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Recently I read this specific advice on writing a cover letter reiterated in different forms many times:

Address your cover letter directly to the hiring manager or recruiter.

Nothing says "I don't care about your company" like an opening of "To Whom It May Concern." That may have been OK before the advent of modern technology, but today it generally takes as little as a Google search or a phone call to figure out the name of the hiring manager. Addressing your letter to the correct person (and spelling their name correctly!) will automatically ingratiate you to the reader and show that you've spent some time researching the company and position.

But what if you turn Google inside out and could not find the name of the hiring manager? Should you respect the decision of the company not to disclose this information, or should you make a phone call?

My opinion is that you shouldn't. Doing so just interrupts somebody from his work and wastes his time all in order to artificially boost yourself to the front seat. Not to mention that if many candidates have the same attitude, it can be quite annoying.

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One way to look at this is that if the company (or the hiring manager) cared who the letters were addressed to, then the job ad would say who to apply to. Another way to look at it is that this is a fiendishly clever means to manipulate people who don't know that they like people to dig up the right name, but in point of fact are biassed in their favour. I'm not sure either way of looking at it can easily be tested objectively ;-) –  Steve Jessop Jun 30 at 0:57

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You shouldn't believe everything you read - I don't even bother to put a greeting in my cover letters.

One more time:

Ingratiating yourself might work if you were looking for a position as a valet to King Louis XIV of France or Catherine, Empress of All Russias. With hiring managers who must justify the reasoning behind their hires to their own managers, their department and their firm, not so much.

Hiring does involve a significant outlay of resources on the part of the firm, and I doubt that any ingratiating on anyone's part is going to cause the hiring manager to forget that they are hiring based on business needs.

Better to focus the cover letter on the reasons why hiring you is a good idea, because that's what hiring managers are looking for. Give them what they're looking for, and don't waste your time and theirs on anything else.

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If you know the name of the hiring manager or recruiter, and know for a fact that they will be the first person to see your cover letter, sure - go ahead and use it (ie, jobs you find posted on LinkedIn often include the name of the HR-person or recruiter in charge of at least the initial screening.)

Often, though, especially in big companies, the hiring manager will not be the first and possibly not even the second person to see your resume+cover letter. I usually use a simple "Hello" or "Good day" to open, and then get straight down to the body of the letter.

If you don't know the name of the hiring manager or recruiter, don't drive yourself nuts trying to find it.

The only exception I might make would be for smaller companies that have a culture of knowing everyone's name, or microbusinesses. Otherwise, you're putting in a lot of effort on something that isn't the most critical piece of the puzzle.

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"the hiring manager will not be the first" -- rule of thumb when blagging: guessing anything right is better than not guessing at all, which is better than guessing wrong. But, rule of thumb when applying for a job: keep blagging to a minimum. –  Steve Jessop Jun 30 at 0:59

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