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Written by Karl KahlerKarl Kahler

To whom it may concern: just don’t

8 min read
To Whom It May Concern: Just Don’t
Artwork by:Alexandra Shevchenko
“To Whom It May Concern” is an old-fashioned way of writing a letter greeting when you don’t know the name of the correct person to address. But it should never be used in a cover letter in which you’re seeking a job. Here are some alternatives.

Once upon a time, “To Whom It May Concern” was considered an acceptable way to introduce a cover letter if you didn’t know the name of the proper person to address. But those days are long gone.

Today this greeting is considered old-fashioned, out-of-date and obsolete. Although there are a few limited cases where it’s still considered acceptable, a cover letter where you’re seeking a job isn’t one of them. So you might as well consider this a rule with no exceptions: Never open a cover letter with “To Whom It May Concern.” 

‘To Whom It May Concern’ meaning

“To Whom It May Concern” is an antiquated way of writing the greeting of a letter when the recipient is unknown. It implies that this letter is addressed to anyone who might have an interest or concern in its contents. 

When this phrase was first coined, it probably seemed like a great solution to the problem of how to address a letter to an unknown recipient. But it’s become a victim of its own success, so widely used that it feels like a worn-out castoff from another century. It can also suggest that you didn’t go to any trouble at all to find out the name of the person you really need to reach.

So what to write instead? Let’s consider some alternatives.

Look for a contact person

By far the best way to open a cover letter is to address it to the appropriate contact person. This would be the hiring manager or recruiter who is processing applications for the job you’re seeking. 

People like to read their own names, even in a letter from a stranger. It shows attention to detail on your part if you’ve gone to the trouble of finding out the proper person to address. And a letter written to a named individual is more likely to receive a response than a letter addressed to an entire company or department.

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Here is exactly how you can write a cover letter that will stand out from the crowd, and help you land that interview.

Sometimes the hiring contact’s name appears in the job listing, but often it doesn’t. Do some sleuthing by looking at the company’s website, especially if it has a page that addresses its hiring practices, or an “About Us” page that lists its management staff.

You may be able to find the right person’s name on LinkedIn, or you might find someone else who works at this company who could tell you. 

If none of this works, simply pick up the phone, call the company and ask. Tell the person who answers that you’re applying for a job, mention what job it is, and ask for the name of the person processing applications.

Be sure to ask how to spell the name correctly, and if necessary ask whether this person is male or female. If female, you might also ask whether this person prefers to be addressed as “Mrs.,” “Miss,” “Ms.” or even “Mx.” (a newcomer preferred by some people with nonbinary gender identities). 

Expert tip

Once you have a name, open your letter with one of the following:

  • Dear Mr. [Last Name]:
  • Dear Ms. [Last Name]:
  • Dear Mrs. [Last Name]:
  • Dear Ms. [Last Name]:
  • Dear Mx. [Last Name]:
  • Dear Dr. [Last Name]:

Some companies, for whatever reason, prefer not to give out the names of hiring managers. They may have several, or they may prefer to route all job applications through their Human Resources Department. If that’s the case, you’ll have to find another solution, which we’ll discuss below.

How do you address a letter with no contact?

If you can’t find out the hiring manager’s name, there are several alternatives that are preferably to “To Whom It May Concern” (which is sometimes abbreviated TWMC). 

Let’s say you’re applying for a job at a company called Acme. For a small company, you may simply address your letter to the entire company, as in “Dear Acme.” You may know the department where you want to work: “Dear Acme IT Department.” Or if you know that the HR department handles all job applications: “Dear Acme HR Department.”

Certain alternatives to the word “Dear” are sometimes considered acceptable, including “Greetings” or even “Hello.” You can sometimes get a feel for a company’s level of formality or lack thereof by the way it addresses the public on its website. If it’s a company that takes a very casual approach, a more casual greeting in your cover letter is probably acceptable. 

Expert tip

Alternatives to "To Whom It May Concern"

  • Dear Acme:
  • Dear Acme [XXX] Department:
  • Dear Acme HR Department:
  • Dear HR Manager:
  • Greetings Acme Hiring Team:
  • Dear Hiring Manager:
  • Dear HR Manager:
  • Hello Recruiting Team:

Some sources say you can even leave out the greeting entirely, starting your letter in the style of a company memo, where a line that starts with “Re:” addresses the topic, and then you plunge right into the introduction of your letter:

COVER LETTER WITH NO GREETING

Re: Opening for Acme IT Manager

Having worked as a specialist in information technology for the past eight years, I would be delighted to be considered for the IT Manager opening you posted recently.

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When should I use ‘To Whom It May Concern’?

The greeting “To Whom It May Concern” is considered acceptable if a former coworker has asked you for a reference letter to use when seeking employment in the future. If the intent is to pass this letter on to future hiring managers whose names are still unknown, then a “To Whom It May Concern” letter may be appropriate.

A “To Whom It May Concern” letter is also considered appropriate when sending a complaint about goods or services you paid for but weren’t happy with.

But “To Whom It May Concern” cover letters are almost universally considered unacceptable today.

Expert tip

“To Whom It May Concern” capitalization

If you do have a good reason to use this phrase, capitalize each of the first letters, and end the phrase with a colon: "To Whom It May Concern:".

Do not attempt a clumsy alternative like “To Whomsoever It May Concern” or “To Who It May Concern,” which are even worse.

How to end a cover letter (best closing paragraph examples)
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When you end a cover letter to apply for your dream job, you should be leaving a carefully-crafted impression right up to the very last word.

Key takeaways

  • Never start a cover letter with "To Whom It May Concern," a greeting that is widely viewed by hiring managers as outdated and impersonal.
  • If at all possible, address the hiring manager by name.
  • If you can't find out the hiring manager's name, find an alternative that addresses an entire company or department.
  • “To Whom It May Concern” is considered acceptable for recommendation letters in which the recipient is unknown, or for certain consumer complaint letters, but should never be used in a cover letter.

Need more help on how to format a winning cover letter ?  Get inspired and view our creative , simple and professional cover letter examples. 

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