The letter salutation, ‘To whom it may concern,” is a generic, somewhat outdated greeting with a rep for being a tad bit standoffish. But it’s still a relevant option in business correspondence nonetheless — especially when the name or identity of the recipient is unknown.
While it’s important to personalize or address the recipient of your business letters or emails by name, things happen, so that might not be possible all the time.
In this article, we shall discuss in detail ten appropriate occasions to use this salutation and when not to use it.
Let’s dive in!
10 “To whom it may concern” Letter Types with Examples
Many career experts have issues with whom it may concern letter salutation. Because of its bad reputation in many industries, you might think that using it in your correspondence would get you the side eye.
Yes and No.
According to this survey by Resume Companion, 83 percent of hiring managers are indifferent to using “to whom it may concern” salutations on cover letters.
However, following the same survey, this striking figure differs by age and a few other statistics; Gen Zs (18-24) and Boomers (55-64) don’t take well to such greetings.
Not sure when to use “to whom it may concern”? Here are the types of letters you can use in:
1. Scholarship/Academic Reference Letter
You can use a to whom it may concern letter if you’re a college professor or an employer recommending your student or employee for a scholarship. This is appropriate because you might not know whom you’re addressing.
Ideally, in a scholarship recommendation letter, the subject of the letter comes before the salutation and, afterward, the person you recommend in bold letters. This should capture the recipient’s attention, as they will likely scan through the letter rather than read it.
See a sample scholarship recommendation letter below.
As you can see, the above letter follows best practices. It’s scannable with its use of the bold font in the essential bits. This helps ensure the message gets across while maintaining formality.
Another instance where you can use this greeting is for academic reference.
2. Employer Reference Letters
Suppose you’re an employer or a supervisor writing a recommendation for an employee. In that case, you might not find any information about the hiring manager, especially if the recommendation request was sent through an automated system.
Besides, these companies would rather have your thoughts about the candidate they’re about to hire than fuss over whether you know the hiring contact’s name or not. That’s why it’s acceptable to use the “To whom it may concern” letter.
With this type of letter, the recommended can redistribute copies without doing a significant overhaul. After all, the letter is a general recommendation that is not addressed to a specific individual or entity but to anyone in an organization.
Here’s an example of this below.
Like the example we shared, your recommendation letters should generally include the person’s strengths with situational examples of what they can contribute to a company if they’re hired.
3. Sending Out Invitation
When you think of invitation letters, your first thought is a party or an event. But a letter of invitation, in this case, can be used to invite your friend or family to visit if you’re abroad.
For example, if you live, study, or work abroad and your loved one needs a visa to visit you, you can send a letter of invitation to the person. They can then show this letter when submitting their visa application to the embassy to increase their chances of visa approval.
Here’s a sample letter below.
You can write a to whom it may concern letter confirming your responsibility for the family member who wants to visit. The generic salutation is suitable for formal invitations because you might not know the exact contact person but still want to sound respectful.
4. Authorization Letter
Authorization letters allow you to delegate or grant authority to someone to perform a task on your behalf. Your authorization letter should state your name and position of authority, like a guardian or employer, while specifying the details of what you’re granting.
The letter has many uses. You can use it to authorize someone to collect documents on your behalf or to grant a trusted person access to your bank account.
The letter below authorizes an agent to do business with a U.S. government agency.
The letter opens with a title before the to whom it may concern greeting. It also features the name and position of the person authorizing the agent.
Bottom line, if you don’t know the person in charge who can grant the request in the letter, it’s okay not to include a specific salutation. The important thing is that the letter grants someone the authority to do business on your behalf.
5. Introduction Letter
It’s okay to use a to whom it may concern letter when introducing yourself to someone you’ve never interacted with. Here’s a scenario where you can use the to whom it may concern salutation.
If you’ve hired a SaaS consultant to improve your company’s performance, and they suggested you partner with another company for a marketing campaign, you’d have to craft a proposal to be sent to that company.
Looking for names of people you should send the proposal to might be time-consuming. Plus, you’d be prone to mistakes because the person you include in your letter might no longer be working in that company. Since you don’t want to miss the opportunity to boost sales, it’s best to settle for the to whom it may concern salutation.
Another scenario in this salutation applies is when you want to buy an eCommerce business but aren’t sure who exactly runs things. You can also use this salutation when replying to a business inquiry from a generic company inbox or a quote request.
Here’s a sample letter from a company addressing an unknown potential client:
However, to cover all grounds, ask for the recipient’s name in the body of the letter, as they might be your contact moving forward.
6. Formal Complaints
Anyone could lodge a formal complaint.
As an employee, you may find yourself in uncomfortable situations. Similarly, as a client, you can use a to whom it may concern letter to lodge formal complaints with a company:
It’s better to use the to whom it may concern salutation in these letters since you don’t know who exactly will read them.
Besides, in a way, the “who” is not so relevant here. What’s important is that you get your complaint across and that someone – whoever that is — does something about your complaint.
7. Guardianship Letter
A guardianship letter recommends people who will care for a child if anything happens to their current guardians. As a guardian, you can use this letter to appoint someone you trust to take care of the children if circumstances don’t allow you.
Because you can send this kind of letter to a courthouse or any legal body that handles guardian-related matters, you can open with “to whom it may concern”. Anybody in the office could also read it when it’s time to execute the instructions in the letter.
You can use a to whom it may concern letter when prospecting for potential customers. Using this greeting in your letters is logical if you’re contacting them for the first time and don’t know their names.
In the letter sample, a salesperson used the greeting when reaching out to a company that needs paper. It also highlights the benefits the potential client will get if they become a customer.
While prospecting letters is one of the few instances you can use this salutation, do not use it often. As a matter of fact, it’s expected that you do some research on your potential clients before reaching out to them to increase your chances of your letters getting read.
9. Job Verification Letter
A job verification letter is a confirmation by an employer stating that a person previously or currently works for the company.
As an employer, you can use the to whom it may concern letter if the person asking for the letter doesn’t know the name of the recipient. Looking for the recipient’s name is unnecessary and time-consuming.
Here’s what’s important: that the letter confirms (or doesn’t) that a person was or is indeed affiliated with your company.
10. Shipment Confirmation Letter
You can use a to whom it may concern salutation to verify the authenticity of a person, product, or service.
For example, if you have an eCommerce or logistics business, and there’s a backlog of orders you need to distribute, you can use this salutation instead of names to be efficient.
The letter below confirms the contents of a shipment.
The shipment confirmation letter is also in the form of an invoice, so it works as an official document. It’s fine to use “To whom it may concern” since anybody in the concerned agency can receive your letter.
When To Avoid Using “To Whom It May Concern” Letters (Examples Included)
The thing is, you can’t use “To whom it may concern” in every letter you write because you don’t want to appear stoic and impersonal. Some formal letters need a touch of personality.
Here are some types of letters in which you should avoid using this generic salutation;
Cover letters are designed to set you apart from your competitors. The old-fashioned phrase “To Whom It May Concern” makes you stand out – except for all the wrong reasons. It’s stuffy and generally shows a lack of effort on your end.
Although you may not be able to find the hiring manager’s name all the time, there are better alternative greetings you can use — more on this below.
Plus, your cover letter may not get a warm reception if your hiring manager is a Boomer or a Gen Z. So, research the main hiring contact before applying for the job.
Check the email address you’re sending the cover letter to, a name could be there. You can go to your prospective employer’s “About us” or “Our team” pages to find the professional bio of the head of the department you want to get into. You can also contact the company to find the recruiter’s name or position.
When following up on a reply, it isn’t advisable to write a to whom it may concern letter. The reason is simple — you should have the contact’s name by then. Going for the generic “to whom it may concern” just shows you didn’t do your due diligence.
Address your recipient with their proper name or title in your follow-up letters or opt for alternatives like the ones listed below.
Alternatives to “To whom it may concern” Letters
Specificity beats generic anytime, any day. In fact, many people would rather accept a salutation with the name of their current position than an impersonal greeting.
That said, here are some alternative salutations to “To whom it may concern”:
- Greetings, [Person’s Name]
- Hello, [Recipient’s Name]
- Dear [Name]
You may also use alternatives like “Season’s Greetings” to add work-appropriate holiday cheer to your emails to subscribers, companies and others. Salutations that are actual greetings such as, “Good morning [Name], or “Good day [Name], can also serve in emails if you know the recipients will read them right away.
Whether you’re looking for a scholarship, new customers, or are in a workplace, a “To whom it may concern” salutation is handy if you don’t know whom you’re addressing. It’s useful in different situations and a reliable option for showing respect.
However, only use the to whom it may concern letters in necessary circumstances. The best thing is to always do your research to find the name of your letter recipient before sending formal correspondence. Once you figure out the recipient’s name, you can use alternative greetings like Dear, Hello, and Greetings.
Follow this simple guide to get started on writing your letters. Good luck!