Dear Sir or Madam: How To Use It and Alternatives

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 June 2021

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.

You might have come across a letter or email that opens with 'Dear Sir or Madam'. This is a common way to begin business correspondence because it's inclusive and respectful. Understanding how to use the greeting appropriately can help you present yourself as an astute professional. This is especially important when applying for a job with a cover letter. In this article, we discuss why professionals use 'Dear Sir or Madam', when to use the greeting, how to use it and other alternatives to 'Dear Sir or Madam'.

Why use 'Dear Sir or Madam'

'Dear Sir or Madam' is a common opening greeting in business letters and emails. Professionals usually use this salutation to address an unknown recipient. This could be a new customer, business client or recruiter. It's an effective way to introduce yourself to someone new while conveying respect and goodwill. It's a common professional convention that should you follow closely, will get you an appropriate response. Mastering introductions via email can help you build your professional network and secure business growth.

When to use 'Dear Sir or Madam'

It's best to always do some research on the name of your message's recipient before you address them with 'Dear Sir or Madam'. Finding the correct name will help you make a good first impression. People are also more likely to reply to your inquiry as it feels more personal and encourages others to be accountable. However, if this is not possible, 'Dear Sir or Madam' is still an approachable way to greet an unknown recipient. Here are some situations when you might use the term:

A good gender-neutral option

If you do not know the gender of your message's recipient, you can use 'Dear Sir or Madam' to be inclusive. It's a generic salutation that sounds polite.

Related: Learning About Diversity And Inclusion: 10 Free Virtual Courses

Suitable to address various ranks

When you do not know the official title of your recipient, 'Dear Sir or Madam' is a suitable way to introduce yourself to professionals of varying levels of seniority. For example, if you are communicating with a business leader, such as a hiring manager, 'Dear Sir or Madam' carries enough authority to be appropriate in this situation.

A convenient choice for group emails

Sometimes you might need to communicate important information to a group of people, such as an entire department or company. In this case, it would be too impractical to write individual letters to each person or list every name in one email. Instead, you can use 'Dear Sir or Madam' to make sure you address all relevant parties. Sometimes when you state a specific person's name in a group email, others may ignore the message. Thus, using this inclusive greeting ensures everyone takes your message seriously.

How to address an unknown recipient in a formal letter

When addressing an unknown recipient in an interview, you need to balance respect with authority. This way, you can increase your chances of eliciting a response from them. The following are a few ways to guide you through this challenging situation:

1. Research your message's recipient

Before you write 'Dear Sir or Madam' in the opening of your message, take some time to investigate the recipient's name. Here are few ways to find out more information about them:

  • Browse the company website

  • Look through the company's social media platforms

  • Search for the individual on professional social media profiles, such as LinkedIn

  • Call the company and ask for a direct contact

  • Ask your existing professional network for a formal introduction

2. Consider the communication channel

'Dear Sir or Madam' is an extremely formal greeting that is only appropriate for a few communication channels. As a general rule, you should try to avoid using the phrase in an email. Instead, use 'Dear Sir or Madam' in a hard copy letter as a traditional way to convey your goodwill. For example, you can use the greeting in a cover letter because it's a formal document that aims to establish a professional relationship with a recruiter.

Related: How to Structure a Cover Letter (With Example)

3. Examine the purpose of your letter

The intention of your message will also determine the greeting you select. If your purpose is to form a partnership with them, such as gaining a business opportunity or job interview, it's quite appropriate to consider a greeting as formal as 'Dear Sir or Madam'. However, if your goal is more casual in its nature, such as making a quick inquiry, a salutation that sounds more relaxed might be a better option.

4. Understand the recipient's point of view

Every professional will perceive your greeting differently. It can be difficult to tell exactly how an unknown recipient will respond to your business letter as you have little information to make a good judgement. However, you can understand them more by asking yourself about the kind of professional relationship you want to establish with them.

For example, if you want to find a new supplier for your brand's product or service, you might need to contact a senior business leader. In this case, it would be best to use 'Dear Sir or Madam' to show regard to their seniority. This way, you can start a new partnership that has the potential to last the long-term, on a pleasant note.

What to use instead of 'Dear Sir or Madam'

While there are several advantages to the phrase 'Dear Sir or Madam', it can appear a bit too serious and outdated. That's why considering an alternative greeting may be in your best interest. The following are a few alternative greetings instead of 'Dear Sir or Madam' that are also suitable for addressing an unknown recipient:

To Whom It May Concern

'To Whom It May Concern' is a common alternative to 'Dear Sir or Madam'. It essentially serves the same purpose and uses a similar formal tone, too. It's a suitable option for a group email that requires the dutiful attention of over one individual. For example, you can use the phrase in a cover letter to address a team of recruiters. It's an effective greeting that ensures you cover all your bases.

Dear [Job title]

When you know your recipient's position at a company or when you aim to address a certain level of seniority, you can use the greeting, 'Dear [Job title]'. If this individual is a recruiter, for example, you can say 'Dear Hiring Manager'. The phrase allows you to be more specific. It ensures you reach out to the correct professional. This is especially important when you are using a generic email address, such as 'marketing@email.com'.

Dear [Department name]

Another way to be more specific in your message's greeting is with the phrase 'Dear [Department name]'. Even if you do not know the recipient's name or job title, it's highly likely that you will know the department that you want to contact. This is a useful method to reach the right professional through a company inquiry email address, such as 'inquiry@email.com'. For instance, if you want to connect with a company's marketing department, you can open your message with 'Dear Marketing Team'.

Good day

'Good day', 'Good morning' or 'Good afternoon' are all pleasant salutations to begin a business email or letter. While it's not as formal as 'Dear Sir/Madam', the phrases sound more friendly. You can use the greeting to address a professional in an ordinary rank or one that works in a company with a more intimate culture. If the purpose of your correspondence is more casual in nature, then feel free to use a similar pleasantry.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

I hope this email finds you well

You can use the sentence, 'I hope this email finds you well' to appear more approachable and considerate to an unknown recipient. Unlike 'Dear Sir or Madam', the sentence does not sound as curt; therefore, it's less vulnerable to misinterpretation. While some may view this as an awkward way to begin a business letter or email, it's quickly becoming more common in professional settings. Try out different greetings at the start of your message to decide which flows best with your content.

Hello

'Hello', 'Hi there' or 'Hey' are extremely casual greetings that are only suitable for a select few work environments. While to some, it may sound friendly, others may perceive this greeting as unprofessional. To err on the safe side, use 'Hello' to greet people that you already have some sort of connection with. You may feel more comfortable using this salutation when corresponding with people in organisations with a casual company culture, but it's always best to opt for a more formal version when introducing yourself to someone new.

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