A quick rant: We’re currently accepting applications for the Alliance’s spring 2010 internship (the deadline is Friday if you’re interested), and I’ve noted with bemusement and confusion a cover letter quirk that I’d seen sporadically before but that now seems to be in full bloom: the use of the full name in the salutation. As in:
“Dear Mark Overmann” or “Dear Mr. Mark Overmann”
I find this to be really weird. I understand the necessity of not presuming gender, especially with “less common” or “not gender obvious” names—you don’t want to run the risk of calling a Mr. a Ms., or vice versa (hence the “Dear Mark Overmann,” I presume—perhaps Mark isn’t an obviously male name? This could be true, especially for non-American and non-English-as-a-first-language applicants). But seriously, a simple look at my picture and bio, conveniently posted one click away on the Alliance website, shows that, indeed, I am a male, which seems to me permission to go ahead and use the common salutation of Mr. followed by the family name.
And what to make of “Mr. Mark Overmann”? This is the truly weird one to me. If you’ve already determined that I’m male, isn’t it completely stilted and strange to keep my first name in the salutation? Or did my mom and grade school teachers instruct me incorrectly on how to address a letter? Am I being culturally insensitive here? Am I wrong in forcing my American notions of format and protocol on all job seekers, especially if they aren’t American, even though we’re an U.S-based (albeit internationally-focused) organization? Perhaps I’m just being too stubborn and cranky and should take it easy on vulnerable job seekers who are only trying to be politically correct?
Regardless, I’ll admit my first reaction when I see these odd salutations in a cover letter tends to be: the applicant hasn’t done enough research on the position and the organization to know who it is they’re writing. And I don’t mean research on me here—my ego isn’t so big that I expect internship applicants to have my career details committed to memory before applying. But I do expect applicants to have a good idea (or at least to convince me that they have a good idea) of why they are applying for this particular internship versus the many others out there. I know that most applicants are applying for this internship among many others. That’s totally fine and to be expected. But what makes one application stand out from the others is when the applicant has taken the time (even just a bit of it) to tailor their application to our organization and to make us believe (no matter how true it is) that they really want to work not just anywhere that does international stuff, but here and with us.
And to me, the salutation is a small but somehow still important indication of whether an applicant has done this or not. If you haven’t even taken the time to understand at least a little bit to who it is you’re writing (and Google makes this, on average, pretty darn easy to figure out), what other details are you going to neglect or plain ignore?