How to open and close your cover letter
On a cover letter, formality is rarely a bad thing.
Write your cover letter opening and closing with these tips.
In a tight job market flooded with resumes and cover letters, it’s a given that your documents and messages need to be error-free. So how else can you distinguish your communications? Appropriate openings and closings that convey professionalism and polish.
Use our tips below on how to start your cover letter with a proper greeting and sign off with a polished signature. And if you need additional writing tips, join Monster today, so the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter.
Cover letter openings
Write a formal greeting, such as Dear Ms. Alvis or Dear Mr. Yang. If you're unsure of the person’s gender and can’t find out, write the full name, as in Dear Chu Li or Dear Chris Beltran.
While it is increasingly common to see greetings without the "Dear" in business, it is less formal. When applying for a job, sometimes you want to start off formally, even though you may take a less formal tone in subsequent written exchanges.
If you’re unfamiliar with someone’s name, be sure you don’t confuse the first name with the family name, which can easily happen in today’s global business environment, depending in part on the languages you know. For example, the CEO of Lenovo is Yang Yuanqing. His surname is Yang and his first name is Yuanqing (in Mandarin, the family name is written first), so if you are addressing him, you would write Dear Mr. Yang and not Dear Mr. Yuanqing.
A final comment on people’s names: be sure to spell them correctly. That is one typo no recipient will miss.
What if you cannot track down a contact name for your cover email? Use a generic salutation, such as Dear Hiring Manager, Dear Recruiting Manager or Dear Human Resources Professional. (Avoid To Whom It May Concern; it is antiquated.) Another option is to write Greetings, which is somewhat informal but polite. You could also dispense with the opening greeting altogether and start with your first sentence, although some recipients might find that approach to be abrupt.
In all openings, be sure to capitalize the first letter of every noun and follow your greeting with punctuation. Use either a colon (Dear Mr. Yang:) or a comma (Dear Recruiting Manager,).
Cover letter closings
End your message with a formal closing, such as Sincerely, Regards or Best regards. If your closing contains more than one word, capitalize only the first word, as in Best regards or Sincerely yours. And be sure to put a comma after your closing. A common error in business communications is the omission of that comma.
Your full name goes on the next line. No need for the extra space that used to go on letters for the signature. Write your telephone number and email address on separate lines after your name. Although this contact information is on your resume (and your email address is on your email), including it with your cover message makes life easier for the recipient.
This post is by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, authors of The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job
Your contact details are placed at the top of the cover letter, on either the right or the left side. If you have trouble adhering to the space limit, omit your name from the contact details section; you will anyway be signing your name in the ending salutation.
Many mistakes occur here as the British and American notations differ. While the month is placed first and is followed by the date in the US version, the British notation gives the date first and the month afterwards. You should insert a comma between day and year in the American notation, but the British version requires no comma.
American and Canadian notations:
Month/Day/Year (March 15, 2014)
Day/Month/Year (15 March 2014)
It is common nowadays to indicate the date using only numbers—e.g. 05/10/2013—but it gives rise to misunderstandings. In the British notation, this would be 5 October 2013, but in the US, it would represent 10 May 2013. To avoid such misunderstandings, it is recommended to combine numbers and words in your notation.
Short and sweet
- Date in the US: March 15, 2014
- Date in the UK: 15 March 2014
The address of the recipient follows next. The recipient’s details must be stated in full, including the full name of the contact person. All the accessories of the company name and the designation of the contact person must be provided.
The greeting depends on the information available. If you know the name of the contact person, his/her name and surname must be included in the greeting. The salutation ‘Mr(.)’ is used for a man, while ‘Ms(.)’ is used for a woman. Use ‘Mrs(.)’ only if you know for a fact that the woman contact person is married. Otherwise, stick with the formal ‘Ms(.)’. Note that an academic title also belongs in the formal salutation and must be provided in the greeting accordingly.
Dear Mr(.) XY,
Dear Ms(.) XY,
Dear Prof. XY,
The dot after ‘Mr’/‘Ms’ depends on the style of English being used. In a UK application, there is no dot after the salutation and it just says ‘Mr XY’. If you are applying in the US, however, a point follows the salutation and you write ‘Mr. XY’.
In case no contact person is mentioned, look for a suitable contact or HR manager—e.g. via online research. The best option is to inquire directly at the company for the name, title and designation of the required contact person.
Note also that a personal greeting is preferred to an impersonal salutation. Use the impersonal salutation only if you absolutely cannot find a suitable contact person.
In the latter case, the following alternative greetings are possible:
Dear Hiring Manager(,)
Dear Recruiting Team(,)
Dear Sir or Madam(,)
The salutation, ‘To whom it may concern’, is not recommended. It sounds impersonal and gives the impression that you sent a standard letter to multiple companies at one go. The reader should feel that he/she has been addressed personally. Your letter must give the impression that you are applying to only this company because the position here is exactly what you seek.
Once again, comma use depends on the style of English being followed. A comma or punctuation mark after the salutation is usually absent in the British cover letter, but present in the American one.
Short and sweet
- Ascertain the name of the contact person if this is unavailable. It is best to call the company and inquire.
- In British English, the title is written without a dot (‘Ms XY‘); in American English, it is written with a dot (‘Mr. XY’).
- In the UK application, no comma follows the salutation; in the American application, a comma is placed after the greeting.
The subject differs in the American and British cover letters. If you apply in the US, the subject is left out. In the UK, however, it is common to write a subject in bold letters.
In the British English application, the subject provides a reference to, for example, a phone call, a personal conversation or a newspaper advertisement.