How To Use “To Whom It May Concern” (With Examples)

By Melissa Martinez - Apr. 27, 2021

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When writing a letter or an email, people tend to start by greeting the recipient. Your greeting will set the tone for the entire message and determine whether it is informal, formal, or neutral.

Suppose you are thinking about reaching out to a hiring manager at a major company. In that case, you will always want to keep things as professional as possible and use a proper greeting. “To Whom It May Concern” is one of the most traditional ways of addressing someone you might not know, but it is also archaic.

Ever since the turn of the century, today’s technological advances have made it easier for people to access information about one another. This makes it even more convenient for people to know who they will be addressing when writing a letter or an email.

Taking the time and searching for the name of the person you are trying to contact can go a long way in the hiring process. It shows initiative and demonstrates that you are willing to put in some work and go the extra mile.

Here you will learn the meaning behind the phrase “To Whom It May Concern,” when you should use it and when you should avoid it, and some alternatives you can use in its place.

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What Does the Phrase “To Whom It May Concern” Mean?

The phrase “To Whom It May Concern” is typically used at the beginning of a letter or email as a salutation. It is generally used to speak to someone whose name you do not know but would like to address in the message.

As mentioned above, this is now considered outdated.

Back in the day, when a company posted a job, all you had access to was the company’s name and a brief description of the position you were applying to at the company.

It was highly uncommon for them to list the hiring manager’s name. There was no easy way for you to gain access to this information — therefore, people would address the letters to whomever the letters concerned, hence the phrase.

Now, however, having information about any company is as simple as clicking a button. Most businesses or corporations have an entire section dedicated to their staff. Here you will be able to find the information you need.

Though using the phrase may be considered standard practice, some hiring managers might view it as laziness on behalf of the applicant.

However, there are certain instances where it is considered entirely appropriate to use this phrase.

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When to Use “To Whom It May Concern”

Here are some example of when it is appropriate to use “To Whom It May Concern:”

  1. To lodge a formal complaint. There are moments in life where you might feel as though you are not satisfied with a situation. Voicing a concern in a formal letter is an excellent way for you to do it. However, you might not know who you will need to address.

  2. A letter of recommendation. Sometimes, a friend or coworker might need to list someone who knows them well as a reference, but they might be unsure who you will need to write the letter to.

    Or, they’ll be applying to several different companies and they need a generic greeting that works for everyone.

  3. A letter of introduction. In times where you need to introduce yourself or another individual to a large group via email, “To Whom It May Concern” can be an option to address a general audience.

  4. A letter of interest. When you’re trying to find out about potential job positions that aren’t publically listed, you can send a letter of interest to sell yourself. However, you may not have a specific recipient in mind. Using “To Whom It May Concern” can be useful in these situations, but we still recommend using one of its alternatives instead.

  5. A prospecting letter. People who work in sales and business development need to reach out to potential clients. Some companies are wary about giving away too many personal details to an outside salesperson.

    In those cases, using a generic salutation like “To Whom It May Concern” may be appropriate — but it’s not exactly the most appealing first line of a sales pitch.

Example Use of the Phrase “To Whom It May Concern”

When using “To Whom It May Concern,” capitalize every word in the phrase. Then, follow it with a colon and double-space before you begin typing the body of your text.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing this letter to bring to your attention who unsatisfied I am with your company’s customer service. On the morning of October 1, 2020, I made a call to your company’s customer service line and was treated rather rudely. It is appalling to me that a company with your standing would allow such unprofessionalism to take place.

I have been a faithful client to your store, and feel completely devastated by this behavior. I expect your full cooperation and hope this issue can be resolved.

Sincerely,

Jane Smith

When Not to Use “To Whom It May Concern”

No matter how formal it is, you never want your letter to sound too impersonal when writing any letter. Using the phrase “To Whom It May Concern” does just that. If possible, avoid using this phrase at all costs.

It’s considered to be dated and too generic. Hiring managers want to make sure that the person they are bringing in is someone that is driven and will stop at nothing to get the job done.

In short, here are the times when not to use “To Whom It May Concern:”

  • You’re writing a cover letter. The point of a cover letter is to set yourself apart from the competition. When you begin your letter with an archaic phrase like “To Whom It May Concern,” you do stand out — just for all the wrong reasons.

    While it’s not always possible to find the name of the hiring manager, there are much better alternative greetings you can use besides “To Whom It May Concern.” We’ll go over your options below.

  • You’re writing any letter on your own behalf. When you’re writing a recommendation letter for a friend or a letter of introduction for someone else, it’s fine to use “To Whom It May Concern.” That’s because you don’t know how the letter will be used or who it will be sent to; those decisions are up to whoever you gave the letter to.

    But when you have control over where your letter is sent, you should always do your best to be more specific, friendly, and modern with your greeting.

  • You have literally any information about the recipient. Using “To Whom It May Concern” is basically admitting that you have no idea who this letter will concern — and that’s concerning for the recipient. If you’re sending a letter to an unknown entity in some department, for example, at least label it to “Dear [Department Name].”

    Any level of specificity beats the horrible impersonality of “To Whom It May Concern.”

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Take These Steps Before Using “To Whom It May Concern”

Before you begin to draft your letter, you will need to follow specific steps to write a compelling message. Remember that writing the recipient’s name on your letter or email shows that you are willing to put in the leg work and get the job done.

  1. Read the job listing carefully. Go back to the original job posting and see if there is more information about the person you need to contact. Typically, companies and career websites will include the contact information at the bottom of the page.

  2. Check the company’s website. Another way to verify a company’s personnel is to go directly to the source. Go to their official website and look through the “About Us” page– chances are you will find what you are looking for.

  3. Use networking websites. You can also use a professional networking website such as LinkedIn. These pages are filled with business professionals. Search for the company’s profile. Usually, you will be able to find the appropriate person with a bit of research.

  4. Call the company. As a last resort, reach out to the company’s main line or customer service number and ask for the hiring manager’s name.

If you are still unable to find the name of your prospective employer after taking all of these steps, you may then use the phrase “To Whom It May Concern” or one of the much more appealing alternatives below.

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Alternatives Ways to Say “To Whom It May Concern”

The good news is you are not stuck using this expression. When you are trying to greet someone, there are countless alternatives that can be used instead of saying, “To Whom It May Concern.” The great thing about the English language is that it allows us different ways to say the same something.

Here is a list of alternatives you can use in place of “To Whom It May Concern:”

  • Dear [Name of Potential Boss] – use a full name or a Mr./Ms./Dr. [Last Name]

  • Dear Recruiting Team

  • Dear [Job Title You’re Applying For] Hiring Team/Committee/Manager

  • Dear Hiring Manager

  • Dear Recruiter

  • Dear Recruiting Manager

  • Dear Recruiting Department

  • Dear Human Resources Manager

  • Dear [Name of the Department You’re Applying To]

  • Dear Personnel Manager

Try to avoid using the phrase “Dear Sir or Madam,” just like “To Whom It May Concern.” This, too, is considered to be an outdated way of addressing a recipient.

If you cannot find the recipient’s name and do not want to risk sounding too generic, you can always call them by their official titles, such as a hiring manager, a recruiter, or a human resources manager.

class="fancy">Example of Alternatives Ways to Say “To Whom It May Concern”
Example #1

Dear Product Department,

I hope this finds you well. I am writing to find out more about your company and if you have any openings. I saw your booth at the job fair last week, and from what I have learned, it could be a great place to work. Thank you again for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Joe Smith

Example #2

Dear Hiring Manager,

My name is Jane Smith, and I recently applied for the Project Manager opening at your company. I wanted to take this time to formally introduce myself to you and your staff. And I am excited about this opportunity. I am sure that my background and skills will make me an ideal candidate for this position and your company. Would it be possible for us to set up an appointment to meet this week? I would love to get to know you and discuss what I plan to bring to your organization.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at any time. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to speaking with you.

Best Regards,

Jane Smith

class="fancy">Final Thoughts

It might take you some time, but if you set your mind to it and put a little effort, chances are you will find the names you are looking for. However, it is essential to know that you really cannot go wrong with any of these alternatives.

Keep in mind that this isn’t about adding more pressure to your pursuit of finding a job. It’s about opening your eyes and showing you that every little detail is essential and speaks volumes to any future employer about the person they will be hiring.

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Author

Melissa Martinez

Melissa is an exceptionally hard-working, creative individual, with great organizational and time management skills. She has been writing and researching professionally for over seven years. She graduated with a BA in English from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.

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