When and How to Use the Phrase 'To Whom It May Concern'

Updated 6 January 2023

It is important to include a suitable greeting at the beginning of business correspondence, such as a cover letter for a job application or an email for a sales inquiry. Using an appropriate and professional salutation sets the tone for the rest of the letter's subject matter and shows the recipient that you understand the basic rules of business etiquette. There are several appropriate business greetings you can use, and the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern' is one of the most common.

In this article, we describe how to begin professional letters and business emails using this greeting, explain when and where you can use this phrase and discuss other salutations to consider in its place.

Related: How To Write a Formal Letter (With Example)

'To Whom It May Concern' in business correspondence

'To Whom It May Concern' is a formal salutation usually used to head professional communications when you do not know the recipient's identity or you are not addressing one particular person. Suppose you are writing a letter of recommendation for a colleague, for example. Anyone could review it, and if you do not know the name or job title of the specific person you are sending the letter to, you could use the salutation, 'To Whom It May Concern'. This is a good neutral greeting that is both professional and formal.

There was a time before the internet when business correspondence commonly used this salutation. It was a challenge to find the correct names, job titles and email addresses of specific individuals. Because of the internet, there are now several ways to find out the name of the employer or hiring manager you need to contact. This makes it easier to address your correspondence correctly.

Despite your best efforts, there could be times when you cannot find the exact name to address your letter. In such instances, it is appropriate to use 'To Whom It May Concern' as a salutation. If you are not entirely sure about the recipient's name, you should not use it. It is essential in business communication to use correct names or a suitable alternative.


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Examples where the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern' can be used

Here are five situations where you can use the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern' in a business letter:

1. Cover letter for a job application

When drafting a cover letter, you may not know the proper point of contact and who would be assessing the cover letter and job application. Companies often use generic email addresses for job applications, such as 'contact@companyname.com', 'HR@companyname.com' or 'recruiting@companyname.com'.

If you are not sure whether an in-house recruiter, human resources manager or some other executive would be reviewing your cover letter, it is better to use this salutation than take a risk by presuming the name of the recipient.

2. Recommendation letter or letter of reference

When writing a recommendation letter for a former employee or colleague, you do not need to include information about the hiring manager or recruiter. With businesses using cutting-edge technologies like recruiter-automation methods, sometimes the system does not have information about the company profile.

Another reason is that applicants frequently direct their application letter together with the letter of reference to more than one company to increase the chances of an invitation for an interview. In these situations, you can use 'To Whom It May Concern' in your letter of reference or recommendation letter so that they can use it for more than one job application.

3. Business introduction email to a new customer or prospective client

When corresponding with a person you have never had an interaction with or replying to an automatic message from a prospective client that does not include any details, it is fitting to use 'To Whom It May Concern'.

In the introduction letter, you can request the details of the recipient so that you can use their name in later correspondence.

4. Letter of interest

You can also use 'To Whom It May Concern' when you need to express your interest but do not have the details of your potential contact. It could be a letter you write to express your interest in working for a company or your intent to attend a specific school.

If you want to use their actual name, you could reach out through a mutual connection or check social media to find out more about their personal information. However, if there is no way to find out, you can start your prospecting letter with 'To Whom It May Concern' instead.

Related: How To Write a Letter of Interest (With Steps and Examples)

5. Feedback, complaints or suggestions

When making a formal complaint about a company's service or product, it is suitable to use this generic salutation, especially if you are not sure whom to address. Using this phrase is appropriate because you may send the complaint letter to multiple individuals or departments. This is the same for sending company feedback and suggestions. Multiple people will likely see this letter, so you do not need to address it to one person specifically.

Alternatives to 'To Whom It May Concern'

The salutation 'To Whom It May Concern' is increasingly seen as generic, outdated and impersonal when used in email and business correspondences. Substitute this phrase with others to make your business letters more engaging and personal. Here are a few alternative salutations to consider:

'Dear [Name]' or 'Dear [Title] [Surname]'

If you know the name of the recipient, do not use a generic salutation. For example, when sending a cover letter in response to a job advertisement, you can start the letter by using their title and surname as shown in this example:

Dear Mr. Williams,

If the point of contact is female, use Ms. as the title rather than Mrs. or Miss:

Dear Ms. Davis,

If you know the person well, you can use their first name instead:

Dear Parker,

'Dear [Job Title]'

If you do not know the name of the recipient but are aware of their job title, then you can include it in the correspondence:

Dear Customer Service Manager,

'Dear [Team or Department]'

If you have to address a whole department or a group of people from a team, you can address the letter with the name of the department:

Dear Human Resources Department,

'Greetings', 'Hello' or 'Hi there'

If you want to send a casual memo or an announcement for a meeting that isn't official, you could start your correspondence more casually as in the examples given below:

Hello, marketing team,

Greetings communications team,

Using 'To Whom It May Concern' correctly

When addressing a letter with 'To Whom It May Concern', the entire phrase is capitalised and often followed by a colon. Leave a space after the phrase, then start the first paragraph of the correspondence. For example:

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Soo Antony. I would like to apply for the copy editor position that you advertised on your website.

Related: How To Start a Letter: Professional Tips and Examples

How to find the name of a contact

Though it is acceptable to use the phrase 'To Whom It May Concern' in business correspondence, the best way to address a letter is to find the name of the person who is going to read it. Follow these tips to find the recipient's name or job title for your professional communications:

Check job postings

If you look at job advertisements, you may find a point of contact. Employers often include the name of the person responsible for screening and reviewing applications in their job postings.

Check the company website or other social media sites

A lot of companies include the name of their employees and their official positions on their websites or media pages. Check the company's website and look for the person in the most relevant role before you use a generic salutation. You can also search online for the company name and job profile to see if any information comes up.

Ask another contact

If you have a connection within the company you need to contact, you can reach out to them to ask for the correct recipient's name and job title.

Call the company

Another way to find the information you need is to call the company directly and ask for the name of the person you should correspond with. While making a call, make sure to tell them who you are and why you need the requested information. For example, if you are applying for a position in the company's HR department and want to learn the name of the hiring manager, you can explain this on the phone. This can also help show your interest in the company.

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