There was a time when the most common way to address any business correspondence was the salutation To Whom It May Concern. It was the pre-internet era, and information on specific employees at the company was not readily available. Yet, time marches on, and things change. Here, we discuss whether the tried-and-true To Whom It May Concern is still valid today, what some alternatives to this greeting might be, and if there are any cases in which it is still acceptable today.
To Whom It May Concern – Still A Viable Option?
There aren’t too many reasons left to use To Whom It May Concert in correspondence, be it an email or a letter. However, there are certainly some very good reasons not to use it. To start with, the phrase feels stuffy and antiquated. (It doesn’t take much to conjure up an image of writing with a quill by candlelight, does it?) It harkens back to the days where business correspondence demanded a much more formal tone. However, today’s business culture calls for a more natural and conversational style.
At worst, starting a letter/email with To Whom It May Concern relays a sense of laziness on the sender’s part. Is it really that difficult to find out who the message concerns, or is it more that you don’t want to take the time to do some research to find out? You don’t want your To Whom It May Concern to convey a lack of concern on your part.
Some Alternatives to To Whom It May Concern:
There are many solutions to finding another salutation. Here are a few alternatives:
Dear [ Person’s Name],
With the entirety of the Internet at your disposal (including LinkedIn), it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the name of the relevant person (a hiring manager, head of human resources dept., etc). Doing a bit of research will certainly go a long way. Even if your letter ends up being passed around, the care you showed by seeking out a specific person will certainly be noted.
If your research comes up empty, you can always go “old-school” and pick up the phone. There is no need to treat this as a secret reconnaissance mission – you can simply ask something to the effect of “Hello. I am applying for the Office Manager position and would like to personalize my cover letter. Could you please tell me the name of the person in charge of talent acquisition for that position?
Dear [Department or Role]
Another option, should you not find the individual’s name, would be to broaden your salutation and reference a specific department or a person’s role—for example, Dear Marketing Department or Dear Hiring Manager. Although a specific name is always better, seeing how a manager will probably just glance at your resume briefly, it’s not the worst of crimes. Just make sure that you have a winning cover letter!
If your message is not specific to a particular person or could be read by a number of people, a simple hello might just do the trick. Although both Hello and Greetings are less formal than the previous options, so perhaps keep them out of cover letters and various formal business correspondence.
Are There Any Instances Where Using To Whom It May Concern Is OK?
There are still some cases where the old salutation still works. It general, it is when the correspondence is formal and there is no specific department or addressee. For example:
Letter of Introduction
Letter of Interest
Letter of Recommendation
If you do use “To Whom It May Concern,” make sure to capitalize each word, follow it with a colon, and double space before the body of the letter:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing to enquire about your delivery options.
As mentioned above, it’s best to hone in on a specific person/department rather than casting a wide net. If your message really does concern everyone or anyone, you can use To Whom It May Concern. Otherwise, be specific if you can.