How to Use ‘To Whom It May Concern’
‘To Whom It May Concern’ is a formal salutation traditionally used to head correspondence when you are unaware of your recipient’s identity.
But is there still a place for ‘To Whom It May Concern’ in this day and age? Nowadays, the term is increasingly seen as outdated, unnecessary and even a little lazy. This article will explore those instances when you should still use it, and alternatives you can consider.
We live in a digital age where you can usually discover a person's identity via a quick internet search or phone call. Using an inappropriate salutation can make or break the success of your correspondence, especially if the intended recipient is easily identifiable.
For example, in the context of job applications, never address your cover letter ‘To Whom It May Concern’ when the hiring manager is listed as a contact on the job description.
The employer’s first impression of you will be that you lack communication skills and attention to detail, or that you are not interested in the job. A little research to identify a recipient goes a long way.
The best way to address correspondence is to name the person who is going to read it. Picture your letter or email being opened. Whom do you want to read it?
If the answer to the question is ‘anyone’, using the term ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is acceptable. Otherwise, it should be avoided.
When applying for jobs, always check the job listing first for the name and contact details of the person handling the applications.
If the job listing is inconveniently silent on whom to contact, here are some tips to help you undertake your own detective work. Remember, you need to do everything possible to identify your recipient before reverting to ‘To Whom It May Concern’.
Many companies will list their employees’ contact details on their websites. If you don’t know the specific name of the person you need to contact, look for the person in the most relevant job role.
Go to the company’s ‘Contact’ or ‘About Us’ page to find a list of employees. Look for people with job titles such as ‘Recruitment Officer/Administrator’ or ‘Talent Acquisition Officer/Manager’.
Sometimes putting these search terms into Google with the company name can bring up results, too.
The entire purpose of LinkedIn is for professional networking. It is, therefore, a great way to track down your recipient.
Go to the company’s LinkedIn profile, where there will be a link to ‘See all [number of] employees’. Just scroll through the list until you locate the best person to contact.
There is no rule saying you cannot contact the company directly to ask for the name of the person you should be corresponding with.
If you cannot find a general enquiries number on the company's website, use Google or LinkedIn to search for job titles such as ‘Secretary/Receptionist’, ‘Administrative Assistant’ or ‘HR’, as these people will be best placed to help you.
If you know someone who has worked for the company or applied for a job there previously, ask if they have contact details for the most appropriate recipient.
If you have no option but to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’, your execution must be faultless. To use the term correctly:
- Capitalise every single word.
- Follow the phrase with a colon, not a comma.
- Use a paragraph break after the colon, to leave a blank line between the salutation and the introduction of your letter.
‘To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing to apply for the position of Finance Assistant at your company...’
Never use ‘Who’ or ‘Whomever’ instead of ‘Whom’ or ‘This’ instead of ‘It’ as it is grammatically incorrect.
Commas should be avoided, as they are usually reserved for casual correspondence. Colons are indicators of formal correspondence.
You are producing multiple copies of the same letter – For example, you are writing a letter of recommendation for a colleague to send to potential employers. If the content of the letter is not specific to an individual company and the same letter will be sent to many people, it makes sense to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’.
_‘To Whom It May Concern:
_I am writing to recommend [name] for a marketing position at your company…’
Reference checks – If a company contacts you for a reference check, it will not expect you to take the time to research the company for the correct recipient.
_‘To Whom It May Concern:
_I confirm that [name] has been employed at this company on a full-time basis since…’
Introductions – When introducing yourself to an unknown recipient, it may be appropriate to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’.
For example, if you are contacted by a general company inbox asking for a quote or information about your business:
‘To Whom It May Concern:
Thank you for your enquiry regarding a potential commission. Please find attached a quote and time estimate for the project…’
Formal complaints against a company – In this situation, it generally doesn’t matter who the recipient is, so long as your complaint is addressed.
_‘To Whom It May Concern:
__I would like to make a complaint regarding order number 12345, which I received in a damaged state…’
Prospective correspondence – If you find it necessary to send unsolicited emails, for example to pitch your business, then ‘To Whom It May Concern’ usage is not your best option, as your goal is to build a connection. However, if you cannot find a specific recipient, using the term is considered acceptable.
What if you are still unable to find a recipient? Before reverting to ‘To Whom It May Concern’, consider whether there is a better alternative. Here are a few examples of salutations you could use – though remember some of these are only appropriate in certain contexts, so use wisely.
- ‘Dear [Role]’ – Trying to identify a specific role is your second-best option. For example, if the job listing states, ‘Please send applications to the Recruitment Manager’, address your letter, ‘Dear Recruitment Manager’.
- ‘Dear [Department]’ – For job applications, a safe bet is to use ‘Dear Human Resources Team’, or ‘Dear Recruitment Team’.
- ‘Hello’ – This is usually only appropriate for casual emails, and unacceptable in formal business correspondence. You will need to use your own judgment to decide whether it is OK to use this greeting. For example, you should never start correspondence to highly corporate businesses, such as law firms, with ‘Hello’. But it may be acceptable to use with small local businesses.
- ‘Good morning/afternoon’ – As with ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning/afternoon’ is only appropriate for emails, and usually not suitable in a business context.
- ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ – Like ‘To Whom It May Concern’, ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ is viewed as antiquated and it comes with the same connotations of laziness. Furthermore, this greeting has more scope to offend as some people prefer not to be addressed by gendered pronouns. If you are looking to avoid ‘To Whom It May Concern’, you should also avoid ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.
In conclusion, there are still some scenarios where it is appropriate to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’. Remember, though, that your best option is usually to name a specific recipient.
Here is a summary of the key points covered, to help you draft perfectly written correspondence:
- Avoid the term ‘To Whom It May Concern’ if possible.
- Always attempt to find a specific recipient.
- If you can’t find a name, try to find a job title or department instead.
- Consider whether there is a suitable alternative.
- If you have no other options, ensure you format your letter correctly and use impeccable spelling and grammar to impress your recipient.