"To Whom It May Concern" Alternatives and Best Practices
When applying for a new job, catching the attention of the hiring manager is your top priority. Addressing your cover letter or email with “To Whom It May Concern” does the exact opposite. It tells the person reading it that you don’t know them, didn’t research who they are, and are blindly shooting in the dark.
Ideally, you should find the full name and position of the person hiring for the role. Just like when you’re introducing yourself to someone in person, using the other person's name makes a positive impression and sets them at ease. Realistically, though, that’s not always possible.
So, what should, and shouldn’t, you use instead of “To Whom It May Concern”?
“To Whom It May Concern” Best Alternatives
Best: Dear [Full Name]
Addressing your email or cover letter using the recipient’s full name is always ideal. It’s personalized and shows you know who you’re communicating with. Even if you have never corresponded with this person before, they will usually appreciate the fact that you think it is important enough to research who they are. Without fail, every time you can find the person’s full name, use that.
Good: Dear [Ms./Mr.] [ Last Name]
Using titles such as Ms. or Mr. can be just as good as using their full name. In fact, many prefer this way as using a person’s title sounds a bit more respectful than when you do not yet know the person. The reason this option is listed second, however, is because of the gender assumption you have to make to use it. If you are not certain how a person identifies themselves, it can be very risky and offensive to just assume. Before using a gender-specific title like this, be one-hundred percent certain you know how the person identifies themselves.
Note: In recent years, some have adopted the gender-neutral title “Mx.” as opposed to Ms., Mr., Mrs. Etc. This is a great option if you know the person themself uses it, but should not be a replacement title if you are unsure. If you see them refer to themselves with “Mx.”, feel free to address them as “Mx. [Last Name]”. If not, it is best to avoid it, as this is still relatively new and many may confuse it for a typo.
Acceptable: Dear [Department] Head or Dear [Job Title]
If you have hunted everywhere possible and absolutely cannot find the person's name, using their job title is your next best option to replace “To Whom It May Concern”. If you know the specific job role doing the hiring, use that. Otherwise, find the name of the department hiring for the position, and refer to their leader instead.
Last Resort: Dear Hiring Manager
It will be rare, but you may find yourself in the position of not even knowing what job title or department is actually doing the hiring for your position. In this situation, “Dear Hiring Manager” is not a great option, but it is slightly better than “To Whom It May Concern”. At least you are recognizing that the person you are writing to holds a relevant position. Resort to this only if the above options prove to be impossible to find.
Looking for common technical interview questions?
“To Whom It May Concern” Bad Alternatives
Knowing what not to say is just as important as knowing what to say. While you’re avoiding “To Whom It May Concern”, be sure to shy away from these as well.
Dear Sir or Madam
“Dear Sir or Madam” is definitely not a good alternative for “To Whom It May Concern”. It’s extremely dated and sounds like it belongs in a different century. Being professional in your writing is important, but there’s a fine line between professionalism and sounding overly formal. Leave “Dear Sir or Madam” to royalty and find a safer option.
You may only have one chance at capturing the hiring manager’s attention with your email or cover letter. The very first thing they are sure to notice is how they are personally addressed. In the context of job seeking, “To whom it may concern” should almost never be used. Ideally, you should do your research and find the name of the person you are communicating with. Even if that’s not possible, use the other options listed above and never shoot yourself in the foot with “To whom it may concern”.
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Peterson Technology Partners (PTP) has been Chicago's premier Information Technology (IT) staffing, consulting, and recruiting firm for over 22+ years. Named after Chicago's historic Peterson Avenue, PTP has built its reputation by developing lasting relationships, leading digital transformation, and inspiring technical innovation throughout Chicagoland.
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