Career Development

When to Use the Phrase "To Whom It May Concern"

August 25, 2020

Whether you're writing an email or preparing a physical letter, it's important to begin every business correspondence with an appropriate greeting. A common salutation used in many professional situations is “To Whom It May Concern.” Knowing when to use "To Who It May Concern" instead of another salutation can help set the tone for the rest of your correspondence.

In this article, we explain why people use this greeting and when to use it.

Why do people use the greeting “To Whom It May Concern”?

Traditionally, the phrase “To Whom It May Concern” is used in business correspondence when you don't know the recipient's name or you're not writing to one specific person. For example, if you're writing a cover letter as part of a job application and it's not clear from the job posting who will be reviewing your application, you may choose to start your letter with “To Whom It May Concern.”

“To Whom It May Concern” isn't a typical greeting used in modern professional letters. This greeting was developed before the existence of the internet when it was more difficult to identify people's job roles by researching companies, online public directories or professional organizations. Today, it's much easier to find the names of HR managers, department heads and other decision-makers you may be attempting to reach.

However, you should only include a person's name if you're absolutely certain they'll be the one receiving your email or letter. Addressing your message to the wrong person could create confusion or look unprofessional. In those circumstances, it may be better to use the phrase, “To Whom It May Concern.”

Using “To Whom It May Concern”

Here are five situations in which it's appropriate to use this salutation:

  • Cover letter
  • Contact referral or recommendation letter
  • Introduction to a new or prospective client
  • Prospecting letter
  • Company feedback or suggestions

Cover letter

When you're applying for a job, you may not know who will be reviewing your resume, cover letter or application. Often, employers use a generic email alias for applications, such as “recruiting@companyname.com” or “HR@companyname.com.” In this case, it's unclear whether a recruiter, HR leader, hiring manager or multiple professionals will review your application. Because it's essential you make a positive first impression, it's best to use a generic salutation, like "To Whom It May Concern" to avoid confusion.

Contact referral or recommendation letter

If a former colleague asks you to write a letter of recommendation or act as a referral for a job opportunity, there's a good chance they may not know who will be receiving the message. In some cases, you may also be required to submit your letter through an automated system that doesn't provide any names or titles. Using "To Whom It May Concern" is a simple way to start a reference letter.

Introduction to a new or prospective client

If you are responding to an automated message from a potential customer and it doesn't include their name, you'll need to use a more generic greeting. This is also an excellent opportunity to ask their name and title so you can be prepared to address them directly in future communications.

Prospecting letter

If you are in a sales or business development position, you may be responsible for contacting potential clients. Sometimes, company websites don't include the name and contact information of the decision-maker you're hoping to reach. In this case, you may need to start your letter with a generic salutation.

Company feedback or suggestions

If you want to share your feedback or suggestions with an employer, it's usually best to start by submitting your letter to HR. If you're not sure which person in the department is responsible for reviewing feedback, especially if it's a large organization, it's acceptable to use a generic greeting. This is especially helpful if multiple people or departments need to review your feedback.

Should you capitalize the phrase “To Whom It May Concern”?

The most common method is to use capital letters for the first letter of every word, like: “To Whom It May Concern.”

Think about this phrase as a replacement for someone's name. You would capitalize each first letter in a person's name because it is a proper noun. You can use a comma or a colon after the greeting. Insert a space between your greeting line and the first sentence of your letter.

For example: To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Joseph Hubbard, I am writing about your Lab Assistant position…”

“To Whom It May Concern” alternatives

In many cases, you can use a personal greeting to address your recipient, which will set a positive tone for the rest of your letter or email. Here are a few alternatives you may want to consider using before starting a business email or letter with “To Whom It May Concern”:

  • “Dear [First Name]” or “Dear [Title and Surname]
  • “Dear [Job Title]
  • “Dear [Team or Department]
  • “Greetings,” “Hello” or “Hi there”
  • No Salutation

“Dear [First Name]” or “Dear [Title and Surname]

If you know your recipient's name, you should use that instead of a more generic greeting. If you're contacting someone for the first time, you may want to address them by title and surname. For example, “Dear Dr. Lee.”

If you have an established relationship with the recipient, you can use just their first name. For example, “Dear Mark.”

“Dear [Job Title]

If you're not sure of the recipient's name, but you know their job title or role, you can use that instead. For example, “Dear HR Director.” This is a common way to address cover letters.

“Dear [Team or Department]

If you're addressing multiple people within a department or you're not sure which member of a team is the primary point of contact, you may choose to include the department name. For example, “Dear Customer Service Department.” You can also use "Dear HR Department," or "Dear HR Team" if you're sending in an application.

“Greetings,” “Hello” or “Hi there”

If you're sending a less formal correspondence, such an office memo or meeting announcement, you may choose to use a more casual generic salutation. If applicable, you may also couple this with a team or department name. For example, “Greetings, Marketing Team.”

No Salutation

If you don't feel comfortable using “To Whom It May Concern,” or other alternative greetings, you can leave off the salutation. If you choose this option, start your message with the first paragraph instead.

Tips for finding a contact name

While “To Whom It May Concern” is an acceptable professional greeting, it's always better to personalize your correspondences with a recipient's name if you can find it. Here are some straightforward methods for locating someone's name and professional title for your business correspondence:

  • Check the job posting
  • Use the company website
  • Ask another contact
  • Call the company
  • Use social media

Check the job posting

If you're sending an email as part of a job application process, be sure to carefully review the job posting for a contact name. Sometimes employers include the name of the recruiter or hiring manager responsible for reviewing applications within their posting.

Use the company website

Many employers include a “Team” or “About Us” page that lists each employee along with their job title and contact information. Before you send a message with a generic greeting, take a few moments to check the company website. This shows an employer you're detail-oriented.

Ask another contact

If you have a connection within the company, such as a former colleague or a recruiter you've been working with, be sure to ask them for the recipient's name and title.

Call the company

If you cannot locate someone's name after looking at the job posting or checking the company website, another option is to call the company and ask for their contact information. If you decide to call the business, be sure to announce who you are and why you're asking for this information. For example, “Hello, my name is Jason Lopez, and I'm applying for a position with your company's sales department. Would you mind providing me the name and title of the hiring manager so I can address them appropriately?”

Use Social Media

If you can't find the appropriate contact on the company website, try searching professional networking platforms instead. Many employees post their job titles and roles on professional websites as a way to network with other businesspeople.

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