Email Etiquette: Here's How To Use 'To Whom It May Concern'

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.

It's quite common to come across the greeting, 'To Whom It May Concern' in your work correspondence. Its purpose is to introduce yourself to recruiters, business clients and customers whose name you do not know. Although there are alternatives to this phrase, 'To Whom It May Concern' is the most flexible. In this article we discuss, when to use 'To Whom It May Concern', the correct way to use the phrase, how to use it, other alternatives and common questions regarding the use of 'To Whom It May Concern'.

When to use 'To Whom It May Concern'?

You can use 'To Whom It May Concern' as a polite greeting at the start of any formal business letter. Typically, people use this phrase when they are introducing themselves to an individual whose name and job title are unknown to them. The phrase is a common occurrence in emails, letters, text messages and other forms of written correspondence. Since businesses always want to grow their operations, by reaching out to new customers, manufacturers and suppliers, 'To Whom It May Concern' is often the most reliable greeting that professionals choose.

The following are some situations when to use 'To Whom It May Concern':

Cover letter

While it's best to always do some research to find out your cover letter's recipient name, if you come up with no leads, you can use 'To Whom It May Concern' as a greeting instead. Avoid guessing the recruiter's name and use this phrase as a safe option. Sometimes recruiters also use generic aliases, such as 'recruiting@company.com', suggesting that over one person might review your job application. In this case, writing 'To Whom It May Concern' is in your best interest.

Related: How to Write a Cover Letter

Recommendation letter

If a former co-worker asks you to write a referral letter, you can use 'To Whom It May Concern' to address the recipient. Since your colleague might use this letter to apply for several vacancies, the generic greeting is most suitable for this style of correspondence.

Related: How to Ask Someone to Be Your Referee: Email Examples

Automated messages

If you work in sales or marketing, you can expect to receive inquiries from strangers regularly. Implementing an automated reply system is an essential strategy to capture potential customers and business clients. When creating these messages, you can use 'To Whom It May Concern' because it's suitable for a wider audience. Some organisations may think of a creative way to phrase this greeting, but using the standard option will still appear polite.

Introducing yourself to new clients

When you are trying to network with professionals in different companies for partnerships or other business opportunities, you can use 'To Whom It May Concern' to address people you do not know. Always try to find a direct contact to make your correspondence more personalised. However, the generic greeting is an excellent backup option too.

What is the correct way to write 'To Whom It May Concern'?

There are simple and easy-to-follow business writing rules on the correct way to write 'To Whom It May Concern'. Here are some guidelines that you can use as a reference:

  • Capitalise the first letter of each word in the phrase

  • Format the greeting in the same font style and size as the rest of your main body text

  • Avoid adding speech marks on either side of the greeting

  • Insert a comma after the phrase

  • Leave a single-line space between your letter's header and the greeting

  • Leave a single-line space between the greeting and your first paragraph

A good rule to keep in mind is to keep the salutation of your correspondence as simple as possible so that the recipient can focus on the most important content of your message. This way, you can prevent any miscommunication and continue operations as normal.

How to use 'To Whom It May Concern'

Here are some steps to think about when using the phrase, 'To Whom It May Concern':

1. Check the job posting

Before you write 'To Whom It May Concern' in a cover letter, review the job posting for details about the name and position of the recruiter. Check the given email address to see if it contains a name that you can address in your correspondence with them.

2. Browse the company website

If you can not find the recruiter's name on their job posting, browse their company website. Some corporate websites dedicate a page to their team, featuring key leaders, including their recruitment team. This is also a good tip to help you find other important connections for business partnerships or services. If you come across a specific name, address this individual directly in the opening of your message.

3. Talk to your connections

Ask your friends and co-workers with known connections with your prospective employer for potential leads. Another excellent method of finding professionals in a certain position is through social media profiles, such as LinkedIn. Search for your target company and view the names of the employees that work there. Use any connections you find in your business correspondence.

4. Consider alternative greetings

Even after doing your research, if you cannot find an exact name, opt for the greeting, 'To Whom It May Concern' in the opening of your letter. You may also want to consider other greetings, such as 'Hello' or 'Good day' to appear more approachable in a less formal message.

Alternatives to "To Whom It May Concern"

When you do not know your recipient's full name, you can use the following alternative greetings to 'To Whom It May Concern' for different styles of correspondence:

Dear Sir/Madam

'Dear Sir/Madam' is the most common alternative to 'To Whom It May Concern'. It's a gender-neutral greeting that sounds respectful and professional.

Dear [Job title/Department]

When you are looking for a professional in a particular department, such as marketing or finance, you can use their department name or the job title of the person you want to contact in the greeting of your email or letter. Here are some examples of how to address an HR professional in a cover letter using this method:

  • Dear Hiring Director

  • Dear Hiring Manager

  • Dear HR Manager

  • Dear Recruiter

  • Dear Recruiting Manager

  • Dear Department Manager

Good Morning, Greetings, Hello or Hi there

Sometimes you will want to use a more casual greeting in order to sound friendly. Companies that have a more close-knit company culture may prefer to rely on a less formal greeting to establish a more intimate connection with their customers. Greetings such as 'Good day' or 'Good morning' are excellent alternatives that are polite yet inviting. If the brand has an even more laid back approach, 'Hello' or 'Hi there' may be an appropriate alternative, too.

Refer to your co-workers' emails to help you get a better idea of what style of greeting would be suitable for your role and company. As a general rule, always use a professional greeting when corresponding with industry leaders.

Common questions regarding 'To Whom It May Concern'?

The following are some answers to the common questions about the use of the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern':

Is it rude to say to 'To Whom It May Concern'?

It's not rude to use the phrase, 'To Whom It May Concern'. However, it really comes down to how people perceive it on an individual level. Think about the cultural context and your recipient when using this standard greeting. For example, if you are corresponding with a client from a low-context culture, such as Australia or the United States, it might be more appropriate to use a casual greeting, such as 'Good Morning' or 'Hello'.

Related: How to Practice Gratitude While Working Remotely

Should I use 'To Whom It May Concern'?

The following are a few benefits of using 'To Whom It May Concern' as your standard opening:

  • Shows respect. Rather than leaving the top of your message empty or using a greeting that takes your message out of context, 'To Whom It May Concern' is a reliable option that appears respectful.

  • Appropriate for different situations.*'To Whom It May Concern'* applies to all business correspondence, including emails to customers and other organisations.

  • Demonstrates consideration for diversity. 'To Whom It May Concern' is a gender-neutral greeting that individuals will appreciate. You can also use it when sending a mass email so that it feels relevant to each individual.

Should you put a comma after 'To Whom It May Concern'?

You should put a comma after 'To Whom It May Concern'. Some professionals also use a colon after the phrase. Placing a comma after 'To Whom It May Concern', adheres to business writing conventions. It goes with the flow of your content and keeps the attention on what is being said, rather than how it's being said.

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