When and when not to use “To Whom It May Concern” in a business correspondence

When we were in school, many of us learned that it is essential to start your formal communication professionally. In most cases, they recommend that you use “To Whom It May Concern”.

Today, there are many alternatives available. You should know how to use it and when it is appropriate to use what. 

Using “To Whom It May Concern” out of habit is getting outdated. In this article, we’ll go into exactly when to use it and when to avoid it. 

Where does “To Whom It May Concern” come from?

Back in the day, ‘To Whom It May Concern” was used as a salutation in a formal letter when you didn’t know who to address the letter to. Today, it is relatively simple to find out the name of your contact person. That is one reason why it is not common to use it anymore. 

When you are unsure whether the person you are addressing the email to is getting it, you are probably better off using generic salutations. 

Because “To Whom It May Concern” comes from formal communication, be sure to spell it correctly. The first letter of each word is capitalized, and you should use a colon afterward instead of a comma. 

Now, let’s go into when and when not to use “To Whom It May Concern” in business correspondence. 

When to use “To Whom It May Concern”

When you searched long and hard, there is a possibility that you can’t find the right name for your message. That is the moment when you may want to use ”To Whom It May Concern”. Here are a couple of situations when you can use this phrase to send your message without getting weird looks (figuratively, of course). 

1. Reference or letter of recommendation

When you’re writing a reference for a coworker or former colleague, writing “To Whom It May Concern” on the first line is appropriate.

You don’t know who is going to read your recommendation, so there’s no possibility of including any information. 

2. Large or new company

If you’re reaching out to a big organization or an organization you’re not familiar with, sending a message with “To Whom It May Concern” works.

You can ask them who the right person for your question is, and ask their contact details at the same time. 

Try to send your next message to the work email connected to your prospect, as this will increase the chance of getting a reply. 

3. Feedback or suggestions

When you’re filling out a contact form on a website for suggestions or feedback, it will probably end up in a general email box.

As you’re not sure what department will end up reviewing your feedback, you can use a general greeting. 

4. Cover Letter

If you apply for jobs and don’t have a specific name on the job application, it’s not clear who will be reviewing your application.

For your cover letter, it’s best to use a generic opening, as you don’t want to take the risk of getting it wrong. 

5. Introduction

If you are introducing yourself to someone you’ve never met before, a general meeting may be appropriate. For example, someone fills in the contact form on your website but doesn’t leave a name. 

Be sure to ask for their name when you can, so you can make the communication more personal.

When to not use “To Whom It May Concern”

When possible, try to avoid “To Whom It May Concern”. Even when you write a business letter or a formal letter. Many consider it outdated, as it was used when business communication was more formal. That was years ago. 

Today, it is accepted to have a more conversational style in your writing of documentation and emails. Besides, in the internet era we live in today, it is often possible to find the name of the person you want to contact. 

How to avoid “To Whom It May Concern”

If you want to avoid “To Whom It May Concern” in your letters, the simplest way to get around that is to look for a contact person. 

To find the person you’re addressing, you can:

  1. Check the information you have. When you are applying for a job, for example, you can check the application for the name of a contact person. Most of the time, there is someone named in the application to which you can direct your questions. 
  2. Look on the website of the company. Perhaps the person who you’re trying to contact is listed. Check if they have an “About” or “Staff” section on their website. 
  3. Look on the LinkedIn page of the company. When you go to the LinkedIn page of the company, you can see who is working at that company. If there are not too many employees at the company, look through their list, and search for a specific title. You should be able to find their name to personalize your email.  
  4. Call the company and ask who is responsible for the vacancy. Let the person at the reception desk know what name you’re looking for and why. They will probably be able to help you.

Walking through these steps will take a little longer, but you’ll be able to stand out when you can use a person’s name and establish a connection. 

“To Whom It May Concern” alternatives

When you didn’t find the name of the person you are contacting, don’t worry. There are plenty of alternatives to “To Whom It May Concern”, without using specific names. 

Alternatives include:

  1. Dear [First Name]
  2. Dear [Mr./Ms Last Name[
  3. Hi there
  4. Good morning
  5. Good afternoon
  6. Dear Hiring Manager
  7. Dear [Department]
  8. Dear [Department] Manager
  9. Deal [Role]
  10. Dear Recruiter
  11. Greetings
  12. Dear Sir or Madam

Conclusion

While not many people are using it anymore, now you know exactly when to use “To Whom It May Concern” in business correspondence. When you can, always try to find someone’s name. 

Now that you know what to replace it with, you can start writing your cover letter. Here is the cover letter format that you need to get your dream job!