After calling the company, you may find that you’re still unable to determine the name of the hiring manager. In that case, consider using a different generic greeting. You could address your letter to the HR Manager or the Talent Acquisition Team. Beginning your letter with the phrase “Dear Recruiting Department” or “Dear Search Committee” would be better than saying “Dear sir or madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” By using the company’s terminology, you show that you cared enough to learn about the structure of the organization where you hope to work.
By including the department head’s name, you make a stronger case for yourself than you do by addressing a job title or name of department. Beyond making a better first impression, anytime you greet someone directly, you forge a personal connection that may help you achieve your goal. For any communication—whether it’s a job search, a formal complaint, or a sales inquiry—writing to the right person can be critical. You can usually find contact information for employees on the “About Us” section of a company’s website. By including someone’s name in your letter, you’ll be more likely to get a fair reading and have your letter end up in the right hands.
Knowing that it’s best to write to someone specific, you may still come across situations in which you’ll need to address an unknown recipient. You may want to use “To Whom It May Concern” under the following circumstances:
Letter of Reference
When you write a letter of recommendation for a former employee or a student, the salutation may need to apply to a number of different readers in the future. Often, the employee or student will distribute copies of the letter to recruiters or potential employees. When you address the letter “To Whom It May Concern,” you allow for many different use cases.
When you receive a business inquiry without any context, as often happens through an online comment form, you’ll need to choose a generic salutation. Some less formal salutations include “Hello there” and “Greetings.”
Complaints and Company Feedback
When you give company feedback to your own employer, the HR department may send your comment to relevant parties across the organization. Often, especially in large companies, a formal complaint bounces around to different departments. If you think your business letter will be passed around, you may want to avoid confusion by using a generic greeting. You’ll need to weigh the costs and benefits of addressing your letter to one person. On the plus side, choosing only one recipient could be a personal touch that inspires the reader to address your complaint. On the negative side, receiving a letter addressed to somebody else can be confusing.
It’s common for people who work in sales to include a generic salutation when they’re unsure about which person they should contact within an organization; however, we recommend a stronger strategy. You’d be better off finding the name of an employee who is likely to be a colleague of your ideal prospect. Then, you can write to them, asking for the contact information of the decision-maker within the organization. Now, when you contact your prospect, you can say, “Tim told me that you’re the decision-maker when it comes to marketing software.” You’ll be ahead of the game by the time you reach out to your prospect, since you’ve already done your research.
How to Use the Phrase Correctly
When you use the phrase “To Whom It May Concern,” be sure to capitalize each word. We recommend following the phrase with a colon, rather than a comma. After the salutation, skip a line or two, and then begin your letter. Be sure to ask for the reader’s name in the body of your letter, if appropriate, so that you’ll be able to address your recipient by name in future correspondence!
For a list of the six best salutations, review our article about how to start an email.
The Word Counter is a dynamic online tool used for counting words, characters, sentences, paragraphs, and pages in real time, along with spelling and grammar checking.
Kari Lisa Johnson
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.