To Whom It May Concern is a salutation for a letter or email, most commonly employed when the writer does not know the recipient’s name.
It is generally considered a professional way to begin a cover letter or an email for business correspondence. “To Whom It May Concern” simply means that you are addressing the following letter to the person in charge of the corresponding content.
However, it’s now considered an outdated form of beginning an email correspondence. This is because it was much more difficult to locate the name of the appropriate person in the past. But, nowadays, it’s quite easy to find the names of HR managers, hiring managers, etc. Moreover, if the corresponding person’s name is not found in the job offer letter, you may also locate it via the company’s website.
If you can identify the person you should be writing to, it may be more appropriate to do so and not come off as old-fashioned. Alternatively, it may also be acceptable to simply skip the salutation line or use “RE: Topic X”, when writing an email.
Although, if you are not sure exactly who you should address, it’s still considered professional to include “To Whom It May Concern”. In fact, 83% of hiring managers say the salutation line has little to no impact on their hiring decisions, according to the Resume Companion survey.
Note: The most common way to write this salutation is using capital letters for each word. This is because you treat the entire salutation as a proper noun as if it were the recipient’s name.
Following the name, you may use either comma (,) or a colon (:), as both are considered appropriate. Make sure also to include a full blank line between the salutation and the first sentence.
Why to Use “To Whom It May Concern” Salutation in Letters
Although there are alternatives, it still is sometimes appropriate to use this salutation in your correspondence.
Considering the following reasons for why you should use “To Whom It May Concern”:
To show respect
First and foremost, greeting a person by their name or title will show respect by recognizing their profession. This is often highly important in situations such as when you have to send a cover letter or in times of first contact with the business.
To show diligence and determination
Using this salutation may express a degree of diligence and determination on your part.
When applying for a job, you may not be able to find the name of the addressee. By using this professional salutation, you express that you are interested, regardless, and that you are determined to continue the process.
To show that you understand the diversity
As you do not personally know the people you are directly contacting, in most cases, you will not know the person’s preferred pronouns (he/she/they). Therefore, using this neutral salutation is a convenient way of respecting the recipient by not assuming their gender, ultimately showing that you understand the importance of word choice and diversity.
Pre-Considerations for Using “To Whom It May Concern”
Before using the “To Whom It May Concern” salutation, it is wise to take the following steps beforehand to avoid leaving a negative impression:
Review the job posting
The first and most obvious step is to carefully look over the job posting in the case of sending a job application and/or cover letter. Many employers will directly include the name of the recruiter or the corresponding hiring manager. This means that by including the appropriate name, you show that you’ve taken the time to review the job offer thoroughly.
In situations like this, using the “To Whom It May Concern” salutation may be considered sloppy and show that you don’t pay attention to details.
Check the company’s website
If the name is not listed on the job posting, it may be beneficial to look directly on the company’s website on the “Staff” or “Team” section. In this case, you may use the name of the manager of this specific department or the head of human resources.
Doing this may show initiative on your part and set you apart from other applicants. In other business correspondence, it also shows a higher level of professionalism.
Search a networking website
Oftentimes, a recruiter or hiring manager for any specific department may have a professional page on a networking website, such as LinkedIn. This is another effective way of locating the appropriate addressee.
Contact the company’s customer service
A great way to show that you are taking extra initiative is by calling the company’s customer service department. By directing calling this department, you can inquire about where you should direct your correspondence to.
When calling, simply ask if they can disclose the hiring manager’s name and explain to them the position you’re applying for and why you are requesting the information. In many larger companies, HR may be divided into several different sections. In this case, you may ask customer service about the specific divisions so that you can address the letter to them directly. This step is a great way to show you’ve taken extra steps to secure the job.
Ask another contact
Finally, if you have a colleague or a friend in the company, you can ask them if they can find out the appropriate addressee. In times like this, networking can be an effective tool.
When to Use “To Whom It May Concern” Salutation
In cases where you are unable to find the name of the recipient, it may be appropriate to use “To Whom It May Concern”.
The following contexts are situations where it may be professional to do so:
In a cover letter
In job applications, it’s possible that you do not know who will be reviewing your application process. Especially in larger companies, employers may prefer to use a generic email address.
They may request that applicants send in their cover letters to “email@example.com”.
As it is unclear who will be reviewing your application, “To Whom It May Concern” may be appropriate. Your cover letter may be read by a recruiter, HR, an HR manager, or even multiple people within the company.
In this case, it’s better to be neutral than to guess the recipient’s name incorrectly. Remember, it’s always important to make a great first impression.
In a recommendation letter
In the case of a former colleague asking you for a recommendation letter, it’s possible that neither of you knows the potential recipient. Oftentimes, you may even be requested to submit the letter directly through a system that doesn’t disclose any names or titles. Therefore, it may be appropriate to use “To Whom It May Concern” in these contexts. Another alternative you may consider is to use “To the Reader”, which may come off as more direct.
A letter of introduction
In letters of introduction, often, you may need a generic greeting. This is particularly common in automated messaging systems from potential customers. By using this neutral salutation, then asking for their name afterward, you’ll be able to develop a connection with them for future correspondence.
In contexts where you work for a sales team or in business development, you might need to contact potential clients. Often, a company website doesn’t include the exact contact information of the manager or decision-makers, so a generic “To Whom It May Concern” may be appropriate.
For giving company feedback or suggestions
If you choose to give company feedback, the most appropriate decision is to address your letter to human resources. However, sometimes you may not be sure which person in the HR department is responsible for such content. This is especially true in large corporations.
Therefore, if you want your feedback to come across as professional, you can use “To Whom It May Concern”.
To lodge a formal complaint
Similarly, if you would like to formally register a complaint with a company or entity, you need to be as professional as possible. Using “To Whom It May Concern” expresses a degree of formality appropriate to the context, especially in cases where you do not know who the recipient will be.
In a letter of interest
If you are attempting to find out more information about a specific job position or inquire about potential job opportunities, it is often appropriate to use “To Whom It May Concern”. As you are simply requesting information, you may not know who to address specifically. By using this generic salutation, you guarantee that your letter still comes off as professional.
When Not to Use “To Whom It May Concern” Salutation
There are a few contexts where there are better options than using “To Whom It May Concern”.
In addition to the situations previously mentioned, here are a couple of contexts where it’s better to avoid this salutation:
When writing letters on your own behalf
When you’re writing a recommendation letter for a friend or other types of letters for them, it’s acceptable to use “To Whom It May Concern” because you most likely don’t know the recipient. However, in cases where you have more control over the letter, it’s more appropriate to be more specific. By doing this, you’ll come off as more friendly and less old-fashioned.
When you have the recipient’s information
If you have information about the recipient, it’s almost always more appropriate to use a greeting with a degree of specificity. This is because many hiring managers or department heads may interpret the “To Whom It May Concern” greeting as admitting that you don’t know who you are writing to. For this reason, it may come off as unprofessional.
In many cases, it’s better to reference the entity you’re addressing, such as “Dear Human Resources Department”. As it is much easier to access information in today’s digital age, the generic “To Whom It May Concern” is slowly becoming synonymous with a lack of initiative.
Alternatives to “To Whom It May Concern” Salutation
Now that it’s understood that “To Whom It May Concern” is not always the preferred manner of salutation.
Here are a few examples that you can use instead of it:
Dear [first name]” or “dear [mr./mrs./ms./dr./professor] [last name]
Firstly, be careful of your use of pronouns. If you know the recipient’s name but have an androgynous name, or you are not confident about the person’s gender, it’s best not to make a guess.
If you do not know “Sam Smith” personally, there’s no guarantee that they identify as he/him or she/her.
In cases of less formality, it’s perfectly acceptable to use the recipient’s first name, “Dear Sam,”. However, if you need to maintain a high level of formality, then you could write “Dear HR Manager Smith”. While it certainly comes off as very formal, it also demonstrates a level of respect for their profession.
In the end, using “To Whom It May Concern” isn’t going to be a make-or-break situation. However, taking the initiative to make a personal statement will certainly be a positive impression.
Dear [job title]
For cover letters or letters of interest, writing the recipient’s potential job title is an appropriate alternative.
You could simply write “Dear Hiring Manager”.
Take a few moments to identify what their specific role is and use that as the salutation.
Dear [team or department]
In larger companies, they likely have an entire team or department rather than one single contact to address. In these cases, it’s a good idea to use “Dear Human Resources Department” or “Dear Customer Service Department”.
This can be used in several types of correspondence and is also a great way to maintain professionalism.
“Greetings,” “hello” or “hi there”
As you don’t always need to write highly formal correspondence, you can simply use a more generic greeting. This is great for office memos or other internal correspondence.
You can also use alternatives such as “Good morning” when you’ve already spoken to the recipient, and you feel that a certain degree of informality may be appropriate.
The centuries-old “To Whom It May Concern” is slowly disappearing in today’s modern digital age. This generic salutation originated from the fact that you may not know your addressee. However, since the information age allows us to search for contact information incredibly easily, it’s typically more appropriate to be more specific.
Using more specific alternatives shows a level of initiative that may set you apart while remaining professional. However, there are still certain cases where “To Whom It May Concern” is appropriate and acceptable. After all, many hiring managers have stated that, in the end, using a generic salutation doesn’t make much of an impact. So, don’t stress too much about it, but it’s certainly beneficial to take an extra step if you’re able to personalize your correspondence.