Writing a cover letter addressed to "Whom it May Concern" is about as impersonal as it gets. Also, addressing your cover letter without going the extra step to research the addressee's name and title can cast a negative light on your ability and your willingness to research the company or show initiative for locating the person to whom you're sending your cover letter and resume.
Call Human Resources
Instead of sending your cover letter with an impersonal salutation, contact the human resources department for the addressee's name and title. Many job seekers are reluctant to do this, for fear that someone from HR might think they're probing a little too much for information. You're right to want to include a personal address on your cover letter; it demonstrates proper etiquette and shows that you have initiative. Therefore, contact HR and say, "Hello, I'm Jane Doe and I'm interested in learning more about the administrative assistant job with ABC Company. However, I prefer to include a personal address in my cover letter. Would you please tell me the name and title of the recruiter or hiring manager for that position?"
Granted, some HR departments won't release the name or contact information for recruiters or hiring managers; however, that doesn't mean you should stop there if you want to address your cover letter in a more personal fashion. Scan your professional network for contacts who either work at the same company you're applying to or contacts who have a connection to someone at the company. Professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, are good for measuring the breadth of your contacts circle. Contact someone connected to the company you're interested in working for and ask if they will assist you in getting the addressee's name.
Resourceful job seekers often use research techniques to locate the name of the company's hiring manager. Using search engines, plug in keywords and phrases from the job posting to lead you to the company's email address format and possibly the name of an HR or department manager. For example, if the company is publicly traded, you're likely to find the company's email address format on the investor relations page or on the company's media relations page. Many publicly traded companies have an in-house resource for fielding calls and letters about stock prices and press coverage. Then, if the company has a page titled, "Leadership," "Management Team" or a page that contains the names and titles of employees, use that information for narrowing your search to finding the addressee's name.
As a last resort, use a generic format for addressing your cover letter. Instead of writing to "Whom it May Concern," use the name of the company in your address line to the recruiter or a salutation that specifies the type of job you're seeking. For example, you could write, "Dear ABC Company Recruiter" or "Dear Summer Intern Recruiter." If you use this kind of generic address, always use a similarly generic salutation, such as "Dear Sir/Madam" or "Dear Sir or Madam."
About the Author
Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
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“To Whom It May Concern” is a letter salutation that has traditionally been used in business correspondence when you don't have a specific person to whom you are writing, or you do not know the name of the person to whom you are writing.
Of course, you should make every effort to find a contact name to use on your letter or inquiry, but sometimes that’s just not possible. When it's not, you can use “To Whom It May Concern.” However, there are also now other better options that can be utilized to start a letter, or the letter can be written without a salutation.
See below for when and how to use “To Whom It May Concern,” and for examples of alternative salutations to use when writing letters.
How to Find a Contact Name
Ideally, you will find the name of the specific person to whom you are writing. For example, if you are writing a cover letter, and do not know the name of the employer or hiring manager, do your best to find out.
There are a number of ways to find the name of the person you are contacting. If you are applying for a job, the name of the employer or hiring manager may be be on the job listing. However, that is not always the case. Some employers don't list a contact person because they may not want direct inquiries from job seekers.
You can look on the company website for the name of the person in the position you are trying to contact (you can often find this in either the “About Us,” “Staff,” or “Contact Us” section). If you cannot find the name on the website, try to find the right person on LinkedIn, or ask a friend or colleague if he or she knows the person’s name.
Another option is to call the office and ask the administrative assistant for advice. For example, you might explain that you are applying for a job and would like to know the name of the hiring manager.
If you take all of these steps, and still do not know the name of the person you are contacting, you can use “To Whom It May Concern.”
When to Use “To Whom It May Concern”
When should you use the term? It can be used at the beginning of a letter, email, or other form of communication when you are unsure of who exactly will be reading it.
This might happen at a number of points in your job search. For example, you might be sending a cover letter, letter of recommendation, or other job search material to someone whose name you do not know.
It is also appropriate to use “To Whom It May Concern” when you are making an inquiry (also known as a prospecting letter or letter of interest), but don't have a contact person to address your letter to.
Capitalization and Spacing
When addressing a letter “To Whom It May Concern,” the entire phrase is typically capitalized, then followed by a colon:
To Whom It May Concern:
Leave a space after it, then start the first paragraph of the letter.
Alternative Letter Greetings to Use
“To Whom It May Concern” is sometimes considered outdated, especially when writing cover letters for jobs. “Dear Sir or Madam” is another salutation commonly used in the past, but it may also come across as antiquated.
There are alternatives you can use for letter salutations when you are writing letters to apply for jobs or for other communications when you don't have a name of a person to write to.
Here are some alternatives:
- Dear Hiring Manager
- Dear Recruiting Manager
- Dear Hiring Committee
- Dear Search Committee
- Dear HR Manager
- Dear Human Resources Representative
- Dear Personnel Manager
- Dear Customer Service Manager
- Re: (Topic of Letter)
You can also write a greeting that is still general, but focuses on the group of people you are reaching out to. For example, if you are contacting people in your network for help with your job search, you might use the greeting, “Dear Friends and Family.”
Another Option: Leave Off the Salutation
Another option for starting your letter is to leave off the salutation entirely. If you decide not to include a salutation, simply start with the first paragraph of your letter.
More Letter Salutation Examples
Here are examples of salutations for business and professional correspondence: