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Every time I write a cover letter, I come up against the same problem, and I've never really figured out the right answer. So I figured I'd ask here.

Background: I'm writing a cover letter to send to an ESL teacher recruiting agency in Taiwan. The recruiter requires I send a cover letter with my application. The recruiting agency in turn sends the cover letter and resume to potential employers (mostly tiny after-school language academies).

Question 1: Should I address it to the recruiting agency or to potential employers?

Question 2: If it is addressed to potential employers, how should such a cover letter be addressed?

I keep reading that "To whom it may concern" is too formal (and besides, the English level of many potential employers isn't great, and that would be the sort of phrase that would throw someone off). I obviously can't use a name, because there isn't one. "Dear hiring manager" is a no-go because very few such academies even have hiring managers. Should I just say "Dear Employer"?

Edit: Note that I am not merely asking what to do when I can't find a contact, but rather when the letter is going to several different companies via a recruiter.

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  • Are you sure the agency isn't just going to put the body of your letter into a form/other document and address it to the necessary individuals? – user8365 Nov 29 '17 at 17:43
  • Questions having similar answers does not make them the same question. It isn't a duplicate. My question is about an issue involving a recruiter and a cover letter being sent to several different businesses. The other question is about not being able to figure out who within a specific business is responsible for hiring. Before I posted this, I read two dozen articles and forum posts on the internet answering the question "what if I can't figure out the hiring manager's name," and if that had been my question, I wouldn't have posted here. – Josh Adkisson Nov 30 '17 at 5:22
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Should I address it to the recruiting agency or to potential employers?

Normally, if one does not know whom to address, going for "To whom it may concern" could be the default way to go.

Another, less formal or impersonal way, of writing it could be "Dear Sir/Madam", or if you know beforehand its preferred gender denomination then you can select only that one.

However, to be completely sure what to do in this case I would suggest you also contact your recruiting agency and ask them if there is a specific way you should address your letter.

Chances are they change or customize your opening statement every time, before sending it to possible employers, so how you address them would be irrelevant in this case. If that is not true, then they can surely indicate you the proper way of addressing the letter as required.

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Business etiquette is completely different in Taiwan (or any foreign country) than it is in the US. Non-specific and incorrectly formatted paperwork will stand out.


To clarify for the OP (to whom it may concern): Non-specific means you didn't make the effort to determine whom would receive the letter and referred to them in a generic manner rather than their correct title and name (surnames are written before their name, which differs from how one is addressed in North America).

Further, incorrectly formatted refers both to the cover letter (which aligns with and promotes (highlights) particular strengths important for the position (such as "the OP has lived there before and is familiar with the customs") and the resume.

It's important to know one's manners and not have the cover letter brag about one's prowess but to instead put forth your accomplishments in a straightforward and modest manner.

Additionally, there is a photo of you dressed well and appropriately for the position placed upon the first page of your detailed three page resume.

This differs from the practice in North America where there is no photo on your single page resume which rather than spelling everything out in complete detail is short and to the point.

A one page resume invites questions and an interview, it also provides one with an excuse to call a week or two later to remind, express interest and ask if there were any questions.

The person answering the call clearly understands the purpose of your call or you'll be accepting another offer and forgetting about them; assuming they are on the ball otherwise it's a flag.

In North America you don't drag it out at length unless you're applying for a job where chattyness is encouraged. Much as here, verbose answers may not be appreciated but there's a few upvotes on a reply concerning if the question had been answered.

Hopefully this edit leaves no stone unturned. Now to simply neglect to reply in the question below that I've updated the answer and I'm on to the next opportunity (opportunity in North America being different from acceptance).


Try this search for example cover letters, resumes and advice: https://www.google.ca/search?q=Taiwan+cover+letter+etiquette .


Differences (short list):

  • Cover Letters for Interviews in Taiwan

Address the recipient by his or her title such as: Principal, Doctor, or President followed by the surname. Keep in mind that their surnames are written before their names. Mr. Lee Yang-Shu means that the surname is Lee. If you don't know the person's title, use a courtesy title such as Mr. Sir, or Madam. When you sign the letter, make sure that you write your full names.

Adhere to the Taiwan business etiquette when you are called for an interview. They use the interview not only to establish your ability to perform in a certain position, but also evaluate how well you will adapt to their culture.

It is important to research modern manners and business practices, don't rely on a single opinion or link to formulate a plan.

Research and even a few lessons will increase your chances and ease your integration.

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    Your answer seems to be answering different questions from the ones asked. – Dukeling Nov 29 '17 at 9:03
  • @Dukeling His question is only about a cover letter, I sought to make it complete about cover letter and resume (no point in leaving the impression that fixing one thing makes everything OK). – Rob Nov 29 '17 at 11:24
  • @scaaahu Which country does OP lead?, does news report answer or dispute? Better link would be better news. – Rob Nov 29 '17 at 11:25
  • @scaaahu Is this better: books.google.ca/… – Rob Nov 29 '17 at 12:06
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    @scaaahu I will remove it entirely rather than attempting to qualify or defend it. I have no interest in setting back the principles of equal treatment. It's much like in Western culture should a man hold open a door for a woman, pay for the meal, should the elderly go first, etc. I don't want to promote antiquated thinking. I only wanted to point out that there are cultural differences to be aware of when applying anywhere overseas so as not to be seen as a rude outsider. Thanks for your input. – Rob Nov 29 '17 at 13:18
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You should always respond directly to whoever has placed the add, either the agency or the company.

I have has similar problems in the past trying to decide the best way to address the cover letter.

If you are applying to a job that doesn't give you any information about who you are addressing then there are only 2 real choices.

1) Generic address, either 'Dear Sir/Madam' or 'To whom it may concern'

2) No address - just go straight into the content of your cover letter

I have always found option 1 just seems wrong so I just omit it entirely, I have always had a reasonably good response rate so it seems the the recruiters don't really care

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First of all, my background. I was born and raised in Taiwan. I went to the US to study when I was 24. I then worked there until I retired and came back to Taiwan in 2009.

To answer your questions

Should I address it to the recruiting agency or to potential employers?

I don't think it matters. The recruiting agency may just forward your cover letter to the potential employers without any modification. I think it's safe for you to assume the letter will be addressed to the potential employers.

If it is addressed to potential employers, how should such a cover letter be addressed?

My answer is "To whom it may concern".

It's never wrong because you don't know who will read the letter. Maybe the recruiting agency. Maybe a hiring manager. Maybe a gentleman. Maybe a lady. "To whom it may concern" is the best choice.

In your question, you noted

the English level of many potential employers isn't great,

This is probably an unsafe assumption. There are many Taiwanese who speak and write English very well. You won't be the only person who speaks English at your workplace.

Good Luck on your job hunting and hope to see you in Taiwan very soon.

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