Published: Oct 03, 2022 | Updated at: Oct 03, 2022
To Whom It May Concern Letter Etiquette
Have you ever wondered if it is still appropriate to use the phrase "to whom it may concern"?
It's a phrase traditionally used as a salutation when writing a letter or an email to an unknown recipient. You might use To Whom it May Concern. when seeking a new job or internship or making an important customer or client inquiry.
But is a "to whom it may concern" letter still best practice? Or has it become outdated in the age of social media and online search? Let's take a closer look.
When to Use a "To Whom It May Concern" Letter
Although "to whom it may concern" can feel a bit stuffy, there are certain situations where it's still the most appropriate option. For example, if you're sending a physical letter to an organization, as opposed to a person, "To Whom it May Concern" is often your best bet. It is especially true if you don't know the name of the right contact person at the organization or if you're not sure of the recipient's gender.
Another time you might use "to whom it may concern" is when you're making a general inquiry — for instance, if you're trying to reach customer service for a company but don't have a specific person's name to address your email or letter to.
Formal Business Correspondence
One common use of "to whom it may concern" is in formal business correspondence, such as job applications and cover letters. If you don't know the name of the person you're writing to, this phrase allows you to start your letter without sounding overly casual or unprofessional. However, if you have even the slightest clue who your recipient might be, it's always best to find out and use their name instead. A little research goes a long way!
Feedback and Complaints
On the other hand, "to whom it may concern" can also be used when making a complaint or giving feedback about a product or service—in these cases, using this phrase signals that you're addressing your comments to the company as a whole rather than any one specific individual.
You might use "to whom it may concern" when you send a letter of recommendation and do not know the name of the person who will be reading it. For example, if you're writing a letter of recommendation for a former colleague applying for a new job, you might not know the hiring manager's name. In this case, "To Whom It May Concern" is a perfectly acceptable way to start your letter.
Are there any other circumstances where "To Whom It May Concern" might be appropriate? As a general rule of thumb, if you would use "Dear Sir/Madam" instead, then "To Whom It May Concern" is probably an acceptable substitute.
When using "to whom it may concern," make sure to capitalize the first word and follow with a colon. Also, make sure that you use the correct spelling and grammar. (It should be "To whom it may concern," not "To who it may concern.")
Then, start your letter with a courteous opener such as "I am writing to inquire about…" or "I am interested in learning more about…". From there, be direct and concise in explaining why you're reaching out and what kind of information or help you hope to receive.
Also, you'll want to make sure you use the correct email format. Instead of using "to whom it may concern" as a salutation in the body of the email, use it at the beginning of an email subject line. In this case, there is no need to follow the phrase with a colon. For example: "Subject: To Whom It May Concern, Information Requested Regarding..."
When NOT to Use "To Whom It May Concern"
In most cases, it's best to avoid using "to whom it may concern." Why? Because it often comes across as cold and impersonal—the opposite of what you want in most business correspondence!
If possible, try to find out the name of the person you're writing to and use that instead. Recipients will appreciate the effort, which could make all the difference in whether or not they read your letter (or email) carefully.
If you're unsure of the person's gender, you can use their full name followed by their title, such as "Ms. Smith" or "Mr. Jones." If you're still not sure, you can use their first name only. For example:
- Dear Alex
- Hi Pat
- Hello Sam
If you have a specific person in mind, it's always better to address them by name.
Alternatives to "To Whom It May Concern"
If you want to sound more contemporary (and personal) in your letter or email introduction, consider using one of these alternatives:
- Dear Hiring Manager
- Dear Recruiting Team
- Dear Sales Department
- Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening.
These greetings are friendly without being overfamiliar, giving your message a more conversational tone right from the start. Plus, they let the recipient know exactly who you are trying to reach — which can be helpful if your letter or email gets forwarded internally within the company.
When in doubt, though, erring on the side of formality is always safe — so if you're not sure which salutation to use, stick with "to whom it may concern."
An Acceptable Alternative
So, there you have it— everything you need to know about using (or not using) a "To whom it may concern" letter in your business correspondence. The salutation is a formal way to begin a letter when you do not know the name of the person who will be reading it. While it is an acceptable alternative, many people find it stuffy and outdated.
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