To Whom It May Concern: How (Not) to Use It in Your Cover Letter

Fact-checked by Laurynas Cesnys
Updated on: May 12, 2024

When writing a cover letter or business email, you might be tempted to use the generic "To Whom It May Concern" salutation. However, this outdated greeting can make your message seem impersonal in today's professional world.

While "To Whom It May Concern" is still acceptable in some situations, it often implies you didn't take the time to find the right contact person or are sending a mass email rather than a tailored message.

This article will explain when it's appropriate to use "To Whom It May Concern", provide alternatives for your cover letter or email greeting, and share tips on finding the right person to address to make a stronger first impression.

When Is It Appropriate to Use "To Whom It May Concern"?

There are still some scenarios where using this generic salutation is appropriate when writing business correspondence. One instance is when you are sending a letter of recommendation or reference and you don't know the recipient's name or title. In this case, using "To Whom It May Concern" as the greeting can be used, as the recommendation letter may be passed on to various people

Another situation where "To Whom It May Concern" is acceptable is when you are writing to a company or department and don't have a specific contact person or point of contact. If you are unable to find the name of the person you are addressing, this generic greeting that can be used.

In general, formal documents that you intend to send to an institution or company can start with this greeting if they are not meant to introduce yourself. For example, filling a complaint, a job verification letter, or the recommendation letter mentioned above. If you do not know the recipient, as long as you keep it formal, the greeting is not a huge deal in these types of messages.

However, applying for a job is a much more personal matter, and avoiding being generic can make you stand out. It is not totally wrong to start a cover letter for a job with “To whom it may concern”  if no name is provided in the job posting and you can't find one after carefully reviewing the job posting, but it is certainly not the best move. 

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How to Format "To Whom It May Concern" Correctly

Here's how to format "To Whom It May Concern" correctly in your letter or email:

  • Capitalize the first letter of each word in the phrase "To Whom It May Concern". While this may not be grammatically necessary since it's not a proper noun or title, it's considered standard practice and helps maintain a formal tone.
  • Use a colon, not a comma, after the phrase "To Whom It May Concern". The colon signifies that the salutation is complete and the body of your letter or email is about to begin.
  • Double space before beginning the body of your letter, email, or cover letter. This helps visually separate the salutation from the main content and improves readability. In some cases, such as when the body of your letter is very short, it's acceptable to single space for cosmetic reasons.
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Why You Should Avoid "To Whom It May Concern" in Your Cover Letter

When applying for a job, your cover letter is often the first impression you make on hiring managers and recruiters. As mentioned before, using a generic greeting like "To Whom It May Concern" may come across as lazy and impersonal, suggesting that you didn't take the time to find the right person to address.

Today, with internet access and professional networking sites like LinkedIn, it's usually possible to find a specific person to address by name in email or letter. Taking a few extra minutes to research the company and find the hiring manager or recruiter responsible for the position can make a significant difference in how your application is perceived.

If you can't find and don't know the name of the person you should address, consider using alternatives like "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear [Department] Team". These greetings are more engaging and targeted than "To Whom It May Concern" while still maintaining a professional tone suitable for business correspondence.

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What to Write Instead of "To Whom It May Concern" in a Cover Letter

Let’s expand on some possible alternatives to replace “To Whom It May Concern”, so that you have an arsenal of less formal options for when you are writing your next cover letter.

  1. Dear [Hiring Manager's Name]: Take the time to look up the name of the recruiter or hiring manager online. Check the job listing, company website, or LinkedIn to find the right person to address your cover letter to. Using their name shows that you've done your research and are genuinely interested in the position.
  1. Dear [Department] Team: If you can't find the hiring manager's name, you can address your cover letter generally to the most relevant team, such as "Dear Marketing Team" or "Dear Human Resources Team." This approach still demonstrates that you've tailored your application to the specific department you'd be working with.
  1. Dear [Job Title] Hiring Manager: Another option is to reference the position you're applying for in your salutation. For example, "Dear Marketing Coordinator Hiring Manager" or "Dear Social Media Intern Hiring Manager." By using the job title or department, you show that you've carefully considered how your skills align with the role

Other Cover Letter Salutation:  FAQs

There are many different ways in which you can start a cover letter, and so, there are many different questions that can arise. Here are some of them.

How do I find the hiring manager's name and email?

To find the hiring manager's name, start by carefully reviewing the job posting for any mention of the person you should address your application to. If no name is provided, search the company website or LinkedIn for the relevant department head or recruiter. You can also try contacting the company, either calling or sending an email, and asking for the name of the person handling the position you're applying for. 

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Is it acceptable to use "Dear Sir or Madam" in a cover letter?

While "Dear Sir or Madam" is a traditional generic greeting, it's best to avoid using it in modern business correspondence. This salutation, just like “To Whom It May Concern”, may come across as outdated and impersonal, and it also assumes the recipient's gender. Instead, opt for a more inclusive and targeted greeting like "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear [Department] Team".

What's the best generic greeting to use if I don't have a name?

If you can't find the hiring manager's name or email, the best generic greeting to use in your cover letter is "Dear Hiring Manager." This salutation is professional, concise, and targeted to the person responsible for reviewing your application. Other acceptable options, as discussed above,  include  "Dear [Department] Team" or "Dear [Job Title] Hiring Manager".

To Whom It May Concern: Conclusion

To sum up, while "To Whom It May Concern" has been a standard salutation for business correspondence when you don't know the recipient's name, it's important to understand when it's appropriate to use and when it's better to opt for an alternative.

When it comes to your cover letter, it's crucial to make every effort to find the full name of the specific person you want to address. Tailoring your salutation to the hiring manager, recruiter, or relevant department head shows that you've taken the time to research the company and are genuinely interested in the position. If you can't find a name, opt for a more targeted greeting like "Dear Hiring Manager" rather than the generic "To Whom It May Concern."

Remember, your cover letter is your chance to make a strong first impression and demonstrate your fit for the role. By avoiding generic salutations and instead tailoring each cover letter to the specific job and company, you'll set yourself apart from other applicants and increase your chances of having a successful process. So, even if you don't have a name, take the extra step to personalize your greeting and show your enthusiasm for the opportunity.

About Author:
Jorge Rey is a driven writer with a passion for exploring the topics of technology, business and creativity. Drawing on his diverse writing background and talent for transforming complex topics into engaging, accessible content, Jorge delivers meticulously researched articles to help readers navigate the worlds of digital entrepreneurship and personal finance. Jorge believes in the power of knowledge to transform lives and is committed to empowering his audience with the trustworthy, actionable insights they need to thrive.
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