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How to Use “To Whom It May Concern” Properly & When to Avoid It

How to Use “To Whom It May Concern” Properly & When to Avoid It

The first step in writing any correspondence is determining your audience. “Dear Someone” is almost always the first line. So what do you do when you don’t have the name of that specific someone? Is it rude to say “To Whom It May Concern” instead of listing an actual name?  

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When you’re applying for a job or want to make a good impression, using someone’s name is always better than using a generic greeting. But, there are times when finding a hiring manager’s name is an impossibility. In that case, using “To Whom It May Concern” might be okay. 

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In this article, we’ll discuss the generic “To Whom It May Concern” salutation. We’ll cover when it’s okay to use and when it’s not. And we’ll discuss a whole list of possible alternatives for you to use in your next letter. 

By the time we’re through, you’ll know exactly how to use “To Whom It May Concern” and perhaps more importantly, when not to! 

When Not To Use “To Whom It May Concern”

In general, “To Whom It May Concern” is an outdated term. It’s overly formal and often shows a lack of initiative. So, recruiters, job coaches, and others in the professional world usually advise that job-seekers stay away from it. 

That’s because, ideally, you thoroughly research a position before applying for it. Doing your research shows that you really want the job and are willing to put in extra work. During that research, you can usually come up with the name of a hiring manager.  

The same holds true if you’re sending a prospecting letter as you might in real estate or some other form of sales. Salespeople send prospecting letters before making real-life introductions in most cases, but if they can address it to a person by name, they tend to get a better response. 

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How To Find a Name 

Finding someone’s name, whether it be for a prospecting letter or to send a resume, is far easier today than it was in the past. Here are a few steps you should take before resorting to a generic “to whom it may concern” greeting.

Check the Listing 

If you’re applying for a job, you might get lucky and find the hiring manager’s name on a job posting. If you’re sending a prospecting letter, you might find your potential client’s name in a city directory or address book. 

Many companies choose not to list their hiring managers’ or owners’ names because they don’t want job-seekers and sales reps to reach out directly. If that’s the case, you might have to dig a little deeper, but you shouldn’t stop searching yet. 

Check the Company Website 

Company websites typically have an “About Us” section or a “Meet Our Team” page that may give you names of key positions, including human resource reps, hiring managers, and upper-level management. 

It’s pretty easy to browse a website quickly, so make sure you take this step before resorting to a generic greeting. 

Check Social Media 

We live in a digital age, so if you can’t find a name on the company website, chances are you can find it through a friend of a friend online. LinkedIn is excellent for this since it will show your secondary connections’ names; you don’t even have to ask!

But even if you only have a friend of a friend who works for the company, it may be worth it to shoot them a direct message on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Ask them who the hiring manager is and be honest about why. More often than not, they’ll be willing to help you. 

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Call and Ask 

Finally, if you can’t find the right person’s name on the company website or within the job listing, you can always go the old-fashioned route: Call and ask them directly! 

It’s not very hard to call and speak to an assistant or secretary. You don’t even need to lie or make up a story. Simply say that you’re interested in a position with the company and hope to get the hiring manager’s name. Most of the time, they’ll give it to you without question. 

If you’re trying to send a prospecting letter, secretaries and assistants may be more guarded about information. Of course, if you’re sending a letter like that, you’re likely in sales. Now might be an excellent time to practice your charm!

What Should You Use Instead? 

If you scour the company website and find the secretary won’t return your calls, you still don’t have to resort to using “To Whom It May Concern.” There are a whole host of greetings you could use as an alternative when you don’t know your recipient’s name. 

Before we get into them, though, here’s one more you should avoid: “Dear Sir or Madam.” 

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It, too, is outdated and overly formal. It can come off as pretentious or cold. So, other than “To Whom It May Concern” and “Dear Sir or Madam,” what can you use? 

Well, we have a whole list of alternative greetings for you! 

Alternative Letter Salutations 

  • Greetings,
  • Dear Hiring Manager,
  • Dear {Insert Department Name} Team, 
  • Dear Customer Service Manager,
  • Dear Business Owner,
  • Dear Human Resources Manager, 
  • Dear Recruiting Manager,
  • Dear Talent Acquisition Team,
  • Dear {Insert Department Name} Manager,

Or, if none of those sound right, remember you don’t have to include a greeting at all. You could simply write: Re: {Insert Job Position or Letter Subject}. Then go on with the rest of your letter; no name or title required! 

“To Whom It May Concern” Best Practices 

Though “To Whom It May Concern” is outdated and too formal for most situations, it’s okay to use it at times. 

If you’re unsure who will read your letter, you can use “To Whom It May Concern” without any adverse effect. In fact, most hiring managers say that if they see the term, it doesn’t bother them. It just doesn’t thrill them, either. 

If you’re sending a letter of interest or letter of recommendation and can’t find a name no matter how hard you try, using “To Whom It May Concern” is technically correct. And it probably won’t hurt your chances of getting a job or making a sale. 

However, if you use it, make sure you use it correctly. You should capitalize each word in the phrase, and you should place a colon at the end. It will look like this:

To Whom It May Concern: 

Place a space after the colon and then begin the first paragraph of your correspondence. 

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of ways to avoid using “To Whom It May Concern.” The best option is always to do a little research and find a name. If you can’t find that, then there are all sorts of alternative ways to begin a formal letter.

If you do decide to use it, though, make sure you use it correctly. Give the phrase proper capitalization and a colon at the end. Starting your letter on the right foot is a great way to ensure someone actually reads it!

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