When and How To Use “To Whom It May Concern” In a Letter

A man types typically on an old school computer. The man looks like he's from the 1970s or 1980s.
Getty images
Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.

A “to whom it may concern” letter greeting has never really been accepted as cordial in business correspondence, or even informal correspondence.

It’s certainly formal, but definitely not personable. It sounds like you’re about to launch into a customer service complaint or an emphatic demand to speak to the manager.

So what do you do when you want to apply for a job, but you don’t have a contact in the company?

We’ll walk you through how and when to use “to whom it may concern” in a letter or email, as well as how to leverage job boards like ZipRecruiter in your job search. We’ll also discuss alternatives to the “to whom it may concern” letter that’ll make recipients a lot more receptive to unsolicited communications from you.

Why ‘To Whom It May Concern’ Is Off-Putting

Let’s break down the phrase, “to whom it may concern,” for a better understanding of why it creates a negative impression.

It’s a flowery admission that you’re either clueless about where your letter should go or you didn’t care enough to figure that out.

The language in this phrase establishes the rest of your letter as a notice, rather than the start of a conversation with someone you respect.

So why should they respond, especially if you didn’t put in the effort to address and send it to the right person? Is it their job to determine if you’ve sent it to the right or wrong person?

Plus, this problematic letter salutation implies that the contents of your letter may concern them, or it may concern someone else altogether — “You figure it out!”

In business letters, proposal letters, cover letters and even professional networking, you’re relying on the civility of the recipients. There’s no obligation for them to respond to you.

You need their grace to hand off that job application, tell you more about that job posting, share the hiring manager’s name with you or forward your cover letter to the appropriate person.

When to Use ‘To Whom It May Concern’ in Your Job Search

Formalities aren’t always personable, which can be a detriment when you’re looking to build personal connections. On top of how stuffy and distant writing letters with this salutation sounds, it’s also old fashioned.

Still, there are some use cases for “to whom it may concern,” if you just can’t let it go. But we won’t focus on use cases related to a proposal letter, a prospecting letter or even business networking.

The following cases apply specifically to using “to whom it may concern” in a job search:

1. You Have No Idea Where Your Email or Letter Should Go

You can use this greeting to get navigational help around a company that doesn’t share much with the outside world.

Sending this greeting to a gatekeeper or a sort of switchboard email inbox could help you reach contacts like a human resources manager or the hiring manager for a department you’d like to work in.

But because this greeting sounds cold to most people these days, you might receive an equally chilly response — if you receive any at all. And you certainly shouldn’t use “to whom it may concern” in a cover letter.

2. You Want to Make an Announcement to Any and All Interested Parties.

If you’ve found a new job and don’t particularly like your current coworkers, “to whom it may concern” is a good way to show them how little you care.

But before jumping on your desk and slamming the door on your way out, keep in mind that this could hurt you to a degree when future employers inquire with them about your work history.

Legally, past employers are only supposed to authenticate your work history there. But while they may not speak badly of you, their tone may spin a very different narrative about your time there.

3. Writing a Generic Recommendation Letter for a Former Colleague

This is about as acceptable as it gets for using “to whom it may concern” during a job search. But unless you want your reference to sound like it was written under duress, every recommendation letter should use a warmer greeting.

When You Should Never Use ‘To Whom It May Concern’

While there are a few cases in which you might get away with using a less-than-friendly greeting, there are many more situations in which this one in particular should never be used.

If you were given the name of a contact or a team within a company, you can come off as smug, if you don’t address them directly. You have to talk to people, not at people.

Similarly, you’ll probably look bad if you simply haven’t done your research. Oftentimes, you can figure out names and titles by visiting a company’s website or LinkedIn page. You could also just pick up a phone and talk to a company representative.

And if you weren’t given the name of a specific person, or no names are listed online, we can think of all sorts of greetings that sound warmer and more respectful.

Alternatives for ‘To Whom It May Concern’

You called, checked their website and even mined social media. But you still have no clue who’s on the other end of that email address or whose desk your cover letter or other business correspondence will come across.

It’s OK to use a generic greeting when writing professional letters, as long as you keep it congenial. Use these alternative greetings in your next business letter, and you’ll have a better chance of having that warmth and respect returned to you:

  • Hi or Hello
  • Greetings
  • Good Morning, Good Afternoon or Good Evening
  • Dear Recruiter,
  • Dear Hiring Manager,
  • Dear [Department name] Team
  • Dear Hiring Department
  • Dear Recruiting Manager
  • Dear [Job Title]
  • Dear [contact person]

While warmer than “to whom it may concern,” you may want to avoid gender-based salutations like dear sir or dear madam.

You could find yourself on shaky ground when assuming gender in business correspondences, especially if you’ve never met the person you’re addressing, and it’s your first letter to them.

Letting a Virtual Recruiter Break the Ice for You

You just might be talented and experienced enough to come calling and have a company create a role for you, even though they weren’t advertising any job openings.

But if you’re like most of us, you’ll get better results by applying to active opportunities. And with online job boards like ZipRecruiter and business networking sites like LinkedIn, it’s never been easier to find open jobs and build relationships with key decision-makers.

While other job boards only show you jobs posted on their website, ZipRecruiter shows you career opportunities posted on over 100 different job boards.

These boards range from general job boards to niche sites that cater to educators, tech jobs, gigs for recent grads, freelance jobs, medical careers, engineering jobs, transportation jobs and a whole lot more.

We know searching dozens and dozens of job boards can be daunting and exhausting. But thanks to ZipRecruiter’s virtual recruiter, built on artificial intelligence, you can get matched with the most relevant jobs.

Their virtual recruiter will even make introductions for you — no need to draft a doomed-to-fail “to whom it may concern letter.” Not only does their virtual recruiter show relevant jobs to you, it also promotes you as a candidate to hiring managers and recruiters looking for talent like you.

Final Word

The bottom line: If you want to make a good impression on a hiring manager or whoever else your letter may concern, use friendly and professional language in your emails and your cover letter.

At best, impersonal greetings sound as if you don’t know any better. At worst, they make it sound as if you don’t have much respect for the person you’re communicating with.

Just as “to whom it may concern” is considered outdated, so is spamming company emails to try to prospect your way into your dream job.

With online job boards like ZipRecruiter and others, you can upload your resume and cover letter so that the recruiters and hiring managers will come to you.