How To Professionally Use 'To Whom It May Concern'

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 31 January 2023

Published 27 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The phrase 'To Whom It May Concern' is commonly a part of professional written communication. The phrase can allow you to address others when you may not know their name or position. However, it's important to know when it's appropriate to use the term. In this article, we outline the reasons why you'd use the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern', in what circumstances it makes sense to use it and some tips to keep in mind when using it.

Why use 'To Whom It May Concern'?

You may use this salutation to address others when their contact information, like their name or title, is unknown. Although it's now a lot easier to find people's names and positions online in order to address them properly, there are still going to be some circumstances when using 'To Whom It May Concern' would be appropriate. Keep the following reasons in mind when deciding if you should use this phrase:

1. To show respect

When you take the time to use a professional and respectful greeting, you can leave a better impression on your recipient. The phrase shows your recipient that you care about addressing them appropriately. This is useful when contacting a senior member of an organisation.

Related: How to introduce yourself professionally (With examples)

2. To show dedication

When sending correspondence in the workplace, this phrase shows your determination to maintain professionalism. If in doubt, try to be slightly more formal than informal. This salutation demonstrates more professionalism than addressing the recipient with 'Hi' or 'Hello'. 'To Whom It May Concern' communicates your dedication to remaining professional, as some recipients might prefer this phrasing in a professional setting.

3. To show you recognise diversity

When corresponding with professionals who you may not know personally, this salutation helps avoid using an incorrect pronoun. 'Dear Sir or Madam' may not apply to everyone in the workplace. Therefore, it's more tactful to address them with a universal greeting such as 'To Whom It May Concern' until you develop a personal relationship and learn to use their preferred greeting.

Related: How to start an email (With useful tips for success)

How to use ‘To Whom It May Concern'

There are a number of steps you may consider before choosing to use the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern':

1. Carefully read the job listing

If you're sending an email or cover letter as part of a job application process, carefully review the job posting for a contact name. An employer may include the name of the recruiter or hiring manager responsible for reviewing applications within their posting. Show your attention to detail from the outset by picking up on these details. Alternatively, you could address them using 'Dear Hiring Manager' or a similar phrase.

2. Research the recipient's website

You can derive useful contact information from a professional website. Try looking for the 'Staff' or 'About Us' section on the company website. By taking the time to research the individual you're contacting, you may avoid using a more generic term like 'To Whom It May Concern' to help distinguish you from others.

Related: Show hiring managers that you're ready to work

3. Use a professional networking website to research the recipient

You can also use professional networking websites to search for your employer's hiring team and learn their names. Alternatively, you can reach out to them via this network and introduce yourself. Try drafting a concise email with pertinent information, such as your interest in the company, to show your seriousness about the role.

4. Give them a call

When you're in the market for a new job, it's worth taking the time to put in the extra effort. If you can't find a recruiter or interviewer's name, consider going to their website and finding a phone number. Phone the individual and ask to whom you should address your correspondence. Briefly explain why you're contacting them and determine if they're happy to give you the name of the hiring manager. An example of how you could word your query would be:

'Good morning/afternoon/evening,

My name is David Byrne, and I'm applying for a position in your company's marketing department. Would you mind providing me with the name and title of the hiring manager so I can address them appropriately?'

Writing an email asking for the proper contact information shows your attempt to find an alternative to using 'To Whom It May Concern', which also shows your dedication and professionalism.

Related: What an elevator pitch is and how to give one (With example)

When is it appropriate to use 'To Whom It May Concern'?

Below is a list of four cases in which it's appropriate to use this greeting:

1. Cover letter

A cover letter is a common example of when using 'To Whom It May Concern' may work. This is typically part of a job application when a candidate is unsure who'll review their application. So, it's perfectly acceptable to use this greeting if you're unable to find a name.

Employers might often use a generic email address for applications, such as 'recruiting@companyname.com' or 'HR@companyname.com'. For instance, it's unclear whether your application is going to be reviewed by a recruiter, HR leader, hiring manager or multiple professionals. In order to make a positive first impression, try not to guess the recipient's name if you can't find the point of contact through research. This would be a good time to use the 'To Whom It May Concern' phrase to address the recipient.

Related: What is a cover letter?

2. Character reference

If a former colleague asks you to write a character reference for them, you're typically not going to know who the final recipient is. If you don't have the contact's name or title, you can use the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern' to remain professional. This is also useful if you're writing a single letter for several recipients.

Related: How to Write a Character Reference

3. A new connection

Depending on your work, you may receive messages from potential customers that don't include their names. This means you may have to use a generic greeting that still communicates professionalism, like 'To Whom It May Concern'. You might find out their name after some initial correspondence, so you can address them appropriately in future communication.

4. Employer feedback

If you want to share feedback or make a suggestion to an employer, the correct channel to go through is to write a letter or email to your company's HR department. You may be unsure which person in the department reviews feedback, so using a generic greeting might be appropriate in this circumstance. There's also a possibility that your feedback or suggestion is going to be shared with many recipients in various departments, which is another reason why a generic greeting is more appropriate.

Related: Communications skills you need to succeed

Tips for addressing correspondence

Consider following the tips below to ensure you're using the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern' to the best of its potential:

1. Capitalise the phrase

The proper way to write this salutation is to capitalise the first letter of each word: 'To Whom It May Concern'. The reasoning behind this is that the phrase replaces a person's name or title. Ensure you add a comma after using the phrase and insert a space between the greeting and the first sentence of your correspondence. Below is an example of how the phrase might look in your correspondence:

'To Whom It May Concern,

My name is David Byrne and I am writing to you about your Sales Assistant position…'

2. Find a key contact person

Ideally, you might try to determine the name of the specific person to whom you're writing. For example, if you're writing a cover letter for a job application and don't know the name of the employer or hiring manager, addressing it to the department listed in the job position may be best. If you're writing a business letter, it's more likely to be read if you address it to a specific person. You'll also have a person to contact if you want to follow up. Taking a few minutes to locate a contact is usually worth your time.

If you're certain that a specific person is going to receive your email or letter, you should include their name in your correspondence. However, addressing a message to the wrong person can appear unprofessional or cause confusion. If you're unsure, it may be better to use the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern'.

Related: How to address a letter (with tips on correct formatting)

3. Consider alternatives

You can use alternative phrases as written greetings when you're writing cover letters to apply for jobs or in other correspondence when you don't have a named person to write to. Below are some alternatives you can use, depending on the reason why you're writing a letter and the degree of formality you feel is appropriate:

  • Greetings

  • Hello

  • Dear Hiring Committee

  • Dear Hiring Manager

  • Dear Hiring Team

  • Dear HR Manager

  • Dear Human Resources Representative

  • Dear Human Resources Team

  • Dear [Department] Manager

  • Dear [Department] Team

  • Dear Personnel Manager

  • Dear Recruiter

  • Dear Recruiting Manager

  • Dear Recruiting Team

  • Dear Talent Acquisition Team

  • Dear Customer Service Manager

  • Re: (Topic of Letter)


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