“To Whom It May Concern” seems at first glance to be an all-purpose phrase, perfect to slap on each cover letter or introductory email you send. You might default to this phrasing in cases where you don’t know the name of your recipient(s) and want to come across as respectful, but in almost any context, there are better options than this dull, impersonal, and overused opening.
Recruiters and hiring managers sift through what could be hundreds of cover letters for any open position. Let’s just say they have “To Whom It May Concern”s coming out of their ears — and it doesn’t tell them anything positive about you if this is how you start.
“Not only does the phrase make you sound like a yellowing doily on your grandmother’s coffee table (in other words, ancient), but it also smacks of laziness, or apathy, or a lack of resourcefulness, or some combination of any number of characteristics that won’t help you get hired,” Stav Ziv writes for The Muse. Look at it from their point of view: “If you were truly excited about the idea of working for this company, you’d surely take the time to tailor your greeting.”
Given the vast amounts of information easily accessible online, there’s no excuse not to do your research so you can address your note to the specific person, team, or department you want to reach out to. The research you put in (searching LinkedIn, the company’s website, and even Twitter) before resorting to labeling your recipient anonymous will show the recipient you made an effort to pinpoint who they are. It may take extra time, but your efforts will ensure your application makes the best impression. The same is true if you’re writing an introductory or large group email. Try to be as specific as possible. What would make you want to keep reading a project update or even a cold email from someone who wants to do business with your company: “To Whom It May Concern” or “Hi Project Pink team”? “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear XYZ Co. Sales Division”?
It might be appropriate to use “To Whom It May Concern” if you’re making a customer service complaint, according to The Muse, but even then, consider going with something like “Dear Clementine Group Customer Care Team” for a slightly more personalized approach.
Read on for eight “To Whom It May Concern” alternatives — and when to use them.
Whenever you possibly can, try to address your letter to the recruiter or hiring manager by their name. Researching the recipient’s name shows initiative, which demonstrates your interest in the company and your default approach of doing more than the bare minimum. This may very well mean the difference between your letter being read and getting tossed aside.
A safe bet with this salutation is to write “Dear [First Name] [Last Name],” in order to avoid accidentally messing up the pronouns of your recipient. If you’re uncomfortable using their first name, use a respectful abbreviation (Mrs., Ms., Mr., Mx., Dr., Prof., etc.) and their last name. However, if you can’t confirm their honorific it’s best to drop gendered language completely. For similar reasons, we don’t recommend using the dated “Dear Sir or Madam” — it comes off as impersonal and makes assumptions about gender.
Even if you absolutely cannot find a name to address your cover letter to, you still need to include a greeting at the top of the document. If you know the job title of the person you assume to be your future boss — even if you don’t know their name — use that. Addressing your cover letter with “Dear Director of Sales” proves your interest in the position almost as well as if you were to use the director’s actual name.
In situations where you know the department you’d like to reach, but not the name or title of the hiring manager, this greeting is the way to go. Not every company provides enough info in job postings to let applicants know the specific person they should be reaching out to. But you’ll almost always know the team or department the open position falls under. If you’re sending some other kind of outreach email to a generic department address, keep in mind that this broader greeting might mean your note has to pass through several hands before you receive a response — or might even be ignored if no one feels personally responsible for closing the loop.
This salutation works when you’re applying to a position and want to reach the person responsible for recruiting or hiring — but you haven’t had any luck finding the name or specific job title of anyone involved.
For example, you might write, “Dear Community Associate Search Committee” or “Dear Senior Project Manager Hiring Committee.”
“At the very least, you’re showing that you know what role you’re applying for and that you’ve done some amount of tailoring of your application — more so than a “Dear Recruiter” would immediately indicate,” according to The Muse.
This salutation is ideal for less formal communication, such as reaching out to ask a quick question to members of your organization’s data team. It’s less appropriate in a cover letter, where you’d go for something a little specific.
More informal than “Good afternoon” is a plain old “Hello!” This greeting is most appropriate when sending out a group email to coworkers whose names it doesn’t make sense to list out individually. It communicates a certain level of intimacy between you and your recipients, so it’s certainly not meant for your cover letter, but in more casual email settings it’s a great, friendly greeting.
This salutation is perhaps a tad archaic, but it works both in formal and casual contexts as a salutation to a group or individual. It gives the sense that you’re about to present information, like an invitation to an event, instead of asking a question Use “Greetings” in mail you send to professors, colleagues you don’t know well, or your whole book club when suggesting next month’s pick, but go for another “To Whom It May Concern” alternative when you’re addressing your cover letter.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Hannah Berman is an editor, writer and educator. She is currently pursuing a Master of Education degree at Johns Hopkins University.
Team editors contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.