Your cover letter is arguably more important than your resume. All of the qualifications in the world don't mean a thing if the hiring manager doesn't think you're going to be a good fit for the company. If you want to get called in for an interview, you need to make sure that your cover letter stands out from the rest, and that starts from the very first word.
If you're applying blindly to an ad from a job recruiting website, it can be difficult to determine who to address the cover letter to. After all, calling someone "Human Resources" lacks creativity, to say the least. "Dear hiring manager" can be used as a last resort, but that's still a generic title that is probably seen countless times throughout the day. The best possible way to get your foot in the door right from the beginning is to address the cover letter to the specific person reading it.
Of course, that is often easier said than done. Most job ads don't include the name of the human resources person in charge of hiring. However, a little detective work can give you a serious advantage over other applicants. In the age of the Internet, a quick search can reveal a great deal of helpful information.
The best place to get started is at LinkedIn. Most professionals these days use LinkedIn as a networking tool, and you may be surprised by how easy it is to locate the person who will be reading your cover letter. Search for the name of the company, and browse through until you find someone who is in charge of hiring. Even if your cover letter doesn't go directly to that person, whoever receives it will be impressed that you made the effort. In fact, the receiver may even assume that you know the hiring manager or have at least spoken to her in the past, which means you may be given priority over other applicants.
As an added bonus, many LinkedIn profiles have information about the hiring manager, such as previously held positions, interests and so on. This gives you the opportunity to tailor your cover letter to appeal more directly to that person. Of course, that doesn't mean you should invent a new hobby or anything of that nature, but you can highlight your skills that relate to her interests. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way when it comes to competitive hiring.
If you're not able to locate the hiring manager on LinkedIn or any other social media accounts, consider calling the company and asking to speak to the person in charge of hiring. Ask for her name and write it down. Personalizing your cover letter is always the fast track to a call back. After all, nobody has "To Whom It May Concern" engraved on her name plate.
Photo courtesy of SOMMAI at FreeDigitalPhotos.net