“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. When it's not, you can use “To Whom It May Concern.” However, there are also now other better options that can be utilized to start a letter, or the letter can be written without a salutation.
See below for when and how to use “To Whom It May Concern,” and for examples of alternative salutations to use when writing letters.
How to Find a Contact Name
Ideally, you will find the name of the specific person to whom you are writing. For example, if you are writing a cover letter, and do not know the name of the employer or hiring manager, do your best to find out.
There are a number of ways to find 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 be on the job listing. However, that is not always the case. Some 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 either the “About Us,” “Staff,” or “Contact Us” section). 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.”
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 form of communication when you are unsure of who exactly will be reading it.
This might happen at a number of points in your job search. For example, you might be sending a cover letter, letter of recommendation, or other job search material 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 a contact person to address your letter to.
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.
Alternative Letter Greetings to Use
“To Whom It May Concern” is sometimes 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 antiquated.
There are 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 name of a person to write to.
Here are some alternatives:
- Dear Hiring Manager
- Dear Recruiting Manager
- Dear Hiring Committee
- Dear Search Committee
- Dear HR Manager
- Dear Human Resources Representative
- Dear Personnel Manager
- 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.”
Another Option: Leave Off the Salutation
Another option for starting your letter is to leave off the salutation entirely. If you decide not to include a salutation, simply start with the first paragraph of your letter.
More Letter Salutation Examples
Here are examples of salutations for business and professional correspondence:
How to open and close your cover letter
On a cover letter, formality is rarely a bad thing.
Write your cover letter opening and closing with these tips.
In a tight job market flooded with resumes and cover letters, it’s a given that your documents and messages need to be error-free. So how else can you distinguish your communications? Appropriate openings and closings that convey professionalism and polish.
Use our tips below on how to start your cover letter with a proper greeting and sign off with a polished signature. And if you need additional writing tips, join Monster today, so the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter.
Cover letter openings
Write a formal greeting, such as Dear Ms. Alvis or Dear Mr. Yang. If you're unsure of the person’s gender and can’t find out, write the full name, as in Dear Chu Li or Dear Chris Beltran.
While it is increasingly common to see greetings without the "Dear" in business, it is less formal. When applying for a job, sometimes you want to start off formally, even though you may take a less formal tone in subsequent written exchanges.
If you’re unfamiliar with someone’s name, be sure you don’t confuse the first name with the family name, which can easily happen in today’s global business environment, depending in part on the languages you know. For example, the CEO of Lenovo is Yang Yuanqing. His surname is Yang and his first name is Yuanqing (in Mandarin, the family name is written first), so if you are addressing him, you would write Dear Mr. Yang and not Dear Mr. Yuanqing.
A final comment on people’s names: be sure to spell them correctly. That is one typo no recipient will miss.
What if you cannot track down a contact name for your cover email? Use a generic salutation, such as Dear Hiring Manager, Dear Recruiting Manager or Dear Human Resources Professional. (Avoid To Whom It May Concern; it is antiquated.) Another option is to write Greetings, which is somewhat informal but polite. You could also dispense with the opening greeting altogether and start with your first sentence, although some recipients might find that approach to be abrupt.
In all openings, be sure to capitalize the first letter of every noun and follow your greeting with punctuation. Use either a colon (Dear Mr. Yang:) or a comma (Dear Recruiting Manager,).
Cover letter closings
End your message with a formal closing, such as Sincerely, Regards or Best regards. If your closing contains more than one word, capitalize only the first word, as in Best regards or Sincerely yours. And be sure to put a comma after your closing. A common error in business communications is the omission of that comma.
Your full name goes on the next line. No need for the extra space that used to go on letters for the signature. Write your telephone number and email address on separate lines after your name. Although this contact information is on your resume (and your email address is on your email), including it with your cover message makes life easier for the recipient.
This post is by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, authors of The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job