View Full Version : Formal letter writing etiquette

04-11-2009, 01:43 AM
Hey all!

Having applied to countless jobs, you'd think I'd have this down, but today, I'm drafting a cover letter to a job I really want, and I have a question I'd like to ask of you all:

In the "to" field (for lack of a better term), would it be correct to use the term "et al."?

For example:

To [potential employer], et al.:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet ...


"Dear" or "To"? While I'm friendly with the dean of the department, I don't know if "dear" is the right term to use for this sort of communiqué.

Please advise? :)

04-11-2009, 02:34 AM
"Dear" is the standard English-language letter salutation, unless that person has a different form of address (a letter to a judge opens with "Your Honor:"). "Et al" is not appropriate. Usually the advice is to get the name of the hiring manager and address it to him/her, as in "Dear Ms. Katz:". It sounds like yours is going to an academic department, so you could conceivably use something like "Dear Dean Sanderson:". If it is a hiring committee, you could properly address it to the chair, "Dear Professor Reynolds:" or perhaps "Dear Committee Members:". In the unusual case where you are writing one letter to a small number of individuals, you could use "Dear Dr. Alvarez and Dr. Benjamin:". I would do this for at most three recipients before finding some suitable collective noun or running a mail merge.

04-11-2009, 02:41 AM
Are your potential employers ancient Romans? And even if they are, "lorem ipsum dolor sit amet" is really bad Latin. ;)

Seriously though, keep it in English.

04-11-2009, 02:42 AM
a letter to a judge opens with "Your Honor:"

I should note many sources do suggest "Dear Judge (last name):" I don't think either would raise any eyebrows.

04-11-2009, 01:47 PM
I couldn't have said it better than Kimmy_Gibbler. I will just add that if I absolutely cannot get a real name, I use "Ladies and Gentlemen." Never use anything like "to whom it may concern" for a job app. The phrase "et al" just means "and others" so doesn't really fit with this usage.

04-11-2009, 05:48 PM
I couldn't have said it better than Kimmy_Gibbler. I will just add that if I absolutely cannot get a real name, I use "Ladies and Gentlemen."

'Dear Sir or Madam' might be better.

04-13-2009, 01:40 PM

No, we will not read your book, even though it's taken years for you to write, we will not take a look.


Elendil's Heir
04-13-2009, 02:52 PM
I should note many sources do suggest "Dear Judge (last name):" I don't think either would raise any eyebrows.

Agreed. I've gotten letters starting both "Your Honor:" and "Dear Magistrate [lastname]:," and I don't favor one form or the other; I've never heard of a judge or magistrate who did. Most of the time I don't even notice the salutation. My eyes skip right over it to get to the meat of the letter.

04-13-2009, 03:56 PM
.....if I absolutely cannot get a real name, I use "Ladies and Gentlemen."...I had a job-hunting book that recommended "Dear Hiring Executive:"

04-13-2009, 09:45 PM
"To Whom It May Concern" ?

04-13-2009, 09:54 PM
Dear Sir or Madam is the correct term. Unless you are 100% sure of the person doing the hiring do not use a name. This is because even though John Doe may be the H/R manager he may not be the one opening the letter and reading it and making the inital scans. A lot of H/R managers use clerks to weed out the letters.

The introductory letter should not restate a resume, which is probably the biggest mistake. If you're 100% sure of the person reading the letter use Dear Mr John Doe, Human Resources Director (or whatever) otherwise use "Dear Sir or Madam:"

Opening letter should be one page and never overly complex. The idea is to give them the most pertinent information, but allowing whoever reads it to scan quickly and bring the most qualified people in to get the details

04-14-2009, 09:32 AM
"To Whom It May Concern" ?Sounds like a suicide note.

04-14-2009, 09:48 AM
Much obliged for all of your feedback :)

I've since removed "et al." from my salutation. I suppose I've just been writing too many bibliographies...

I noticed that many of you have suggested "Dear" as opposed to "to" since it's the standard. I still feel a little iffy about using that one, since it's usually reserved for those you hold dear (hence, right?). Hm.

04-14-2009, 12:12 PM
it's usually reserved for those you hold dear (hence, right?).


04-14-2009, 01:47 PM

Dear is usually used for informal, especially personal. 'To who it may concern' is too generic and void of any specific content.

I use 'To the Committe...or To the Judge...or you can use in the plural "To Messrs Bob Johnson, Bill Smith,etc.

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