When To Use the Salutation "To Whom It May Concern"

Updated July 31, 2023

A person sits at a table while working on a laptop.

Whether you're writing an email or preparing a physical letter, it's important to begin every business correspondence with an appropriate greeting. One of the most common professional salutations is, "To Whom It May Concern." But with so many alternatives, it can be challenging to determine when it's appropriate to use this greeting and when you should use a recipient's name, title or something else.

To help you compose a professional correspondence, consider the following background information on this greeting, tips for when to use it and alternatives for your consideration.

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Why people use "To Whom It May Concern"

Traditionally, the phrase "To Whom It May Concern" is used in business correspondences when you don't know the recipient's name or you're not writing to a specific person. For example, if you're writing a cover letter as part of a job application and it's unclear who will be reviewing your application from the job posting, you may start your letter with "To Whom It May Concern."

This greeting was developed when it was more difficult to identify people's job roles by researching companies, online public directories or professional organizations.

Today, it's much easier to find the names of HR managers, department heads and other decision-makers you may be attempting to reach. As a result, this greeting has come to be seen as outdated and old-fashioned.

However, you should only include someone's name if you're certain they'll be the one receiving your email or letter. Addressing your message to the wrong person could create confusion or look unprofessional. In those circumstances, it may be better to use "To Whom It May Concern" or an alternative.

When to use the phrase "To Whom It May Concern"

When do you use "To Whom It May Concern?" Perhaps we are looking at the last question to ask. The first question should be, "In formal correspondence, what is the appropriate greeting?" Greeting a person by name and/or job title indicates several qualities of the sender:

It shows your respect

Greeting a person by name or title shows that you recognize their humanity and/or their profession.

It shows your diligence and determination

There are times when sending a cover letter or other correspondence related to applying for a job, you may not know the name of the addressee. To find the right person, job title or department would take diligent research online or by phone coupled with patience.

It shows you understand present-day society and recognize diversity

Forget the pitfall of thinking in terms of being "politically correct." It is a respectful courtesy to address someone in the manner they prefer. You may not know whether a person prefers to be addressed as she/her or them/they pronouns.

Starting with "Dear Sir or Madam" could be seen as a lack of understanding of diversity in today's workplace.

Steps to take before using "To Whom It May Concern"

You should consider researching for a point of contact before using "To Whom It May Concern." Using this salutation when the contact's name is easily discoverable could leave a negative impression on the recipient as it might convey that you didn't take the time and effort. This is especially true when writing an email or cover letter in hopes of employment. Before using "To Whom It May Concern," you should consider taking these actions:

Check the job posting

If you're sending an email as part of a job application process, carefully review the job posting for a contact name. Sometimes employers include the name of the recruiter or hiring manager responsible for reviewing applications within their posting.

Use the company website

Try looking for the "Staff" or "Meet the Team" section on the company website. Look for the manager of the department you're applying to or the head of the human resources department.

Use a professional networking website

Search for the recruiter or hiring manager for that department by seeing if the company has a professional page on the networking website.

Ask another contact

If you have a friend or acquaintance who works at the company, reach out to see if they know the appropriate person to address in the salutation.

Contact customer service

When seeking a job, go the extra mile in the correspondence you send. If you can't find the information you need on the internet, use the clues you found there. One clue is a phone number.

Call the company to ask questions and find out where your correspondence should go. Ask if they will disclose the name of the hiring manager. Make sure to explain the reason you're seeking the information.

Example: "Hello, my name is Jason Lopez and I'm applying for a position with your company's sales department. Would you mind providing me the name and title of the hiring manager so I can address them appropriately?"

Human resource representatives may be set up in larger companies in different divisions. Even if you can't locate the person, you can ask about the division and the general job title within that section.

Example: "To: Talent Acquisition Specialist, Red Widgets Division"

Email Salutations
Image description

The image is titled Professional Email Salutations the left side of the image shows examples and the right side of the image lists tips.

The left side reads:
"Dear [First Name]"
"Hi," or "Hello,"
"Hi Team," or "Hi All,"

The tips are:

  • Avoid gendered language

  • Avoid exclamation points

  • Avoid casual language like "Hey,"

  • Avoid overly formal language like "Sir" or "Madam"

  • Avoid using "To Whom It May Concern"

  • Avoid using times of day, such as "Good morning" or "Good evening"

  • Avoid using "Dear [Job Title]” if possible

When to use "To Whom It May Concern"

Here are five situations in which it's appropriate to use this salutation:

1. Cover letter

When you're applying for a job, you may not know who will review your resume, cover letter or application.

Employers often use a generic email alias for applications, such as "recruiting@companyname.com" or "HR@companyname.com." In this case, it's unclear whether your application will be reviewed by a recruiter, HR leader, hiring manager or multiple professionals.

Because you must make a positive first impression, it's better not to risk incorrectly guessing the recipient's name if you cannot find the point of contact through research.

2. Contact referral or recommendation letter

If a former colleague asks you to write a letter of recommendation or act as a referral for a job opportunity, there's a good chance they may not know who will be receiving the message. In some cases, you may also be required to submit your letter through an automated system that doesn't provide any names or titles.

If you do not have the contact's name or title, another greeting you can use on a referral or recommendation letter is "To the Reader of This Letter." Although the difference is slight, "To the Reader" seems more direct than "To Whom It May Concern."

Read more: How To Write a Business Recommendation Letter

3. Introduction to a new or prospective client

If you are responding to an automated message from a potential customer and it doesn't include their name, you'll need to use a more generic greeting. This is also an opportunity to ask for their name and title so you can be prepared to address them directly in future communications.

Read more: How To Write a Business Introduction Letter (With Examples)

4. Prospecting letter

If you are in a sales or business development position, you may be responsible for contacting potential clients. Sometimes, company websites don't include the name and contact information of the decision-maker you're hoping to reach. In this case, you may need to start your letter with a generic salutation.

5. Company feedback or suggestions

If you want to share your feedback or suggestions with an employer, it's usually best to start by submitting your letter to HR.

But if you're not sure which person in the department is responsible for reviewing feedback, especially if it's a large organization, it's acceptable to use a generic greeting. This is especially helpful if feedback needs to be addressed by multiple people or departments.

Related: 7 Types of Business Letters and When To Use Them

To Whom It May Concern
Image description

The image is titled "To Whom It May Concern." On the left side, there is context about the use of the phrase. It says "To Whom it May Concern"
Using "To Whom it May Concern" today can seem outdated or impersonal. Here are a few alternatives you can use for your next letter, email or memo.

The right side lists alternatives and examples. It reads:
"Greetings," "Hello" or "Hi there"
For example, "Greetings Conference Attendees,"
"Dear [Team or Department]"
For example, "Dear Customer Service Department,"
"Dear [Job Title]"
For example, "Dear HR Director,"
"Dear [First Name]" or "Dear [Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr./Professor] [Last Name]"
For example, "Dear Dr. Lee,"
Otherwise, you may use only their first name. For example, "Dear Mark,"

"To Whom It May Concern" alternatives

This salutation can often seem outdated, impersonal or unfriendly, especially if you've met the recipient or know their name or job role. You may want to consider a few alternatives before starting a business email or letter with "To Whom It May Concern."

1. "Dear [First Name]" or "Dear [Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr./Professor] [Last Name]"

Be aware of your use of pronouns. If you have a first name, you can use it, but don't make guesses when you have a first and last name but don't know the person.

For instance, Chris Cooper could be she/her or he/him. If all you have is the last name, use the job title, "Dear HR Specialist Jones." It may seem a bit formal, however, this correspondence may be your first opportunity to make a good impression.

If you know your recipient's name, you should use that instead of a more generic greeting. If you're contacting someone for the first time, you may want to address them by title and surname.

Example: "Dear Dr. Lee,"

Otherwise, you may use only their first name.

Example: "Dear Mark,"

While there have been surveys of HR professionals who say that "To Whom It May Concern" is not a deal-breaker, consider this: Eventually, your cover letter or professional statement will be read by a human being.

2. "Dear [Job Title]"

If you're not sure of the recipient's name, but you know their job title or role, you can use that instead.

Example: "Dear HR Director,"

When writing a cover letter or letter of interest, here are additional alternatives to HR Director:

  • "Dear Hiring Manager"

  • "Dear HR Manager"

  • "Dear Recruiter"

  • "Dear Recruiting Manager"

  • "Dear [Department] Manager"

3. "Dear [Team or Department]"

If you're addressing multiple people within a department or are unsure which team member is the primary point of contact, you may choose to include the department name.

Example: "Dear Customer Service Department,"

4. "Greetings," "Hello" or "Hi there"

If you're sending a less formal correspondence, such as an office memo or meeting announcement, you may use a more casual generic salutation. You may also couple this with a team or department name if applicable.

Example: "Greetings, Marketing Team,"

When to capitalize "To Whom It May Concern"

The most common method is to use capital letters for the first letter of every word, like this: "To Whom It May Concern,"

Think about this phrase as a replacement for someone's name. You would capitalize each first letter in a person's name because it is a proper noun and it is polite and professional to use capitalization when addressing someone. You can use a comma or a colon after the greeting. Insert a space between your greeting line and the first sentence of your letter.

"To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Joseph Hubbard and I am writing about your Lab Assistant position …"

Related: How To Start a Business Letter (with Examples and Tips)

Using the proper salutation in business correspondence demonstrates strong professionalism and communication skills. By knowing when to use "To Whom It May Concern" and when to use alternative greetings, you'll make a positive impression in each email or letter you send.

Related: 7 Elements To Include in a Business Letter

Frequently asked questions

Can I say "To Who It May Concern" instead?

The grammatically correct phrase is "To Whom It May Concern," so you can make this your salutation instead of "To Who It May Concern" or "To Whomever It May Concern."

Is "To Whom It May Concern" a polite greeting?

Yes, "To Whom It May Concern" is a traditionally polite greeting in the business world. You may be cautious when using it, though, as the recipient may view it as stiff and overly formal if they expect you to know their name or if you can learn their name easily.

Can I be specific in my alternatives for "To Whom It May Concern?"

If you use an alternative for "To Whom It May Concern," you can increase your professionalism and show respect by being as specific as possible. Always use the recipient's full name and preferred title if you know these details. If you don't know the specific individual but know their role within the company, you can include this in your letter.

For example, imagine you're applying for a role as a software developer within a company's software department. Instead of using the alternative "Dear Hiring Manager" for "To Whom It May Concern," you can use the phrase "Dear Software Team Hiring Manager" to address the recipient more specifically.

Business Letter Format
Image description

The image is titled "Business Letter Format" and shows an example letter with the parts of the letter identified on the left side.

The left side includes:

  1. Date

  2. Name and address

  3. Greeting

  4. Opening paragraph

  5. Closing paragraph

  6. Complimentary close and signature

The letter reads:

February 1, 20XX

Deborah Jones
ABC Company, Inc.
1234 East Main Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Dear Ms. Jones,

I am submitting this request for a leave of absence to tend to important personal matters beginning next month. If possible, I would like to take my leave beginning March 15 and return to the office April 3, 20XX.

I can make myself available intermittently to answer questions via phone or email, and am happy to do whatever necessary to ensure a smooth transition before my leave begins.

Thank you for your consideration.

Johanna Jansen

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