I have been corresponding with several potential employers, but I'm not sure about the appropriate way to address the representative. How should I determine how to address them ("John", "Mr. Smith", "Mr. John Smith", "John Smith", etc.) I've never met these people and do not know what is typical in the company they work for.

I have received several e-mails addressing me by my first name and often with a greeting (e.g. "Hi [Firstname]") rather than by referring to me by my last name (e.g. "Mr. [Lastname]"). Should I follow their lead, or should I err on the conservative side the first time I address them to test the waters? What are some ways to evaluate the proper title to use?

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    Chances are it received a downvote because it is a bit broad. Each culture/workplace has very different standards of 'acceptable'. The answer to this will be very different if you're working as a welder in a Korean oil refinery vs. a Manhattan law firm vs. a resort in Bali. It will be very different if the employer is a 60 year-old Japanese man than if it is a 14 year-old prodigy. In other words, how the heck can we answer as it currently is?
    – jmac
    Aug 20, 2013 at 7:26
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    @jmac, I'm confused about why answers to my question would be opinion based when I'm specifically asking for authoritative sources on workplace etiquette (which I expect would be an etiquette guide or a similar authority). Also, this question on how to address your boss over e-mail seems just like this question, but it wasn't marked as opinion based and I'm not seeing what is different about this one. Aug 20, 2013 at 7:35
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    I edited the title because when I read it I thought you were facing a situation where titles were called for but you didn't know the gender of your correspondent. There's no mention of that in the question, which seems to be "titles or not?" as opposed to "which title?" Aug 20, 2013 at 12:51
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    @ramhound your guidance is stated more confidently than it should be. The world is a big place and what is proper in one place may not be in another. That's the problem with this question, and answering it isn't possible without context Aug 20, 2013 at 14:25
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    Someone has tagged this question united-states, but one should be aware that it's offensive to call someone who you aren't familiar with by their first name in some Asian countries. I'm sure about India, Thailand, and Mainland China. This may apply other countries from the region as well. Aug 20, 2013 at 16:10

4 Answers 4


Should I follow their lead, or should I err on the conservative side the first time I address them to test the waters?

In the U.S. it almost never hurts to err on the conservative side when dealing with written conversation and a prospective employer.

I am sometimes taken aback when someone who I don't know and have never spoken with addresses me as "Joe". (Perhaps I'd rather be called "Joseph", perhaps in my company everyone uses full names in emails, etc)

Thus, until you are comfortably on a first-name basis with someone, address them as "Mr. [Lastname]" or "Ms. [Lastname]" in your emails.

After you have talked with them on the phone, or met them in person, you'll get a better idea as to how casual their culture is. At that time, you may feel more free to address them by their first name.

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    Sometimes the gender of a person being contacted electronically is not initially clear. Many people have gender-neutral first names and no indication of their gender in their e-mail signature. What should one do in this case?
    – KOVIKO
    Sep 16, 2013 at 13:49
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    @Koviko Whatever you do, don't write "Hello [Lastname]"! I'd bet you a lot that almost all emails starting thusly are just canned meat. Oct 12, 2016 at 12:44

I have found that this works best in communication with prospective future employers : In the beginning of your communications, always address the 'To' person as Mr/Ms(Mz) Last name. Even though the other party may address you with your first name.
Once you have made some progress with your aplithe prospective firm and you know the other person for a while (as opposed to talking to a team of HRs) and the other other person is addressing you by your first name, then you can address the other person with his first name Ex. Hi John.

Due to the conditions Mr.Fox talks about, over the years I have found that opening a mail just saying a simple 'Hello' to be the best way.

  • Although I liked Joe's answer better, I've upvoted this one because using "Hello" when you're concerned about choosing the wrong one is definitely good advice, although it is certainly less personal. Aug 20, 2013 at 16:28

When you answer - follow their lead. Hi John, Hi Jane, Hello Mr. Smith, Hello Ms. Doe. When you write first - I'd say Mr./Ms. FirstName LastName would be safest. Especially when you write to foreigners and have no idea which part is their last name and which is a family-country-specific name. A friend of mine is responsible of creating email addresses for new employees with the standard jsmith routine. The ways of politely asking "Which word is your last name?"... I once referred to an Indian coworker as "Currently not in the office", because I heard he had a strange [for us] name and this is what I found in his status. So yeah, better go safe.


Yes, start emails on the first-name basis.

If you work with people from all around the world it is very hard to adhere to the proper etiquette because you might not know where exactly the person is located or what the proper form may be. So in my humble experience, it seems that the standard that is emerging is to call people by first names. This is what I have experienced working within MNCs and in companies that use outsourcing. As per Mr. Strazzere's answer - if there are multiple name variants, use the one listed in outlook/corporate directory.

Why not use Mr/Ms/Mrs?

Some believe that women being addressed differently (Ms vs Mrs) is sexist read here (example of it turning to law here).

Even if the lady you're dealing with doesn't hold that viewpoint, do you really want to guess whether she is a Ms or a Mrs? Some people will get offended when you guess wrong.

What if you're dealing with a trans-gendered individual? Do you really want to go there?

Finally, at least with some people, it may be hard to guess the gender of the person from their name alone. Their names may be from different countries/cultures that are unfamiliar to you, and making that mistake will not look good.

In today's brave new world, the safest and simplest thing to do is use the first name.

  • I imagine that I'm far more likely to offend someone by addressing them by their first name when they don't feel it is appropriate than by using Mr or Ms when the person takes offense to the fairly neutral "Ms" or is transgender. No downvote, but I figured I'd explain why I don't think it's the right answer. Aug 20, 2013 at 16:21
  • @Thunderforge Downvotes are a perfectly valid way to disagree with an answer on this website.
    – MrFox
    Aug 20, 2013 at 17:33
  • I always figured that downvotes were for answers that were wrong. Yours isn't really wrong, it's just that the situation is less likely to come up than others. At any rate, it's my choice whether or not I want to downvote and I choose not to. Aug 21, 2013 at 4:03
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    How do you know which is their first name? I know a person named Ha Kwang Hui - how would you address him? Also - Ms. is neutral. The difference is between Mrs. and Miss.
    – Karolina
    Oct 14, 2015 at 12:12
  • @Karolina I don't think Ha Kwang Hui is a very good example because I can't tell if they're a Mr. or a Ms. anyway. Is there a problem with just using their full name in this case? Oct 14, 2015 at 17:19

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