1. Career Advice
  2. Cover Letter
  3. The quick guide to using 'To Whom It May Concern' in a cover letter. Plus alternatives!
The quick guide to using 'To Whom It May Concern' in a cover letter. Plus alternatives!

The quick guide to using 'To Whom It May Concern' in a cover letter. Plus alternatives!

Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova

  • When should ‘To Whom It May Concern’ be used?
  • How to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’ in a salutation
  • Tips for finding a contact name
  • 3 Alternative salutations for ‘To Whom It May Concern’
  • 1. Dear Hiring Manager
  • 2. Dear [Department]
  • 3. Less formal greetings
  • Key takeaways

When writing a cover letter, it’s not always possible to learn the name of who you are contacting. In the past, the custom was to use ‘to whom it may concern’ in the salutation in these instances. In this blog, we will discover whether that is still the norm and what you can do instead.

At one point, it was common to start a cover letter with the phrase ‘To Whom It May Concern.’ These days, it is much more common to use the actual name of the person you are contacting. However, even though there are multiple ways to find the name of the person receiving your cover letter, it isn’t always possible.

What should you do in this situation? That’s exactly what this blog will cover. Here are a few of the topics we’ll look at:

  • When should ‘To Whom It May Concern’ be used?

  • How to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’ in a salutation

  • Tips for finding a contact name

  • Alternative salutations for ‘To Whom It May Concern’

When should ‘To Whom It May Concern’ be used?

One reason ‘to whom it may concern’ isn’t used frequently these days is because it is now considered old-fashioned and stuffy. It’s also easier to find the name of your contact, which means you can often personalize your cover letter. Not taking steps to personalize your cover letter can make you appear lazy and uninterested in the position.

However, there are some times when you may want to consider using this salutation when you are applying for a job. There are some benefits to using it as well, such as you run less of a risk of misspelling someone’s name. Here are a few times when ‘to whom it may concern’ is the proper salutation.

  • Recommendation letters. For letters you ask to be written on your behalf from a past co-worker or supervisor, as well as those you write for others, it is still appropriate to use ‘to whom it may concern’ as a salutation.

  • Introduction letters. The intention of an introduction letter is to introduce yourself to a group or even an individual within a company. This type of letter is different from a cover letter in that it revolves more around you as a person rather than around your career. For these letters, ‘to whom it may concern’ is still an acceptable salutation.

  • Letter of interest. When searching for a new job, you may discover that not all job openings are listed on job boards or websites. In these instances, you can approach a company directly to determine what openings they may have available. This is where a letter of interest comes in. With this letter, your goal is to display interest in working for the company. While ‘to whom it may concern’ could work as a salutation for these letters, it is still usually best to personalize these letters when possible.

  • Sales letters. Sales letters are also a type of correspondence that may require a ‘to whom it may concern’ salutation. However, whenever possible, you should personalize these letters so that the sales letter has more impact on the person receiving it.

How to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’ in a salutation

Whatever salutation you do choose, it is important to follow proper grammar rules. For some, writing ‘to whom it may concern’ in a letter is challenging because they don’t know what rules to follow. If you choose to utilize this greeting, here are the rules you should follow when writing it out.

  • Capitalize the first letter of each word. The greeting is properly written as ‘To Whom It May Concern:’.

  • Place a colon after the greeting (To Whom It May Concern: ) Some grammar guides require a comma after the word ‘concern’ instead of a colon, but the important thing to do is to be consistent with how you use punctuation throughout the letter.

  • Before you begin the body of your cover letter, add an extra line after the salutation. This is true for any salutation you may use.

Tips for finding a contact name

Whenever possible, it is preferable to find a specific contact name to address your cover letter to instead of using ‘to whom it may concern.’ There are many ways you can find this information. Here are some of the places you can look for a contact name.

  • Job Listing. Sometimes the contact name is listed directly on the job listing itself.

  • LinkedIn. If you are unable to locate the name on the job listing, your next area to look at is the company’s LinkedIn page. Check to see if the job listing is tied to a particular employee within the company. If it is, this is likely the person you will be sending the letter to, and you can use their name in the salutation.

  • Company website. Similarly to LinkedIn, you may find the information you need on the company’s website. If you can’t tie the job listing to an individual, you may be able to determine who is in charge of hiring new employees for the company based on the titles of the leadership team that is often located on the company’s website.

  • Google. In some instances, you may be able to simply search for the right contact name. However, if you do find a contact through a Google search, be sure to confirm it is the right name for your letter.

  • Call the company. One proactive approach is to call the company directly and ask for the name of the person you should be addressing in your cover letter. You may find that you are able to speak to them directly, which can provide you with an even better opportunity to win the job.

  • Networking. If you have friends or acquaintances who already work at the company, you can also ask their advice as to who to address your letter to. If possible, request they recommend you for the position or even write a letter of recommendation for you. 

Expert Tip

When addressing a cover letter by using a contact’s exact name, you verify the spelling and confirm you are using the right title when writing your letter. Like using ‘to whom it may concern’, misspellings in a person’s name may cause you to look unprofessional and lazy.

3 Alternative salutations for ‘To Whom It May Concern’

If you are unable to find a name for you to contact, there are still options you should consider using instead of the phrase ‘to whom it may concern.’ Using one of the following alternatives can make you appear more professional and can keep your letter from feeling stuffy and overly formal.

1. Dear Hiring Manager

One of the most common generic greetings you’ll see on a cover letter is ‘Dear Hiring Manager.’ Other alternatives you can use that are related to this greeting include ‘Dear [Job Title]’ if you can determine what the job title of your contact is. Dear HR Manager, Dear Recruiter, and Dear [Department] Manager are also all acceptable generic salutations. The goal should be to get your salutation as specific as possible while still making sure it is accurate.

2. Dear [Department]

When you have a specific department you are sending your application and resume, using ‘Dear [Department]’ is a great option. This lets you show you’ve done some research into the position and understand how the company operates as a whole.

3. Less formal greetings

Using a salutation that isn’t as formal, such as ‘Greetings!’ or ‘Hello!’ is also an option, but it is important to remember that this can take some of the professionalism out of your cover letter. You should only use these types of greetings if you are familiar enough with the company to know that a less formal approach is acceptable and expected.

The goal of any cover letter is to make sure you stand out from others who are applying for the position. To do this, you must write a cover letter that captures the attention of the hiring manager in a great way. For help with this task, be sure to check out our Cover Letter Builder over on our website.

Key takeaways

  1. ‘To Whom It May Concern:’ was once a popular salutation, but it is now considered stuffy and lazy.

  2. The best option is to search for a contact’s name and direct the salutation of your cover letter to a specific person.

  3. If you aren’t able to find a specific contact, using ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ is a better option than opting for ‘To Whom It May Concern:’.

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