“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:
You’ve found the perfect job and finally sat down to write that cover letter (good for you!), but immediately you’ve run into a roadblock. How do you even start the darn thing? Should you use Mr. or Ms.? Do you include a first name? And what if you’ve searched high and low, but can’t find the hiring manager’s name?
Don’t fret! Follow these rules for cover letter salutation salvation.
Rule #1: Use a Formal Full Name Salutation
Unless you know for sure that the culture of the company is more casual, use the hiring manager’s first and last name, including a “Mr.” or “Ms.” (e.g., Mr. Jack Smith).
Most letters I see still use the “Dear” greeting, though I’ve seen a growing trend of people dropping it and starting with “Hello” or just the name. Either way works. The most important part is having the actual name. Never use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear or Sir or Madam”—nothing could be more generic (not to mention archaic). Your cover letter could be the first opportunity you have to make an impression on the hiring manager, so make sure you show that you did your company research.
One note of caution, if you can’t decipher whether to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” based on the name and a little Google stalking (and you don’t have an easy way out with a “Dr.”), just drop the title.
Rule #2: If You Don’t Know the Hiring Manager, Guess
Sometimes, even after hours of online searching (try these tips), you still might not be able to definitively figure out who exactly the hiring manager for the position you’re applying for is—and that’s OK.
If you can only find a list of the executives of the company and you’re not completely confident who the hiring manager is, use the head of the department for the position you’re applying for. In the end, no one will fault you for addressing the letter higher up than necessary. This approach is definitely better than not using a name in your cover letter, because it still shows the time and effort you took to find out who the department head is.
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Rule #3: Be as Specific as Possible
So, you’ve done your due diligence and after an exhaustive search—nothing. You just can’t find a single name to address your cover letter to. If that’s the case, don’t worry. The company is likely privately held with no reason to share who its employees are—and, more importantly, is aware of this.
If this is the case and you don’t have a name to use, try to still be as specific as possible in your greeting. Consider using “Senior Analyst Hiring Manager” or “Research Manager Search Committee”—something that shows that you’ve written this letter with a particular audience in mind.
Ultimately, you want your cover letter to convey your interest in the position. To start off on the right note, get the salutation right by being as specific as possible—ideally with the name of the hiring manager. Of course, that can’t always happen, but as long as the effort is clearly made, you’ll be starting your cover letter in the right place.