When and How to Use "To Whom It May Concern"

Image shows a woman sitting on a stack of books in front of a desk, beside her is a plant and a garbage bin. Text reads: "Steps to take before using 'to whom it may concern' on a cover letter: Look on the company website, perform a linkedin search, ask a friend or colleague, check job listing for hiring manager or employer name, call the office and explain that you are applying for a job and would like to know the name of the hiring manager"

Miguel Co / The Balance

“To Whom It May Concern” is a letter salutation that has traditionally been used in business correspondence when you don’t have a specific person to whom you are writing, or you do not know the name of the person to whom you are writing.

Of course, you should make every effort to find a contact name to use on your letter or inquiry, but sometimes that’s just not possible. 

In such instances, it's an option to use “To Whom It May Concern.” That said, this salutation is a bit old-fashioned and stiff. Find out more about other alternatives, and when it's appropriate to start your letter with this greeting. 

Options for Starting a Letter

"To Whom It May Concern" is an outdated, though still sometimes used, letter greeting. Nowadays, there are other, better options for starting a letter. 

One simple approach is to not include any salutation. In that case, simply begin your email or letter with the first paragraph or with “Re: Topic You’re Writing About,” followed by the rest of the letter or message.

When other options don't work for your correspondence, it's acceptable to start a letter with "To Whom It May Concern."

If you do choose to use it when you're applying for jobs, it shouldn't impact your application. A Resume Companion survey reports that 83% of hiring managers said that seeing it would have little or no impact on their hiring decisions.

When to Use “To Whom It May Concern”

Here is when and how to use “To Whom It May Concern,” as well as examples of alternative salutations to use when writing letters.

Look for a Contact Person

Ideally, you will try to ascertain the name of the specific person to whom you are writing. For example, if you are writing a cover letter for a job application and do not know the name of the employer or hiring manager, do your best to find out.

If you’re writing a business letter, it will more likely be read if you address it to a specific person at the company. You’ll also have a person to follow up with if you don’t get a response from your first inquiry. Taking a few minutes to try to locate a contact is worth the time. 

Check the Job Listing

There are several ways to discover the name of the person you are contacting. If you are applying for a job, the name of the employer or hiring manager may be on the job listing. However, that is not always the case.

Many employers don’t list a contact person because they may not want direct inquiries from job seekers.

Check the Company Website

You can look on the company website for the name of the person in the position you are trying to contact (you can often find this in the “About Us,” “Staff,” or “Contact Us” sections). If you cannot find the name on the website, try to find the right person on LinkedIn, or ask a friend or colleague if he or she knows the person’s name.

Ask the Employer

Another option is to call the office and ask the administrative assistant for advice. For example, you might explain that you are applying for a job and would like to know the name of the hiring manager.

If you take all of these steps and still do not know the name of the person you are contacting, you can use “To Whom It May Concern” or an alternative generic greeting.

How to Use “To Whom It May Concern”

When should you use the term? It can be used at the beginning of a letter, email, or other forms of communication when you are unsure of who will be reading it.

This might happen at many points in your job search. For example, you might be sending a cover letter, letter of recommendation, or other job search materials to someone whose name you do not know.

It is also appropriate to use “To Whom It May Concern” when you are making an inquiry (also known as a prospecting letter or letter of interest), but don’t have details of a contact person.

Capitalization and Spacing

When addressing a letter “To Whom It May Concern,” the entire phrase is typically capitalized, followed by a colon:

To Whom It May Concern:

Leave a space after it, then start the first paragraph of the letter.

Alternative Greetings to Use

“To Whom It May Concern” is considered outdated, especially when writing cover letters for jobs. “Dear Sir or Madam” is another salutation commonly used in the past, but it may also come across as old-fashioned.

There are better alternatives you can use for letter salutations when you are writing letters to apply for jobs or for other communications when you don’t have a named person to write to.

Here are some options:

  • Greetings
  • Hello
  • Dear Hiring Committee
  • Dear Hiring Manager
  • Dear Hiring Team
  • Dear HR Manager
  • Dear Human Resources Representative
  • Dear Human Resources Team
  • Dear [Department] Name
  • Dear [Department] Manager
  • Dear [Department] Team
  • Dear Personnel Manager
  • Dear Search Committee
  • Dear Recruiter
  • Dear Recruiting Manager
  • Dear Recruiting Team
  • Dear Talent Acquisition Team
  • Dear Customer Service Manager
  • Re: (Topic of Letter)

You can also write a greeting that is still general but focuses on the group of people you are reaching out to. For example, if you are contacting people in your network for help with your job search, you might use the greeting, “Dear Friends and Family.”

When to Leave Off the Salutation

Another option for starting your letter is to leave off the salutation entirely. If you decide not to include a greeting, begin with the first paragraph of your letter or email message.

Key Takeaways

  •  Before you use “To Whom It May Concern,” consider alternative letter greetings, such as "Greetings" or "Dear Hiring Manager."
  •  Do your best to find a contact person—doing so increases the likelihood that your letter or email will be read and acknowledged. 
  • The entire phrase is capitalized and followed by a colon.

Article Sources