Regarding this issue that launched my crowdsourcing effort — while a few hiring decision-makers I talked with feel a letter that addresses them by name is “creepy,” “spooky,” and “disconcerting” — most appreciate the personalization and extra effort that go into using their name. The advice I’ve given for all these years is reflected in the words of Mike Sprouse: “It is 100 percent expected that cover letters be personalized and well-targeted. If I do not receive a personalized cover letter, I immediately think this candidate is either lazy or not resourceful. With so much information available through LinkedIn and other avenues, I basically throw out ‘To Whom it May Concern’ letters immediately. So I would not say I’m impressed by people who research my name; I would say I expect it,” says Sprouse, who is a chief marketer, entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist.
Cheyne agrees: “I won’t even consider a candidate if they haven’t taken the time to do their research and find my name,” she says. “Part of that is because my line of work is centered around being able to reach the potential customer on a personal level. If a job applicant doesn’t try to do that with me in their cover letter, I’ll have major doubts about their ability to perform well in this line of work. With the amount of information available through search engines now, it has become offensive to use the traditional ‘Dear Sir or Madam.’ Take five minutes, and Google the company. You’ll figure out whom to address your cover letter to.”
Most hiring decision-makers I talked to, however, were not as adamant as Sprouse and Cheyne in wanting a personalized letter. Still, they used descriptors such as “proactive,” “ambitious,” “creative,” “resourceful,” “determined,” for job-seekers who go to the trouble to learn their names. “While I will always choose the best candidate if all else is equal, the one [who] has researched us/me, sent in the personalized cover letter, contacted me directly, and showed aggressive interest will win all tiebreakers,” says Ron Kubitz, recruiting manager at Brayman Construction Corp., Saxonburg, PA. Torporek adds, “A personalized, job-specific cover letter pretty much guarantees that we will look more closely at the applicant.”
Here are the situations in which you must address the letter’s recipient by name:
- When the job posting instructs you to do so.
- When the decision-maker’s name appears in the posting.
Also realize that some employers deliberately omit a name but expect the job-seeker to be resourceful enough to find it. “I purposely do not include my name in the ad, so that they have to seek it out,” explains Lisa Pike,
Our article, Sleuthing Out Hiring Managers Key to Job-Search Follow-up, contains many tips for researching names of addressees — and it was written before the advent of social-media tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook that make such sleuthing even easier. See also the other parts of the white paper/Cover Letter Reboot package: Cover Letter Wish List: Hiring Decision-Makers Reveal What They Want to See in Cover Letters, Hiring Decision-Makers Cite Top Cover-Letter Mistakes that Disqualify Job-Seekers, and Cover Letters That Wowed: Hiring Decision-Makers Describe Winning Cover Letters.