Should you use ‘to whom it may concern’?
To whom it may concern is a letter or email greeting used when the sender doesn’t know who will be receiving the message.
But it’s 2020, and it’s pretty easy to figure out who will be reading your email or letter or message, whether it's the hiring manager or a future mentor or a coworker (please, know your coworker's names).
And even if you don’t know the name of the person you’re writing to, or if you’re writing to more than one person, there is nearly always a better way to address your letter.
Why ‘to whom it may concern’ doesn’t always work
To whom it may concern really reads this way: I have no idea who I’m writing to. Hope this ends up in front of the right person!
It can just come off as lazy, and especially if you’re writing a cover letter, you need to show your potential employer that you’ve at least attempted to address the letter correctly.
Career coach Alejandra Hernandez says this about the greeting: “I think it is unoriginal, old-fashioned, and, to sum it up in one word: ‘meh.’ Do a little extra work and search for the hiring manager's name. Sometimes it's on the posting, but if not, check the company website. It's a nice touch to address someone by name, and please make sure to spell their name correctly. If it's a very large company, go with ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ instead.”
Read more: How to End an Email That Gets Results
Is it ever okay to use ‘to whom it may concern’?
Yes, but this greeting can and should be used only as a last resort.
“I am on the fence when it comes to ‘to whom it may concern,’” Lisa Vasquez-Fedrizzi, managing director of talent and HR advisory Cheer Partners, says. “While I do feel that a candidate should take the time to see if there is an HR/talent representative on the company website, there is the unknown of who the actual cover letter is going to, especially if the company is using an applicant tracking system.”
But, sometimes you just can’t find the recipient’s name, and you may not know the pronouns of the person who will be receiving your letter.
“On the opposite side of the fence for me,” Vasquez-Fedrizzi says, “I also appreciate keeping it as a gender-neutral salutation, as you can’t always know what someone’s pronoun is by looking at their photo. If a candidate is unsure of how they want to address the cover letter, I believe it’s always better to keep it to, ‘Dear Hiring Manager/Team.’”
Alternatives to ‘to whom it may concern’
If you’re addressing a cover letter or other business letter, but you have no idea who the reader will be, address it to the person or people you want to read your message, like Dear Hiring Manager or Dear InHerSight Team.
Dear Hiring Committee/Team
Dear InHerSight Team
Dear InHerSight Hiring Manager
Dear Hiring Manager
Dear VP of Analytics
Dear Communications Team
To the InHerSight Tech Team
5 recruiters and career experts on ‘to whom it may concern’
We asked five professionals who work in recruiting, branding, and career coaching what they think when they see “to whom it may concern.”
Kaitlyn Holbein, founder and principal consultant at The Employer Brand Shop
“When a candidate addresses a cover letter or application out ‘to whom it may concern,’ it isn't a deal-breaker for me. I'll still read through their application and assess their qualifications for the role. However, when a candidate goes the extra mile to personalize their application by uncovering the hiring manager or lead recruiter's name, it shows they're really passionate about the opportunity, which makes a great first impression.”
Mirela Borsan, career and interview coach
“The more personalized a letter, the better. However, it is understandable that sometimes this information is not readily available and if that is the case, there are yet better options for using a salutation like, ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or ‘Dear Hiring Recruiter.’ Beginning your letter with a ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’ is not considered professional, and when everything else fails, not including a salutation may be a last resort option.”
Jamie Jensen, career success coach at Boise State University
“Addressing a cover letter or application to an actual person is critically important. Employers want to see that you took the time to do research and personalized your application. Essentially, addressing a letter ‘to whom it may concern’ should only be used as an absolute last resort.”
Christabel Khumalo, owner at Christabel Consultant and recruiter at Synergy HR Consulting
“Have you ever tasted chicken breast with absolutely no seasoning, not even a grain of salt? Underwhelmingly bland—isn’t it? That’s how I feel whenever I read cover letters addressed to the nameless, ‘to whom it may concern.’ Addressing your letters ‘to whom it may concern’ is a missed opportunity for candidates to show off their superb creativity, their thorough research skills, and not to mention—their keen attention to detail.”
Krysta James, cofounder and managing partner of HR consultancy The Verity Group
“As a recruiter, if it is a great candidate, having it addressed ‘to whom it may concern’ will not make me less interested in that candidate. However, their response when I reach out may give me a negative impression! If you are extremely interested in a role, doing a LinkedIn search for the recruiter or hiring manager’s name will show dedication and interest, as you took that extra step. If you are unable to find any specific person, addressing it ‘to whom it may concern’ can be done.”
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