You’re in the process of applying for your dream job. You’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s on your resume (after proofreading it 58 times, of course). But now, it’s time to move on to the hard part: writing your cover letter.

Naturally, you want to grab your reader’s attention—ideally without over-decorating the page or sending a 10-page essay. But how do you begin? Is it “Dear” or “Hello?” Is it “Mr.” or “Ms.?” And more importantly, are there certain salutations that should be avoided completely?

woman typing
Twenty20

We turned to Kelly Piscitelli, Director of People & Experience at Gallery Media Group, for some insight and, as it turns out, there is one particular greeting that could lower your chances of standing out among other applicants: “To Whom It May Concern.”

“It could be seen as a bit lazy to some recruiters and hiring managers,” says Piscitelli. “There are days when I’m looking through hundreds of applications, and if I see a cover letter addressed to me personally, I’m pleasantly surprised and I know that the candidate has done their research. They automatically stand out from the others from the very first impression.”

While there may be some hiring managers that find this standard, non-specific greeting appropriate, this isn’t typically the case—especially if you’re applying to a company that has easily accessible contact information online. According to career experts over at Glassdoor, this is why “To Whom It May Concern’ can “communicate apathy” or be discouraging for some recruiters. So before you consider using a phrase that’s totally generic, do your homework—even if that means spending an extra half hour combing through the company’s website.

“Make sure to scour the job posting carefully for clues, such as the supervisor’s title,” says Piscitelli. “From there you can search the company’s website for employees with that title or do a search on LinkedIn to see if you can find them that way.”

Another smart option? Do some investigating on LinkedIn and make use of your connections. She continued, “You might also search the company’s LinkedIn page. Is the job featured in their posts? Oftentimes a hiring manager will spotlight an open position on their team. Do you have any connections that work at the company you’re applying to? Reach out to them and see if they can give you the name of the hiring manager or recruiter. Or better yet, see if they can facilitate an introduction.”

Monster career expert Vicki Salemi also notes that giving the company a call could lead to results (provided that the application itself doesn’t say “no phone calls,” of course), but prepare for the possibility of speaking to someone from the department in which you’d be working. She said, “If you speak to a receptionist, that person may want to connect you directly to the department rather than provide you with sleuthing information because the receptionist may not know who is looking to fill the job either. If you speak to someone in the department, that person may be able to help you.”

But what if none of these approaches work? Don’t panic. It’s likely that the company you’re applying to is relatively private or has limited information online. And chances are, they know this. So if all else fails, it doesn’t hurt to move on to something that’s more generic, but still shows that you made an effort. Piscitelli says, “If you’re unable to find a specific name, I’d say your best bet would be to tailor your greeting to the supervisor’s title or the department in which you’d be working.”

So, with some help from the experts, we compiled a list of acceptable generic greetings that’ll make your cover letter pop (and, more importantly, that aren’t “To Whom It May Concern”). See below for the best alternatives.

WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD

  • Dear Hiring Manager
  • Dear Recruiter
  • Dear HR Manager
  • Dear Recruiting Team
  • Dear [insert title of employee you would report to]
  • Dear Head of [insert name of department]
  • Dear [insert name of department] Hiring Team
  • Dear Human Resources Manager
  • Dear [insert name of department] Director
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