You're applying for a job online, but you don't know the hiring manager's name or gender. How can you find that information? Or, if you can't get a name, what are some alternative ways to address the cover letter without being too impersonal or old-fashioned?
Here are some tips on handling tricky situations like these:
If applying for a position online, your resume and letter will be going to HR and hopefully on to the hiring manager. Unless the position says who the hiring manager is and most of them don't, you're going to have to do a little digging.
First check the company website. If that doesn't work use your Internet search engine by putting in the company name, department doing the hiring, and any other information that relates to the position. For example, there often is enough identifying information in the position description such as “this position reports to the VP of Product Strategy.” If you find the person’s name, but cannot determine gender (again, Google can be invaluable as the person may have been quoted, or have posted a photo), then you can put the person’s whole name and address.
If this doesn't produce a suitable hiring manager, do a search for the head of recruiting (company name+ Human Resources+ Recruiting). The HR recruiter or head of recruiting might have posted the position and you could address that person directly.
More often than not, it will be difficult to identify those people directly, but you still need a graceful way to begin.
Avoid writing “Dear X.” You can start the letter with an identifier like: RE: JOB #12345 : Product Marketing Manager, then begin the body of your letter. Or, address it to Dear Hiring Manager and HR Partner for (“area” – e.g. Product Marketing).
If you are using a search firm, the firm may have a way they want you to address the letter (they may also rework your resume into “their” format). You can also address the recruiter or firm, since they will have posted the position.
Ways around the screening software
For those of you in key professional or managerial roles especially, you may want to direct a letter to the hiring manager or the head of the group with the opening directly, in addition to whatever submission you make online. This is especially true if you have a non-traditional background that could make you an asset, but get you screened out by screening software, or a casual review of your background.
These letters would be different, and you want to target those directly to the situation the company/group finds itself in, and why you might bring something key or special to bear.
For example: (to the VP of Product by name)
I noted with interest that you are expanding your marketing team for (product X); this would be an exciting time to be associated with (company) as you bring this product from proof of concept to the marketplace, given the competition you face from (company Y) in this space. I am taking the liberty to write you directly, as I have an unusual background that I believe could be a strategic asset to you in this situation, but which might be screened out by typical recruiting software.
Then go on to add a few highlights that get the person to look at your resume.
Penny Locey is a Vice President with Keystone Associates