“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, you could use “To Whom It May Concern.”
Options for Starting a Letter
"To Whom It May Concern" is an outdated, though still sometimes used, letter greeting, and there are now better options for starting a letter. Alternatively, the message can be written without a 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.
How to Avoid Using “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.
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.
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.
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.
When 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.
Capitalization and Spacing
When addressing a letter “To Whom It May Concern,” the entire phrase is typically capitalized, then followed by a colon:
To Whom It May Concern:
Leave a space after it, then start the first paragraph of the letter.
Options for What to Use Instead
“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.
Here are some options:
- 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.”
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.
Consider Other Options. Before you use “To Whom It May Concern,” look at alternative letter greetings you can use.
Find a Contact Person. If you can find a contact person, your letter or email will more likely be read and acknowledged.
Be Careful About Capitalization. The entire phrase is capitalized and followed by a colon.