© Startup Stock Photos / Pexels
Titles are hard to navigate when communicating with an adult woman, especially in a professional setting where your first impression matters. Ms. Mrs. Miss?
What’s the difference? They’re each an abbreviation or an English honorific in the English language used to address women, and they refer to the marital status of those women — whether they're married or unmarried.
Whether you're writing a cover letter, submitting your resume or addressing someone you haven’t been introduced to yet within your company, using the right honorific is important in helping you land that job or make that worthwhile connection. Here’s your go-to guide for which one to use.
There’s a long and ever more antiquated list of rules about when to use Miss, Mrs. or Ms. in America. You can see the famous etiquette expert Emily Post’s rules here. However, for your business letters, or more likely, emails, she is very clear that “Ms.” should be the default, unless you are absolutely without a doubt positive that the woman you’re addressing has a different preference.
Basically, Miss should be used solely when referring to an unmarried woman, while Mrs. is the correct title for a married woman who has taken their partner’s last name. Meanwhile, Ms. does not depend on marital status and can be used for all women.
Ms. implies only that you’re addressing an adult woman, without commenting on whether she's single, married or otherwise. It’s often used when talking to a young unmarried woman or a young girl, and it doesn't always indicate marital status in case the woman is unmarried or divorced.
Meanwhile, you'd use Mrs. if you know that she's married.
The takeaway is that if you’re going to use an honorific, use the English honorific “Ms.”
However, honorifics are becoming less and less common, even in professional situations. If you’re writing a formal business letter, you’ll want to use “Ms.” If you’re writing a cover letter, it’s important to get a sense of the culture of the organization, to decide whether or not to use an honorific when addressing the hiring manager. Companies often have a mission and culture statement on their website, which will help you get a sense of how formal you should be. You should also keep in mind that if you’re applying for jobs at established institutions or in the government sector, there may be a higher level of formality expected.
It’s important to research the person you’re writing to, as well, in case their title should be Dr. or Professor, in which case you would always use that rather than “Ms.” Make sure you check their status.
Mr. should be used when addressing men, both married and unmarried. You should use Mr. before his surname or full name. Mr. is an abbreviation for mister.
Mrs. should be used before the surname or full name of a married woman only, and only a married woman who explicitly uses Mrs. instead of Ms. Some married women still prefer Ms., especially when they still use their maiden name.
Use Ms. before a surname or full name of a woman whether she is married or not. It's a portmanteau of the words Miss and Missus.
Miss is a title used before the surname or full name of an unmarried woman.
As correspondence becomes more email-based, it’s less common to need to write formal business letters. Most aspects of job hunting, from cover letters to offer letters, are done by email now. In many cases, it can seem odd to address someone with an honorific.
A good rule of thumb while job hunting, is to err on the side of formality in the cover letter, but follow the hiring manager’s lead for any additional correspondence. If you receive an email from a hiring manager or recruiter to set up an interview, and they write “Dear Jane,” it might be seen as odd to respond back “Dear Ms. Doe.”
Allison Green, who writes Ask a Manager blog, weighed in on this issue in one of her posts. She says if a hiring manager has made it plain that first names are appropriate without the surname, you might seem “out of touch” responding differently. She adds, “You are not a child talking to a grown-up. You’re both adults. It’s okay to use first names.” She even makes the case for skipping honorifics altogether but says if you’re not comfortable getting on a first-name basis straightaway, to at least make sure you’re “mirroring” the hiring manager’s level of formality with regards to Ms Mrs Miss.
If you’ve been working with a recruiter, and are concerned about how to address higher-ups in the company, it’s a great idea to just ask about what’s normal for that business. It’s also a great way to open up a conversation and learn more about the work environment.
Most importantly, pay attention to how the person you’re corresponding with writes, and take your cues from there. The bottom line is that however you address someone, make sure to be respectful and thoughtful. Again, you can always ask how they prefer to be addressed.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Ana Cottle studied Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley. She has lived and worked in Uruguay and Argentina and speaks both Spanish and Yiddish. She is passionate about issues facing women and has written for a number of publications, including books, newspapers, and online journals. Read more from Ana at medium.com/@AnaCottle/.
© 2022 Fairygodboss