How to Address a Cover Letter for Internships

Updated: September 21, 2020

By Laura Riley

Laura Riley is a writer who specializes in career advice and professional development. She has a master’s degree in student affairs and higher Education from Miami University.

I’m sure you’ve seen this play out:

To get someone’s attention, a person shouts, “Hey, you!” The other person responds, “Me?” as he points to himself.

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, her, or their name.

In this article, I will explain how to properly address a cover letter. 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. Furthermore, a personalized salutation can set you apart from the 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, including your full name, contact information (your email address and phone number will suffice; you can also the URL for your LinkedIn profile or an online portfolio, as well as your city and state if you’re applying locally). Below this, write the date you’re applying and the company’s mailing address.

Next, you need a greeting—a more formal way to say, “Hello!” This isn’t the place to be cute or creative. Refrain from saying “Heya!” 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.” After the name, use a comma or colon.

Like this:

Dear Ms. Mary Johnson:

I am excited to apply for the open internship …

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 works for the company to which you’re applying, and is typically the one who requested to fill the position in the first place. Many times, it’s also the person you’ll report to if you’re hired.

Remember: Hiring managers and recruiters play a pivotal role in deciding who they want to interview. You want to act and communicate professionally when speaking or emailing with the contact person. 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.”

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

The first step in determining the hiring manager’s top-secret identity is to check out the company’s website and LinkedIn profile. If you’re applying for a marketing internship and there’s only one person who works in marketing, then you can make an educated guess about the hiring manager’s true identity.

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

2. Call human resources (or the front desk)

If option 1 fails, it’s onto option two: working up the courage to call human resources. Note that 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.

Yep, it’s a bit scary! But here’s all you need to say, “Hi, I’m preparing an application for your open internship position #12345. Would you happen to know the name of the hiring manager for this opening?”

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 do you address a cover letter to human resources if you can’t figure out the contact person’s name?

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

Let’s go over a few more details:

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 identity, there’s a simple solution. Instead of using Ms./Mr., use their full name in your salutation. For example, “Dear Taylor Johnson.”

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.). 

And one last piece of advice: before submitting your cover letter, triple-check that you spelled your contact’s name correctly. Even though it’s a small typo, it’s the kind of error that can prevent you from landing an interview.

Now, it’s time to bring it all together. Do your research, include the hiring manager’s name, and differentiate yourself from the competition.