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How to Use 'To Whom it May Concern' - A Quick Guide With Examples

Any business correspondence has to have the right salutation. Without a proper greeting, the letter may seem incomplete and impolite. A common way of addressing professional letters in the past was, “To Whom It May Concern.” It is a broad greeting that can be used when the name or title of the recipient is unknown such as contacting a new client or applying for a job.  

It can be difficult to understand when to use “To Whom It May Concern” to address your letter. Read on to learn about the situations where it is okay to use this generic greeting and find out some better alternatives that you can use to address your letters.

Here's what this article will cover:

  1. Why do people use the phrase “To Whom It May Concern”?
  2. Should one use To Whom It May Concern?
  3. When should you use "To Whom It May Concern
  4. Steps to take before using ‘To Whom It May Concern'
  5. 'To Whom It May Concern' alternatives
  6. When is it right to use 'To Whom It May Concern'
  7. How to write a To Whom It May Concern letter – example

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

The use of this phrase in professional communication has reduced with the increased popularity of the internet. Writing a letter “To Whom It May Concern” was used as a form of corporate communication when the recipient was unknown. This generic salutation was used as a form of greeting at the beginning of the letter when the sender was unaware of who would be reading the letter. 

It still continues to be used as a formal greeting when the name of the person receiving the letter is not known. For example, when sending out a cover letter along with a job application, you are not sure who is going to read it. In such a case, instead of making a guess about who to address the letter to, you should use “To Whom It May Concern” in the salutation. Since it has already been established that this salutation is only used in formal letters, you need to ensure that you use the correct To Whom It May Concern format in order to form a good first impression.

Should one use To Whom It May Concern?

While this phrase was commonly used in the past, most corporate communications have now shifted online. This makes it easy to find the name and information of the person you need to contact. This is why it is better to avoid using “To Whom It May Concern” unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.

In case you do not have a choice but to use this salutation, know how to use To Whom It May Concern in the right format in your letter to make sure that you sound professional.

When should you use "To Whom It May Concern

A letter addressed “To Whom It May Concern” is usually written when reaching out to a large company or new department. You can also use this salutation when you are contacting new or potential clients, and you are unaware of their name or position. Some situations that require you to use “To Whom It May Concern” as a salutation include: 

  • Cover letter: Cover letters are usually read by multiple people. These include the HR representative, hiring manager, etc. Since you do not have a single person to address the cover letter to, you can begin it by using a generic salutation such as “To Whom It May Concern.”
  • Introduction to a new client: When sending out an email to a new client that you do not know the name of, you can use this salutation. Make sure that you use this opportunity to find out their name for further correspondence.  
  • Company feedback: If you are sending out feedback or suggestions that would be viewed by multiple people or departments, it is better to use a generic phrase such as this in your email.
  • Recommendations/reference checks: If you are providing a recommendation or a reference check for someone, you can use this salutation to start the letter.
  • Formal complaints: If you have to send a formal complaint to a company, you can use “To Whom It May Concern” to address them.
  • Introductions: If you have to write a letter to an unknown recipient to introduce yourself, using a generic salutation works. 
  • Prospecting messages: A lot of businesses require sending out prospecting messages to potential clients. Using a “To Whom It May Concern” is deemed acceptable in this case, but it makes for a good first impression if you put in efforts to find out the name of the client.   

All these situations are the answer to when to use To Whom It May Concern in a formal letter or email.

Steps to take before using ‘To Whom It May Concern'

Before resorting to addressing a letter “To Whom It May Concern,” it is better to put in some effort into identifying the recipient. The results will be worth your time because this makes you come across as a dedicated and resourceful person.

  • Check the original job posting- Most companies list the details of the contact person in the job posting or advertisement. Go through it thoroughly to find out the name of the person you need to address your letter.
  • Visit the company’s website- Most companies list out their employees’ details in the “About Us” section of their website. You can utilize this information to find the name of the recipient.
  • Check a professional networking website- When you search a company’s profile on a professional networking website such as LinkedIn, it will lead you to the profile of their employees.
  • Find another contact- If you have a friend or colleague who has worked at the company previously, you can inquire about the name of the recipient from them.
  • Contact customer service- You can also get the details of the recipient by contacting the company’s customer service directly. Just state your purpose, and you will be provided with the name and details of the contact person.

Ideally, you should restrain from using a generic greeting in your letter. But if none of these steps work, then you have no choice but to use “To whom It May Concern” as a salutation in your letter. Knowing how to use To Whom It May Concern letter format is important if you are using this salutation.

'To Whom It May Concern' alternatives

Using “To Whom It May Concern” may come across as lazy and outdated. This is why you should use the following alternatives whenever possible.

  • Dear [Name]:  Using the first name in the salutation is an acceptable norm. You can use their last name along with the title if you wish to be more formal. For example- “Dear Mr. Williams.”
  • Dear [Role]: You can use this salutation when you are only familiar with the job title of the person you are writing to instead of their name. For example- “Dear Project Manager.”
  •  Dear [Department]: In case you are unaware of the main contact person in a department or a team, you can address the letter to the entire unit. For example- “Dear Customer Service Department.”
  • Dear Hiring Manager: It is better to look for the name of the hiring manager on the company’s website. In case you are cannot find the name, using “Dear Hiring Manager” is also acceptable.
  • Dear [Department] Manager: You can also address the email to the manager of a single department of the company. For example- “Dear Purchasing Department Manager.” 
  • Dear Customer Service Manager- You can use “Dear Customer Service Manager” as the salutation when contacting the customer support department of a company.
  • Dear Recruiter: This is a more generic salutation when you do not know what is the name of the position given to the recruiter by that particular company.
  • Dear Recruiting Manager: When applying for a new job, using “Dear Recruiting Manger” as a To Whom It May Concern alternative salutation is completely acceptable.  
  • Dear Hiring Committee: When applying to a big company, know that your application will be viewed by a large team of recruiters. In this case, it is better to address it as “Dear Hiring Committee” instead of naming a single person.
  • Dear Search Committee: Let’s say that you have made it to the final round of an interview, and you require to send an email out to the entire panel. In this case, you should use “Dear Search Committee” as a salutation. 
  • Dear HR Manager: When the letter has to be addressed to the Human Resources Manager of the company, you can use this salutation.
  • Dear Human Resources Representative: If you do not know the name of the representative of the Human Resources Department that you need to contact, you can use “Dear Human Resources Representative” in your letter.
  • Dear Personnel Manager: Another accepted To Whom It May Concern alternative is “Dear Personnel Manager.”
  • Greetings: This can be used for sending out an office memo or any other announcement. This is a casual generic phrase which you should avoid using in extremely formal settings. For example, “Greetings, marketing team.”
  • Good morning/day/evening: These salutations can be used depending on when you are sending the email.
  • Hi there: Another casual phrase that you can use with colleagues and other business associates that you know well. For example, “Hi there, Moira.”
  • Hello: “Hello” can be used when you have to carry on an ongoing email conversation. 

You should also refrain from using “Dear Sir/Madam” as a salutation as it is considered outdated and a lazy way of addressing a letter.

When is it right to use 'To Whom It May Concern'

It is important that you use the correct format when using any salutation since the correspondence is related to your business or job and is therefore high-staked. If you are wondering when to use “To Whom It May Concern,” the answer is never, unless you wish to sound overly formal. Finding the name and details of the person you have to contact is extremely easy in the era of the internet, which is why using such a generic salutation makes you come across as lazy. 

Use this salutation when you cannot find the name or position of the recipient anywhere. Some scenarios where it is okay to use “To Whom It May Concern” as the salutation include registering a formal complaint, sending out a cover letter, or prospecting messages to new or potential clients.

How to capitalize “To Whom It May Concern”-

If you are looking for the correct 'To Whom It May Concern' format- the entire phrase is usually capitalized when using it to address a letter. This is the commonly accepted norm. The phrase is typically followed by a colon. Add a line between the salutation and the body.

How to write a To Whom It May Concern letter - example

To Whom It May Concern:

Body of the letter

Another point to remember is that it is appropriate to use "Whom" instead of "Who" or "Whomever" in the salutation.  Avoid using a comma, and always remember to put a colon after the phrase.

In conclusion

Before sending out any email or letter, you need to do some research to assess the level of formality of that particular company. This will give you an idea about the type of salutation, honorifics, and other details that you need to include. Know How to Use the Salutation “To Whom It May Concern,” if you are adding it to your letter.

While there are still some cases where it is acceptable to use “To Whom It May Concern” as a salutation, you make a much better impression when you email/letter is addressed to someone specific. It shows that you have put in the time and effort to find the right person to contact. A lot of recruiters see “To Whom It May Concern” as a lazy way of addressing a job application, which is why you should steer clear of using it when applying for a job. It is better to use any To Whom It May Concernalternative such as “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Recruiter” if you do not know the name of the person. 

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