The art of letter writing has fallen by the wayside in the age of emails, texting, and social media, or so you may think. Although honestly, when was the last time you needed to know how to address a letter to anyone?
Consider this a quick guide that explains how you need to address a professional letter depending on the recipient. You wouldn’t address a letter to a potential employer the same way you would to your dear uncle, would you? Of course not.
When you are planning on writing a letter, even if it is in digital format, there are a few things you need to consider to make sure you get it right.
How to Address a Letter: Business or Professional
When you’re thinking about how to address a letter in the business world, the last thing you want is for it to be casual unless the instructions explicitly say it needs to be that way. That rarely ever happens.
Knowing how to correctly address professional and business letters is vital for career communications. Have you ever heard that it’s important to make a good first impression? The way you address your letter is your first impression, so you need to make it count.
When you decide to write a letter for employment purposes or for professional communication, you’ll need to address the letter to the person that you’re writing to in a formal way. You don’t want to be informal or casual because you never know how they’re going to react reading it.
When in doubt, always use the formal designation of Mr., Ms., or Dr. when addressing a business or professional letter even if you don’t think titles are important.
Understanding and Applying Formal Designations
You may not be into the whole idea of someone approaching or referring to you by something like “Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Jones,” but having the right designation is essential in making a good first impression to the person on the receiving end. Proper etiquette makes a good impression.
Addressing the letter professionally is simply about respect. If the individual you’re contacting wants to be referred to by their first name, let them tell you that. Don’t assume that it’s the norm because the person on the other end may not agree.
If you’re worried about being gender-neutral, then address the individual by their full name. In other words, begin the letter with “Dear Avery James” instead of trying to guess at the person’s gender. In an age where gender identity can be somewhat questionable, you also don’t want to offend the person on the receiving end if you get the gender wrong.
Be on the lookout for any specific credentials like doctors or PhDs because they appreciate having their hard work recognized. It took time and effort for them to achieve those titles. Extending a little effort to recognize their credentials can be worth its weight in gold.
What to Do if You Don’t Have a Specific Contact Person
If you’ve looked at job listings, you’ll notice that the vast majority of them do not have a specific contact person listed. At that point, you may wonder what you’re supposed to do as you’re in the process of figuring out how to address a letter to a potential employer.
What you absolutely do not want to do is to address the letter with a phrase like “to whom this may concern,” “Dear Sir or Madam,” or anything like that. It is very generic and does not show much effort in your writing. A greeting like that can actually be off-putting to an employer.
Instead, do a little research if you know the company name. Make an active effort to look for the person who might be the contact person. Google is your friend – use it.
If you take the time to find the human resource manager’s name or the department head’s contact information, that can give you some major bonus points. It shows that you were willing to take the initiative and find someone who could be the person you’re trying to reach.
If you can’t find the name of the contact person by doing some online research, then pick up the phone and call the company directly. Ask who their human resource person is, or the department director would be, for the position that you’re applying for.
Even if you get the name wrong, having a name still shows that you put in some effort, and employers like that. The person reviewing your resume will remember that, and the initiative you put forth in addressing your letter may be enough to put you ahead of the rest.
Get the Formatting Right the First Time
Chances are that you don’t write formal professional letters for employment on a regular basis. It’s not a big deal, but it does mean that you may need a quick primer on getting the format right.
At the top left side of the letter, you’ll want to put down your contact information. Double and triple check that your contact information is absolutely correct and free of typos. The last thing you want is to sabotage yourself by accidentally giving the wrong information to your potential employer.
Below the contact information, add a blank line, and then put today’s date. Again, make sure the date is right. If you’ve ever had to write a date down shortly after the new year, you know how difficult it is to remember to put the right year down. Also, humans make mistakes, so always check the date.
Next goes the recipient’s name and address. By adding the address to the letter, the person on the receiving end is aware that you know who and where they are. They also will realize that you made an effort to get the information and will be able to correct you if you happen to have the wrong information. If you don’t have this information readily available, a quick Google search ought to do it.
The next thing that goes into your letter is the salutation, also known as the “Dear” that starts your professional letter. Don’t overthink it and don’t try to get fancy. “Dear Reginald Jones” is absolutely appropriate and does not need any excess fanfare.
To better illustrate what to write, this is what it should look like.
123 Job Way Avenue
Jobsville, SC 45678
January 1, 2020
456 Hiring Boulevard
Jobsville, SC 45678
Dear Mr. Reginald Jones,
If you still don’t have a contact name after doing research, omit the line with the name, and write something like “Dear Hiring Manager” instead. Once you’ve got your letter started, your next step is to write out the body professionally to show that you know what you’re doing.
How to Write and Share Your Letter
Learning how to address your letter is just the first step in writing a letter that will get you noticed. You’ll still need to pay attention to the way the letter is formatted as well as the voice you’re writing in.
Most professional letters are written in what is called a block format. That means that instead of adding an indention at the beginning of the letter, you start at the beginning of the line. You will also need to remember to add a blank line of space in between each individual paragraph.
Once you’ve got your letter written, you’ll need to add your final sign off, also known as your closing and signature. There are a few common ones that end letters well and are appropriate for formal letters like the one you’re working on.
Suggestions include closings like “sincerely” or “best regards” before signing off. When it’s time for you to sign off, you’ll need to include your signature as well as a typed name below it. There are apps that can capture your signature to be able to place it within documents like this in case you were wondering about that.
Your closing and sign off should look something like this.
The reason for adding your typed name is because, depending on how neat your handwriting is, your potential employer may not be able to read your name. Having it written out below is a nice reminder.
Once the entire letter has been completed, save it as a PDF so that you don’t lose any formatting and so you can share it the way it was meant to be seen and read.
Knowing How to Address a Letter is a Needed Skill
Granted, you’re probably not writing professional letters every single day, but being able to do it is an excellent skill to have. You never know when you may have to write a professional internal communication or when you’re going to need to write a letter for a new job.
You may want to practice a few times and have someone else read over your letter before you finally send it off. When you get it right, your approach may be what puts your name in the pile of applicants that are being advanced to the next step.
Take the time to learn this skill because your potential employer will appreciate it.