I'm trying to expand my client base these days and wonder whether my standard cover letter (and even possibly my resume?) is woefully dull or old-fashioned. It's been many years since I worked in-house and was on the receiving end of such letters, so I don't know what the current style is.
Whenever possible, I address a cover letter to the person in question ("Dear Joe Shmoe"). Sometimes an ad will provide the appropriate person's name, or a friend or former colleague has given me the name of someone to contact, or I can do a little research within a company to find out whom I need to contact. I've also been known to write "Dear Managing Editor" or the like if a job title is all the information I have.
But sometimes I answer a blind ad (often from Craigslist), and I have no contact person's name or job title or even company name. For instance, imagine a listing that says simply “Small publishing house specializing in regional cookbooks seeks experienced freelance copyeditor” with a generic email address like “firstname.lastname@example.org.” In those cases, I fall back on the old reliable, "To whom it may concern." A while back I asked the folks on Twitter how they would address such a cover letter. Specifically, I asked whether there was any preference between "To whom it may concern" and "Dear Sir or Madame"—or whether there was something else I hadn't thought of. No one felt too strongly about either one (or offered any better alternatives), but as I recall, slightly more people preferred "To whom it may concern."
A couple of days ago I was Googling and came across a guy who maintains that "To whom it may concern" is the kiss of death, but he doesn't address the issue of what to use instead in the case of a blind ad. He talks only about the importance of doing research to find a person's name when you are directing a cover letter to a particular department within a known company. I left a comment asking him what he would suggest for a blind ad response, but he hasn't replied (yet?).
What do you all think? Are you still seeing/using "To whom it may concern"? Would you automatically discard a letter addressed that way? Got any other tips for me?