weird.

    3. TWW*

      I agree. I can’t believe anyone would consider using “To Whom in May Concern” for anything other than a passive-aggressive note taped to the breakroom wall.

      “Dear Hiring Manager” is always safe.

      1. Sasha*

        Oh I use it for form letters/sickness certificates. Where there is no specific addressee, and the patient may be handing it out to multiple people (employer, social security, government agency, etc).

        But yes, not to an actual person who you happen not to know the name of.

  25. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I think there should be a distinction between writing a cover letter to someone you don’t know, vs writing an email to someone you know (or at least know via mutual acquaintance). I think the more formal setting of a business letter means a cover letters should be addressed to “Mr./Ms. Smith” but the email should be “Dear Bob”.

  26. WhoKnows*

    I REALLY have an aversion to “Dear” in any professional context. I’m not sure why, but it strikes me as overly personal. Plus, it’s rare that I ever know the person’s name to whom I’m addressing the cover letter. I have gotten into the habit of addressing them “To the Hiring Manager:” which I absolutely do not love, but I have yet to come up with some better options. Excited to scroll through some ideas here.

    1. Filosofickle*

      I hate Dear also — it’s just plain weird IMO — as well as Mr/Ms/Miss Lastname. And don’t forget To Whom It May Concern. I haven’t used any of these in business correspondence for at least 15 years and if skipping the formalities ever screens me out, well, that’s just fine with me. We’re all peers as far as I’m concerned, and that means first names. (I’m not young, either; I’m pushing 50.) And, as covered here in other comments, the risk of misgendering / misidentifying an unknown person is by far the worse offense. If I must be labelled, I’m Ms and would NOT want to be called Miss or Mrs. Mx would be fine.

      I prefer to sound friendly than formal and stick to general greetings. In a cover letter I’m likely to say something like: Hello! or Hello (Company) (Department) Team

      Worth noting I am in brand/marketing/comms. So personality and friendliness are preferred to formality almost all the time in these industries.

    2. korangeen*

      Same. I get that “dear” is traditional/formal letter writing, but.. why?? It’s such an intimate word! I won’t hold it against someone if they address me in an email as “dear,” but I never use it myself. I use “Hi” in a more informal email, “Hello” in a more formal email, and “To the [Company] hiring manager” in a cover letter.

      1. Lilli*

        In German there is a more formal way of addressing people (“sehr geehrter Herr X”/”sehr geehrte Frau X”) which everyone uses in letters to people outside of your firm. But with your coworkers it’s just to formal. But since there is a more formal way, the German equivalent of “dear” which is “lieber” or “liebe” (depending on the gender of the person) which is used for coworkers just sounds way to intimate to me (it is derived from the word “Liebe” meaning “love” after all)! Especially when addressing your boss. So I just started my e-mails to my bosses with (the German equivalent of) “Good morning Mr. X” when I worked at a place that was more formal. Now I work at a place where “dear” is the way to go and I use that but it still feels a bit weird to me.

  27. we say Ope here*

    caveat: I work in a relatively formal industry.

    However, I have to disagree with Alison’s advice. This cannot be a general answer. This is a know-your-industry situation. I am opening a new position in the next couple of weeks and am the hiring manager. If anyone applies for this position by addressing me with my first name, they will immediately go to the bottom of the pile.

    In my experience, (again, this is specific to my industry) when an individual has addressed me by my first name before being invited to do so (and I always invite direct colleagues to call me by my first name) it has been a red flag for professionalism problems and boundary issues. Sometimes, depending on nuance, it is also a maker for sexism.

    1. WhoKnows*

      Can you elaborate on what kind of industry you work in? I’m genuinely curious to know where adults addressing each other by first name would be considered unprofessional. Medical or academic setting, maybe?

      1. Mynona*

        We’re talking about a salutation in a cover letter sent by an applicant who does not know the hiring manager, not two adults who work together. I’m in academia and larger arts non-profits, and in both a cover letter salutation of Dear FirstName would be inappropriate. Obviously, this is just a courtesy of written language. During the interview, it’s all first name.

        1. Drew*

          Huh. I have also spent most of my career in “larger arts nonprofits” and have done a lot of hiring and am of the opposite opinion. “Mr./Ms.” is absolutely fine in an initial email or on a cover letter, but first first names (along with a well-written, not overly-casual letter) indicate a better understanding of the culture of our industry in my opinion. I don’t think it’s an industry thing; I think it’s a personal thing.

    2. ValkyriePuppy*

      I think that, for me, an industry that would expect me to write “Mr./Mrs./Miss Whatever” in a cover letter would absolutely be the *wrong* place for me to work, so it would actually be *good* for me if the fact that it would be a sign of my possibly not fitting into the culture got screened out (esp. over such a minor detail in the grander scheme of what I have to offer). I would certainly not like to work somewhere that formal and, well, frankly they probably wouldn’t like me either. Point is, I think people should probably stick with what works for them, and if the work place thinks it’s a cultural mis-match then so be it

      I think it still has to be within reason though, I think there is a time and place for titles – even I, as someone who generally finds gendered titles (e.g., Mr. Mrs. etc) pointless, have 100% written the “formal” titles for members of my family who are military officers, or doctors of various types including on table charts

  28. SentientAmoeba*

    Ouch. I tend to default to more formal in my initial interactions with people and it doesn’t always go over well. I’d rather be formal and ease up once I know how relaxed the other person is than informal and have it be taken poorly, especially when dealing with people senior to me.

  29. MI Dawn*

    First, congrats OP on getting the job! I hope you really enjoy the position.

    I’m older (nearly 60, yeep!) and work with doctors. In most of my communications, oral and written, they are Dr X, Dr Y, Dr Z. As a nurse, it’s just a habit. I did call some MDs by their first name, but most of the MDs I work with now are older. So I am MI Dawn and they are Dr. To my children’s partners, I’m MI Dawn, and that’s what most of their friends called me. (Mrs MI is my mother-in-law, thank you very much, not ME).

    And yes, my bosses have told me to call them John, Sally, Jane, etc. And sometimes I do, but most of the time, because of the nature of my work, they are Dr X, Y, or Z. I don’t think they care either way.

    When applying for internal jobs, I’ve generally sent my emails to Firstname, or Firstname/Lastname if they don’t know me (10K office, can’t know everyone even if you have worked there since they opened), and use my full name in the signature. I’ve been with my company for many years, and due to certain circumstances, my name, at least, is pretty well known, even if people don’t recognize my face.

    I haven’t done an external letter for so many years, I would probably fail except for reading Alison’s blog.

    1. Sleepless*

      I’m a “Dr.” I don’t use it at all when I’m not at work, not ever, but I would be taken aback to get a work email addressed to my first name from somebody I don’t know. It would come across like they were either trying to ingratiate themselves, or assert themselves.

    2. Esmeralda*

      When my son was very small, his friends called me “Mrs. Son’sName Mom” (we’re in the south). They were the only people I didn’t correct for calling me “Mrs”.

      Now I’m feeling nostalgic…

  30. Abogado Avocado*

    Sorry, Alison, but I disagree. When I get a cover letter from someone I don’t know who is applying for a job and the letter is addressed to “Dear Tangerina,” I wonder about the person’s judgment in being so informal with somebody they don’t know. I’m a lawyer and everybody at work addresses me by my first name, but that’s because we know each other. In my experience, the default of formality (unless informality has been invited) is common among the licensed professions (i.e., architecture, engineering, law, medicine).

    Nobody will penalize the job applicant who goes for formality first and addresses that cover letter to Mr. or Ms. or Mx. where the gender preference of the individual is unknown. There’s always time to be more informal later, when the job applicant has been introduced to the person. Better safe than sorry.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That honestly baffles me since over 50% of the cover letters I receive open with a first name, including from stellar candidates. I think what you’re describing may be a law industry thing, since law often has weird norms.

    2. NY LAWYER*

      I’m in law and I agree with the comment. I think law is more formal in general and I think there is more need in cover letters and applications to show that you can communicate in a formal way when necessary.

    3. KAZ2Y5*

      Abogado Avocado, I totally agree with you that it is more common in licensed professions. I am in medicine, and we always start more formal (with the person’s title) and move to first names later.

    4. DataSci*

      I’m going to disagree on that “Nobody”. Very informal workplaces like tech startups are quite likely to decide that someone who leads with “Mr. Manager”, at a workplace where everyone up to the CEO is addressed by their first name (I’ve worked at two places like this), is not going to be a good fit. Law? Sure. But that’s far from everyone.

  31. turquoisecow*

    I suspect this varies across industries and locations, but I’ve never addressed anyone in the workplace as Mr. or Ms. (or Mrs.) As a kid getting my first name in a retail store I was sort of expecting based on tv shows maybe that people would call each other my their last names, but no. Everyone called everyone by their first name, with the occasional last initial for duplicative names, like “hey Mike R., you can take your break now,” to distinguish between the other Mike.

    I’ve never done hiring but occasionally I used to interact with outside vendors. I also was a point of contact for stores to contact me (at the corporate office) for certain issues. In each case the person was told by either my boss or someone else to contact me, and the initial emails would always be, “Hi Turquoise.” I would have been very put off if someone had called me Ms. Cow because then it would have meant I ought to call them Mr. or Ms. Smith, when literally everyone else I interacted with was Bob or Jane.

    Even the “Dear” strikes me as a tad formal for everyday conversation, and I’d probably stick with Hi, or Good Afternoon or similar. But I can see the impulse to be a bit more formal when contacting a hiring manager for the first time.

    1. UKDancer*

      The only shop I know that uses last names (now at least) is a very old fashioned gentlemen’s outfitters which my parents have nicknamed “Grace Brothers” because it resembles “Are you Being Served?” so much. The men working there call each other by surname so you hear conversations like

      “Mr Lucas are you free? Could you see if we have this panama in size seven?”
      “Yes Mr Humphries I’ll bring it over to you.”

      It’s pretty unusual in retail terms and I think they use it as a selling point. Every other shop I know uses first names.

  32. J*

    It bothers me when someone I don’t know calls me by my first name before any previous correspondence and before I tell them to call me by my name. 1. It supposes a level of familiarity that we don’t have and that I may not want with them. 2. I don’t actually go by my first name, nor am I a fan of it, so calling me by it annoys me. 3. I’ve found that some men will call a woman by her first name while calling a man Mr. Lastname. They use it to try to exert power over women. Also, historically in the south white people would address Black people by their first names instead of Mr. or Miss/Mrs. as a sign of disrespect. Not all of those people are out of the workforce yet. So not calling them Mr. or Mrs. is a sign of disrespect.

    1. Blue Eagle*

      I agree with this. If I received a hiring request from someone I did not know and they opened with Hi Blue . . . I want a job from you, that would strike me as too informal. I’d prefer they open with Hi Ms. Eagle . . . to which I could respond – please call me Blue.
      But who knows, maybe there is a whole different etiquette for the younger generation.

  33. Helvetica*

    This is so fascinating! I’ve always had the convention that if I’m addressing an e-mail to someone I do not know, I will always default to “Dear Mr/Ms LastName” and never the first name. It strikes me as overly personal. However, after exchanging the first e-mail, it is also common to go to first name basis.
    Granted, I’m not in the US and in my cultural space, the norm is definitely more what I describe. But I also work ina
    field where more formality and norms and protocol do dictate more, so I guess people in this field also have slightly stricter approaches to things (it’s not law or academia though!)
    I’d also note that this does not mean, as I think the answer somehow incorrectly assumes that I’d also address people like that in person/in the workplace. The custom is different in written and oral communication and in-person meetings rarely have the formality of addressing someone by their last name.

  34. Emily*

    This is such an interesting thread! It sounds like it varies a lot by industry. I work primarily with government agencies, and the norm seems to be Mr./Ms. Lastname on first contact. Once they address me by first name, I switch to using that. Addressing me by first name on first contact feels overly familiar, and sales-y. I would raise an eyebrow if a job applicant addressed me that way in their first email.

    1. OyHiOh*

      I interact with a lot of local government people, and this is what I do as well. I start with Ms/Mr, and change dependent on how they respond.

    2. Flower necklace*

      I work at a high school. Teachers always use Mr./Ms. Lastname in front of students, but I’ll also use it out of habit if there aren’t any students around. With some people, I always use Mr./Ms. Lastname because it feels disrespectful if I don’t. But it’s not like I keep track of who says what, and it’s considered normal to refer to people as Firstname, Mr./Ms. Lastname, or just Lastname in casual conversation.

  35. littlemissvan*

    This is a fascinating discussion, and it really sounds like there aren’t a lot of rules, just personal preferences. My own personal preference is first name, because people do often misgender me if they include an honorific. I won’t ding a job candidate for that, though, because it is my personal preference. My industry is pretty casual, and I don’t think I’ve ever addressed someone other than by first name.

    I’m so curious about commenters who’ve written about first names being too intimate, or implying a more intimate relationship than a business one. I have never considered use of my first name to be intimate in any way! Different strokes!

  36. ThatGirl*

    Funny little story – somewhat tangential. My husband is staff at a college, but he teaches 1 class every fall, a sort of “welcome to college” one-credit deal. He’s not a professor, he doesn’t have a doctorate, and he’s a pretty informal guy. So he asks his students to call him by his first name, but he knows that can be hard for first-year students — so his alternate, extremely jokey option is asking people to call him Jedi Master. At the end of the fall semester in 2020 his student assistant sent him a nameplate for his desk that says “Jedi Master FirstName”.

  37. TWW*

    In corresponding with customers, I default to “Dear Mary Smith.”

    It’s a little unusual, but no one has ever complained, and you don’t have to guess if should be “Ms. Smith” or “Dr. Smith.” You also don’t have to know whether Mary Smith’s friends call her “Mary” or “Smith” (which might be hard to guess with Asian names).

    I don’t know if I would address a hiring manager that way, but it’s an option.

  38. Gilmore67*

    When I was looking for a job years ago and I didn’t know who to address the cover letter to, I just wrote, “Hello ” Or Good morning started my cover/initial greeting.

    I got responses with no problem. I actually tracked my responses with my send out rate and I was at about 40% call back rate. 4 resumes a week.

    I got several compliments on my resume and my covers. When I got my current job, my then manager ( she is retired) she told me she liked my “thank you” telling me how well I wrote it.

    So for me the initial salutation didn’t seem to matter.

  39. Prof_Murph*

    While I think first names are fine, it’s worth mentioning research showing that titles get used more often for male-presenting names/individuals whereas whereas female-presenting names/individuals are more likely to be addressed with first names. It’s a subtle form of sexism where women’s accomplishments get devalued. Just a thought when contemplating whether to use the formal title vs. first name.

  40. RunningMyMouth247*

    I usually use however they introduced themselves to me in the interview. If they say “Hi I’m Steve” then I’d address the email as follows:
    “Hi Steve,
    [body of email]
    [my name]”

    That said, I work in a super casual field so this might not work for everyone.

  41. Janie*

    I get really awkward about addressing emails sometimes, so I will often simply open with “Good Morning” or something to avoid it when I am not sure is it is proper to address someone formally or informally.

    Is that strange? A bad idea?

    1. Filosofickle*

      I think it’s fine, and I do the same! It sidesteps some of the problems. If someone is a real stickler for a formal address they won’t like it but it’s a good solution for me.

  42. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I’m in a field where “Hello Firstname” is typical for a business email to a stranger. Once in a while, I get emails from college students looking for internships, and they come off as stiff, formal, and unfamiliar with workplace norms with “Dear Mr. Peon.” That said, I think this is the safest approach when in doubt. This kind of thing is field-dependent, and a student could just as easily come off as rudely informal with a “Hello Firstname” in some fields. I use “Dear Mr/Ms Lastname” if I’m writing to someone outside my own field and I’m unsure of the norms.

  43. ValkyriePuppy*

    So I think this might be a generational and cultural too – my parents were raised in military families and are both boomers and they both think it’s *very* offensive that I refer to my bosses by their first names. I’ve had to repeatedly tell them that I was explicitly told to call my bosses Bob or Sue or Jane or whatever. This one time I went to one of my first jobs, bowed to my parents pressure for “manners” and called my boss Mrs. Witcher and she looked at me like I was a total loon and was like “just call me Vicky” (not her real names obvs).

    In some cases, I didn’t even know my hiring managers last name until I went to work. For one job, I was called by HR, screened, and was told “meet with Anakin on this day/time at this office”, and I did not know Anakin’s last name was Skywalker until I was hired. I find that, for me, that I let the person guide me – if Anakin had wanted to be called Master Skywalker (in accordance to his Jedi title), he should have done do, as opposed to being like “hi I’m Anakin”. Get what I mean?

    It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that many companies have subtle language in their job postings that would clarify whether you could determine if a title is necessary at the application stage. I might err on the side of caution for some (e.g. I might use a title for a lawyer, definitely for military, PhD and medical doctors, and clergy etc) but for general people? Eh…. I’ll drop it off

  44. Anonymous Music Person*

    Reading the comments, this is definitely a know-your-industry thing.
    I work in entertainment (music) and Mr/Ms/etc. would seem very odd and out of sync with the culture. Of course, this is coming from a place where we wear jeans to work, and I was even instructed the last time I interviewed that “don’t worry about dressing up, we wear jeans here…” so definitely a more informal environment. And my last two jobs have not involved resumes or interviews, but rather being brought on by someone I know, so generally more networking based. I do get the occasional email from someone more in the performing arts/seated theater/subscription series side of the industry that leads with Ms and it’s always a little jarring (and especially if they continue to insist on addressing me that way even after I’ve written a more informal response).

    1. londonedit*

      Book publishing here, and it’s the same. Most people wear jeans to work, and things are fairly informal generally. If I was in the OP’s situation, I’d definitely go with ‘Dear Bob’, and I’d feel like someone was being weirdly formal if they started an email to me with ‘Dear Ms Londonedit’. Most of the time if I’m emailing a new contact it’ll fairly quickly switch from ‘Dear Firstname’ to ‘Hi Firstname’.

  45. NicoleInTheFrontNikkiInTheBack*

    I couldn’t even imagine referring to a potential colleague, even a big big boss, as Mr/Mrs/Ms or vice versa. I even feel awkward referring to my kids teachers as Mrs So and So because it really does feel ridiculous. But I also have a first name with a fairly common nickname (think Nicole/Nikki), I’d imagine those appalled though feel as taken back by being addressed by a first name as I do being referred to as my name’s nickname. And more so because it is a nickname I use personally, but almost no one calls me it professionally so it throws me off when they do!

  46. Wren*

    I usually just go with “Good Morning (evening/afternoon) Firstname Lastname.
    I personally hate titles, as a nonbinary person the usual is Mx but I’d rather none at all unless I get a PhD.

    1. Wren*

      I should also add that even when I submitted some documentation related to a research proposal someone “helpfully” added Miss before my name. Which I was not okay with at all and filed a complaint because it was clear in my documentation that I did not identify as female.

  47. Cough cough hack hack*

    I wish first name usage had been common when I was applying for my second post-college job in 1991, because I can’t tell you how much legwork it took to figure out whether the “Pat” named as the contact person in the posting was a Mr. or a Ms.! (I did get the job, by the way.)

  48. I am the boss of me*

    I just recently experienced a funny twist on this that has me scratching my head. I’m a doctor currently hiring for a support position in my office. I contacted a candidate about advancing her to the next round, signed the letter with my credentials after my name, and she addressed me as “miss Lucinda” in her reply! I guess it’s not a deal killed for an otherwise strong candidate but it sure comes off as odd.

  49. Anon20210414*

    Hi Alison,

    Just wanted to point out you say « husband » in your response when the OP pointedly said « spouse » in the letter?

    I believe the OP did confirm in the comments that it was indeed a husband, but it feels a little odd to unnecessarily gender.

  50. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I usually say the hell with it and just use “Greetings:” or, if it’s in marketing, “Greetings!”

  51. BlondeSpiders*

    I’m a born and bred West Coaster, so my casual self is quite accustomed to calling everyone by the first name, even the CEO of my company when I need to contact him.

    However, using a title like Mr./Ms. assumes a gender that makes me uncomfortable. Having known dozens of people named Chris, Pat, Jamie and the like, I’d be mortified if I guessed incorrectly. Additionally, the circles I run in have many trans, genderfluid or non-conforming folks who have chosen completely genderless names: Rain, Phoenix, etc. For some, gender assumption can be difficult or painful.

    I saw an interesting tweet recently that suggested traditional titles for women (Miss/Mrs.) were designed to advertise their f*ckability. Crude, to be sure, but a reasonable point. I’ve been using Ms. since my early 20’s; before, during and after marriage.

    Why not just use FirstName LastName as a greeting? It’s so stupidly simple I don’t know why it’s not already the custom.

  52. L*

    I go with “Dear Bob” unless I have some reason to think I would call him Bob in my day to day work with him. I feel like this psychologically may make him feel like we’re already coworkers and working together, but is still reasonably formal. After the first email, I take cues from them as to whether to drop the “Dear,” etc.

    At the end of the day it’s not a deal breaker though. I’ve gotten thank you emails from candidates before calling me “Ms. LastName” and it feels super awkward and overly formal, but I don’t hold it against them.

    This might vary by industry and company, but I think nowadays the vast vast majority of bosses will be on a first name basis with subordinates and don’t expect formal address. An exception might be the military or something but I don’t know.

    Of course if you aren’t in the US, follow your countries norms. In some other countries, last names are much more standard in daily corporate communication.

  53. Greg*

    I agree with AAM that it mostly doesn’t matter, but one thing I would definitely say is that you have to read the room. If the hiring manager is a 25-year-old middle manager, you can almost certainly dispense with any last names; if they’re a 60-year-old CEO, you might want to play it safer. Also, I don’t get offended if an initial email is addressed to “Mr. Lastname”, but I do get mildly annoyed if I write back, sign it “Greg”, and then their next email continues to call me “Mr. Lastname”. Again, read the room.

  54. Krystal*

    I do both really.
    I start off formal with Mr Derrick Smith. I include my full name at the end such as Mrs Sarah Evans.
    If they reply with Hello Sarah, I will reply back with Hello Derrick and go from there.
    Reading the room for me, if they replied with Mrs Evans I would keep it more formal as well.

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