How to Address a Cover Letter for Internships

by Laura Riley
Published May 19,2017

Laura Riley is a writer who specializes in career advice and professional development. She has a Master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Miami University.

I’m sure you’ve seen this happen:

To get someone’s attention, a person shouts, “Hey, you!”

The other person responds, “Me?” as he points to himself.

who me?

It’s much easier to grab someone’s attention when you say, “Hey, Sarah!” or “Hey, Judson!”

The same is true when addressing a cover letter.

You should always tailor your salutation to the hiring manager by using his or her name.

In this article, I will explain how to properly address a cover letter and what considerations to make. While this may seem like a small detail when compared to the grand task of actually writing a cover letter in the correct format, a proper salutation for the hiring manager is incredibly important. 

A personalized salutation can set you apart from your competition and help you secure an interview for your dream internship or entry-level job.

What does a proper salutation look like?

At the very top of your cover letter, you need a header. The header includes your full name and contact information (e.g. phone number, email address, LinkedIn URL, professional portfolio URL, city and state). Below this information, include the date you’re applying, along with the mailing address of the company.

Next, include a greeting. The greeting is basically the formal “hello.” This isn’t an appropriate place to be cute or creative. Refrain from saying “Hey you!” or “Howdy!” The most appropriate option for a greeting is ‘Dear’, followed by the hiring manager’s full name. For example: “Dear Ms. Mary Johnson”.

Follow the name with a comma or colon, along with a space.

Like this:

Dear Ms. Mary Johnson:

I am excited to apply for the open internship…

intern shaking hands with manager

Who is the contact person for your cover letter?

The contact person on a cover letter will typically be a hiring manager or a recruiter. The hiring manager is an employee of the company. He or she is generally the person who requested to fill the position. Many times, it’s also the person you’ll report to if you’re hired.

Always keep this in mind:

Hiring managers and recruiters play a pivotal role in deciding who they want to interview.

Act and communicate professionally when speaking or emailing with the contact person. This is a key member of the recruitment process. If you do something unprofessional, rude, or pushy, you’ll kill your chances of being hired for an internship. That person will quickly tell their team, “This candidate is a no-go.”

cover letters in trashcan

How do you figure out who the hiring manager and/or recruiter is for a position?

If you’re lucky, a company will list a contact person on the job description (typically at the top or the bottom). If the company does not list the hiring manager or recruiter, it’s time for you to do a little research. You have two options:

  1. Review the company’s website and LinkedIn.
  2. Call human resources

1. Review the company’s website and LinkedIn.

One option is to check out the company’s website and LinkedIn profile. If you’re applying for a marketing internship and there’s one person who works in marketing, then you can make an educated conclusion about who the hiring manager is.

Other times, there will be too many options. I don’t recommend taking a wild guess. Making an assumption about who the hiring manager is can be risky. If you make a guess and end up being wrong, you may insult the actual hiring manager. Instead, get in touch with the company by phone.

intern calling hr for hiring manager's name

2. Call human resources (or the front desk).

The other option is to work up the courage to call human resources. If you’re applying to a small company, they may not have a human resources department. In this case, call the company and speak with the administrative assistant or front desk manager.

Here’s what you can say: “Hi, I’m preparing an application for your open internship position #12345. I’m wondering who the hiring manager is for this position.”

Oftentimes, human resources will provide you with the information. Other times, they may say, “Just address it to HR.” If that’s the case, use a general salutation as outlined below.

How to address a cover letter to human resources if you can’t figure out who the contact person is?

If you can’t find a name for the contact person, the next best option is to use a general salutation. A general salutation is a greeting that does not include the name of a specific person.

You may find sample cover letters that say, “To Whom It May Concern”, or “Dear Sir/Madam”. I recommend using something a little more modern such as:

  • Dear Hiring Manager:
  • Dear Search Committee:
  • Dear Hiring Professional:

Not only will you avoid sounding like a 19th century butler: “Dear Madam, may I take your coat?”, but these options will prevent you from incorrectly assuming someone’s gender.

19th century butler

More on that here:

How do you address a cover letter to someone with a gender-neutral name?

If you have a contact name, but aren't sure of the person's gender, there’s a simple solution. Instead of using Ms./Mr., use their full name in your salutation. For example, Dear Taylor Johnson, or Dear Alex Smith.

What title should you use?

If you choose to use a title like Ms. or Mr., think carefully about what title to use. For example, if the person holds a Ph.D., you may want to use Doctor (Dr.) Depending on their profession, other titles may include Professor (Prof.), Sergeant (Sgt.), or Reverend (Rev.).

Bringing it all together

Before submitting your cover letter, triple check that you spelled the name correctly. Even though it’s a small typo, it’s the kind of error that can prevent you from getting the interview.

Don’t be the person shouting “Hey you!” Instead, take time to figure out who the correct contact person is for your cover letter. Use the tools and resources at your disposal.

Do your research, include the hiring manager’s name, and differentiate yourself from the competition.