How and When to Use the Phrase “To Whom It May Concern”

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 September 2022 | Published 25 August 2020

Updated 19 September 2022

Published 25 August 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When you write a professional letter, it is important to greet the recipient in a way that will elicit the best possible response. There are many different ways to greet someone in a letter, including the general salutation 'To Whom It May Concern'. While there are situations where it is appropriate and even preferred to use 'To Whom It May Concern', understanding when you should use this phrase can ensure you choose the best possible greeting for your letter.

In this article, we discuss when you should use 'To Whom It May Concern', alternatives that you may want to consider and steps you can take to find the recipient's contact information.

Why do people use the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern'?

'To Whom It May Concern' should be used to write a letter or email when you are not sure of the person who will receive the letter. For instance, this greeting is used when someone is writing to a company reporting a complaint. It is acceptable to use 'To Whom It May Concern' in this situation because you are unsure who will read and act on your complaint. It is a safe and general form of salutation when writing a letter or email.

Related: Salutation Examples for Letters

When to use 'To Whom It May Concern'

There are some situations when using 'To Whom it May Concern' is appropriate, such as:

  • Reaching out to a large company: Sometimes, you want to send a letter to a certain company. However, many large companies have a complex organisational structure. In this situation, it is difficult to identify the correct contact person. Therefore, it is advisable to use the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern'.

  • Company complaints: When lodging a complaint to a company, the recipient of the letter or email is not always important. All you need is for your complaints to be heard and addressed. In this instance, you can use the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern'.

  • Prospecting: If you are a sales agent, you may want to reach out to prospective clients. In this situation, you likely do not have the names of the people with whom you are trying to connect, so it is advisable to use 'To Whom It May Concern'.

  • Giving someone a recommendation: When writing a recommendation for someone, it is best to address it using 'To Whom It May Concern'. You may be writing a general letter that the person whom you are referring will share with multiple hiring managers.

Related: Guide on How To Write an Email

How to use 'To Whom It May Concern'

Follow these guidelines when using 'To Whom it May Concern':

  • Each word of the phrase should be capitalised.

  • There is only one alternative to 'Whom', which is 'Whomever'.

  • After the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern', use a colon, not a comma.

  • Include a double space after the phrase and before beginning the body of the message.

Related: 6 Ways To Start Your Email Right

Alternatives to 'To Whom It May Concern'

Although using it sometimes can't be avoided, there are several reasons why using an alternative to 'To Whom It May Concern' is often the better approach. First, when a letter has no specific recipient, there is no clear direction for who should act on it. Also, by taking the time to identify who should receive the letter, you present yourself as a professional.

It is for these reasons that people should consider other alternatives. Below are some phrases you can use instead of 'To Whom It May Concern':

  • 'Dear [specific person]'

  • 'Dear [role]'

  • 'Good morning' or 'Good evening'

  • 'Dear [department]'

  • 'Hello'

  • Leave out the salutation

'Dear [specific person]'

Using the internet, you can usually browse a company website and learn the name of the person to whom you are writing your letter or email. Once you find out the name of the person you want to contact, replace 'To Whom It May Concern' with 'Dear [name]'. For example, 'Dear Adria Goh'.

In instances where you only know the first name of the recipient, if your letter is informal, you can use the same format and simply include their first name. For example, 'Dear Mei'.

'Dear [role]'

Sometimes, employers do not put information about their employees on the company website. This may be because it goes against their policies and regulations. In situations where this is the case, you can just write your letter or email to the person's job title or role at the company. For example, 'Dear hiring manager'.

Related: 340 Job Title Examples (Plus How To Write a Job Title)

'Good morning' or 'Good evening'

Another alternative to using 'To Whom It May Concern' is 'Good evening' or 'Good morning'. Using phrases like these is useful when sending emails you are confident the recipient will read immediately.

Related: 63 Email Sign-Offs To Use for Professional Emails

'Dear [department]'

Addressing a department is also another alternative to 'To Whom It May Concern'. It is useful when you do not know who exactly in that department is the primary point of contact. An example of this is, 'Dear Human Resources Department'.

Related: How To Use Best Regards in Emails (With Tips)

'Hello'

A simple hello can also be used instead of 'To Whom it May Concern'. This is particularly useful when you are not addressing a specific person. One thing to keep in mind when using this kind of phrase is that it is somewhat informal. For this reason, it is not advisable to use it when writing professional letters or emails unless you know the recipient well.

Related: Tips for Using Thank You vs. Regards in Emails and Letters

Leave out the salutation

Another option is to leave out any salutations from your email or letter altogether. If you do decide to leave out any kind of greeting, you will open the letter with the first paragraph, beginning by stating your intention for writing.

Related: How To Say Thank You in Your Email

How to find the recipient's contact information

For the majority of the alternatives listed above, you need specific information about the recipient. Here are some steps you can take to find their name:

  1. Check the company website

  2. Visit the company's online professional networking profile

  3. Call the company

  4. Ask your HR recruiter

  5. Ask others

  6. Check the poster

1. Check the company website

One of the easiest ways to learn information about a company's personnel is to check their website. Companies usually provide bios for top executives. Using the website, you should be able to find all the necessary information for your letter or email.

2. Visit the company's online professional networking profile

Sometimes, you may find that the recipient's information is not on the website. In this case, their professional networking profile can be of great help. Perform a search online for the company's name, and locate the company profile on the social networking site. Using this approach, you can often find employees, especially executives, who use the networking site and are connected to the company page.

3. Call the company

Of course, not all companies provide information about their personnel online. When this is the case, you will need to take extra steps to reach out to the company and ask for that person's name directly. When you do so, make sure to introduce yourself and state why you would like the person's information.

For example: 'Good morning. My Name is Balqis binti Salleh, and I would like to apply for the secretarial job your company announced on 22 June 2022. Would you mind providing me with the name and title of the manager in charge of recruitment? This would help me address my application letter appropriately'.

4. Ask your HR recruiter

If you are writing an email or cover letter to a hiring manager, your HR recruiter can help you. Just ask them for the name and title of the hiring manager.

5. Ask others

You may have a friend who works at the company you would like to address the email to. You can just ask them for the information you need and they may be able to offer assistance. If you do not know anyone there, you can go directly to the firm's front office. There, make a polite request for the contact information of the recipient, and it should be provided to you.

6. Check the poster

When an interview is about to be held, a poster or notice is generally sent out to the selected candidates. Such notices usually contain details about the interview, including information about who will conduct the interviews. Read through the poster carefully to identify them. Making the effort to identify the name of the hiring manager will convey to them that you are serious about the role, which will help set you apart from other candidates.

Related: How to End an Email (With Closing Examples and Tips)

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