How to Ditch “To Whom It May Concern”
At least once in your lifetime, you’ve had to write a formal letter – to your future employer, business associate or maybe even to your mother-in-law.
Nevertheless, you’ve had to write it according to some rules because writing a serious, business e-mail requires multiple steps.
So, let’s assume you didn’t or still don’t know how to begin one (that’s what brought you here in the first place, right?). And you’ve googled it and found the following phrase ‘To Whom It May Concern’. The first thought could be – wow, this sounds polite, I’ll use it!
Well, perhaps if you are a wordsmith from the 1800s that just had finished writing testimonial or letter with a quill in one hand, and a candle in another.
This phrase was truly used in the 19th century, but besides that, it possesses a very impersonal tone. If you are writing a cover letter or a follow-up e-mail with this particular salutation, the recruiter can interpret it as a lack of interest.
Are you wondering why?
Because if you haven’t nosed around the employer’s website, trying to find at least the last name of the person that may sign your paychecks in the future, you kind of hasn’t done your homework. Why would the boss put an effort into reading your letter if you can address him or her in the letter in the proper way?
Furthermore, it sends extremely cold vibes. There isn’t an actual recipient, but your name will be at the end, which may be understood as you are more important in some way. And you certainly don’t want your potential employer to think that. So it’s better to prevent it.
Well, does it sound THAT bad?
Let me put it this way: this expression is Freddy Krueger chasing your letter – you just don’t want to be in the same room, and you want to run as fast as your legs can carry you. That’s how much you want to stay away from it.
In other words, think twice if you really want to use it.
But put your mind at ease because you are in the right place! We will introduce several different replacements, so you will no longer have to use this phrase again!
DOPPELGANGER, BUT MORE ATTRACTIVE
The first substitute that is commonly used is ‘Dear Mr. /Mrs. (Last Name)’.
Before writing a letter with this opening statement, it is very essential to do your research first. This phrase requires the last name of the person you are sending a letter to, so if you don’t have that information – go on a quest for it!
Look up the company’s website or blog. It is usually written in sections ‘About Us’, ‘Staff’ or similar.
You can check its (or recruiter’s) LinkedIn profile or simply phone the administration assistant and politely ask for information. Explain why do you need it.
- It is a formal greeting and the first choice of many people. Simple, but respectful. And what’s more important – it’s personal.
- It can be sent by everyone – younger and older, student, employee or jobless.
- It is used in formal letters, business e-mails and follow-ups after a career fair. You can use it when you apply for a job or when you want to ask your university professor a few questions, too. Also when you want to file a complaint.
- When you write this kind of message, you should usually send it during business hours, which means from 8 am to 5 pm. Avoid sending it when it comes to your mind, for example at 11 pm.
- This will stimulate a good and respectful atmosphere while reading, so you can be sure that you used the best possible phrase there is.
What to Avoid:
- ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’; these are extremely outdated, so there’s no need to use it anymore. And you, the knight in shiny armor, don’t even think about using ‘Sire’ and ‘Dame’.
- Also, try not to fall into the name’s trap. There are many unisex first names nowadays, such as Blake, Charlie or London. Even if you shouldn’t use the first name when addressing, don’t use the title Mr. or Mrs. wrongly. Don’t assume the gender, just do your research properly and you won’t have any problems!
ANOTHER CLASSIC (DEAR DR./PROFESSOR)
Next in the line is very useful when the person you are writing to has a title – ‘Dear Dr. / Professor / Officer (Last Name)’. By pointing out their title, you are showing great respect. And that makes you one step closer to getting what you wrote for.
It is used when you know to whom you send, so if you are missing the addressee’s name, do your research. You can start writing and send it after you’ve gathered all the required data.
- This is a great choice for a formal note. It has an appreciative and well-mannered tone. It can be used whether you know the person you are writing to or not.
- Same as the previous one – it can be used by anyone.
- It is a first-class choice when you are writing to get particular information, advice or even when you follow up a complaint letter.
- There is a rule for a period you should send it and it is during the working hours, so make sure you follow it. Try to skip Sunday evenings.
- The honorific is what makes a person proud of himself/herself. When you call attention to it by mentioning it in your message, you basically roll out the red carpet in the reader’s mind and evoke more concentration, which is a plus for you.
What to Avoid:
- Good Morning, Good afternoon and etc. are not your best option. Even if you write it at the sunrise, the other person might read it after lunch, so it wouldn’t have any sense, would it?
Wait, there’s more!
Last few years more people wish to remain gender-neutral. Even though it is not that popular, there is a word that allows you to address someone with the title in this situation. ‘Mx.’ is a gender-neutral honorific and it slowly finds its way to formal letters nowadays, even though it was also used a few decades ago.
However, if you want to skip this one, there are some others you can use.
TO A SUPER-DUPER-RECRUITER
If you used all of your superpowers on trying to find the information about the recruiter and you truly couldn’t find any – don’t sweat it. It happens!
Fortunately, there is a way to address your letter without having these pieces of information, and we are here to help you with that task!
One of the most popular picks is ‘Dear (Company Name) Recruiter’.
- This is a good way to greet the person when you don’t have contact person information. It is used when you absolutely don’t know the individual you are writing to, and the tone of the message is strictly formal.
- It is mostly used by those who are searching for a job or applying for an internship, or simply following-up after the job expo, just to say ‘Thank you’.
- Like the previous examples, send it during the proper time when people are at work. Plus, there is a chance that your e-mail will be read the same day you’ve sent it. And you don’t want your e-mail to end up at the bottom of the large pile in someone’s inbox. Evade sending it during the weekend.
- This type of salutation will show respect to a reader, but with a bit of a distance, like a real-life business relationship. Even if you address it to one individual only, there is a cold tonality in it because you are not familiar with the first or last name of the person you are sending the message to. Still, it is a good and polite way to greet someone you don’t know.
What to Avoid:
- Phrases such as ‘Greetings’ or ‘Hi everyone’. You want to greet one person, not the whole company staff. These examples also have an informal tone, so you want to dodge them in a formal format of the letter.
TO WHOM IT MAY RECRUIT
Even when you tried your best, but still ended up with no personal data about company’s recruiter whatsoever (such as first and last name), there is a polite way to start your e-message.
We have a card up in our sleeve, and that is ‘Dear Hiring Manager’. Sounds good enough?
- It is an extremely formal greeting. Because of that, you want to use it in particular situations, for example when you look or apply for a new job. Or when you follow-up after not hearing from the recruiter first time.
- It is usually for a full package e-mail, attached with resume, CV, cover letter, letters of recommendation and ‘Thank You’ note. Or just one of these. And of course, it is sent to no other than the person who is responsible for reading all of the above and scheduling a job interview.
- Because of its strict usage, it should be sent only during the business hours, neither before nor after that period. You should skip Saturdays afternoon, Sundays, and holidays, too.
- There is no doubt to whom are you writing when you salute this way. It is direct, confident and for business purposes only, so you make sure that the rest of your e-mail sounds like this, too! What you write can be a one-way ticket to getting the job!
What to Avoid:
- Sending an e-mail that has to contain attachments, but ends up without it. You might feel very embarrassed after realizing you’ve forgotten to add it. Double-check that you’ve attached it because you don’t want to apply for a job or internship without your resume, do you?
‘HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE’
This is the tricky one. It is like a coin, and every coin has two sides. Which one you want to use depends only on your choice. It is one of the most commonly used salutations, both written and spoken, and that is her majesty – ‘Hello’.
- It is very universal – both formal and informal. Whether you are writing an e-mail to your friend, grandma or boss, you can use this type of greeting. It is also a good choice when it comes to knowing or not knowing the recipient’s name, so you can use it in multiple ways.
- This one is a frontman – everyone heard of him and everyone likes him. So it is used in regular daily written conversations between students, students and professors, employers and employees, regular people and different institutions. Quite handy.
- Because of its universality, it has no time boundary. You can send it whenever you like. Just make sure you follow the business hours rule when it comes to sending a formal e-mail.
- As you’ve learned by now, the tone in our message replaces the body language we or anyone else cannot see through the written communication. When you use this greeting, you can leave either a less formal or completely informal impression on the person that reads your e-mail. Before you use it, think about how you want to influence the other side.
- This one makes an atmosphere more pleasant and comfy. Just imagine your face while reading the message that starts with ‘To Whom It May Concern’ and another with ‘Hello’. It’s like switching from tuxedo to pajama, right?
What to Avoid:
- ‘Sup’, ‘Hey’ and ‘Yo’ are greetings that you want to skip in both formal and informal e-mails – they just don’t sound right as the opening statements.
Here’s another trick for you!
Font style can make your e-mail more or less readable, too! Avoid using styles such as Brush Script, and stick to the regular ones, for example, Times New Roman or Calibri. And when it comes to font color – black and blue navy never go out of fashion!
A CROWD-SURFING GREETING
We already said that we are not going to assume gender, relationship status and similar personal things of the person we are sending the e-mail to. However, this problem can seem bigger when you have to send an e-mail to more than one person.
So how do you greet multiple recipients in an e-mail?
It depends on what the format of your e-mail is – informal or formal. Think about how close you are with the people you are writing to.
If it’s the first one, the best solution is to use ‘Dear’ and add the first names, for example: ‘Dear Alan, Dear Natasha’.
Nevertheless, if you have to make it more formal, simply write last names with titles, for example: ‘Dear Mrs. Johnson, Dear Mr. Smith’. You can easily extend it to three or more people.
However, if you are sending a message to more than four people, it would be too much to use the example given above. In this case, you can address them as ‘Dear colleagues’, ‘Dear Members of the Committee’, ‘Dear Clients’, etc.
- It can be sent by anyone who wishes to salute more than one person. Decide to whom do you send the e-mail, and after that, focus on the type of salutation you are going to use.
- When it is okay to send it depends only on the format of the note. As you’ve learned so far, we send business e-mails during the business hours, and personal ones at the same time plus before and after this period (but not at midnight).
- The reader will feel like a part of a group, which is a good thing. It doesn’t have any personal tone or it doesn’t evoke the feeling of individuality, but it shows collective respect.
What to Avoid:
- ‘Ladies’ or ‘Gentlemen’ should not be used. Even if you are not sure whether there are many recruiting managers in that company or just one, don’t address your message like there is a full amphitheater of people on a Movie Academy Award ceremony. Especially try not to be gender-specific, when there’s a lack of information.
- Evade the one that says just ‘Greetings’ because it sounds pretty much medieval. And when it comes to ‘Comrades’, it sounds that writer’s participated in the Cold War, so it’s a pass.
TO MY DEAR FRIEND
This one is easy-peasy! A simple ‘Dear (First Name or Nickname)’ can be the starting sentence that you’ve searched for! It shows respect but in an informal way. For example: ‘Dear Hannah’.
As you can see, part of the phrase – Dear – can be written in both formal and informal e-mails. Which one it is, depends on what comes after it – first name, title or last name.
- Because of its personal tone, it can be used only in informal messages. So you can see this phrase in those where you wouldn’t think a second of using ‘To Whom It May Concern’ phrase because you certainly know to whom it concerns.
- You can send it to all of your friends, people you know and greet when you walk by, relatives and other students/colleagues from your school or college.
- It can be sent anytime, but always remember to send it in proper time, if you want to get the response in that period, too, not during the sleep. The last thing you want is to be woken in the middle of the night by an e-mail notification beep.
- It definitely puts a smile on the reader’s face. It also shows that there is a good relationship between you and the person you are sending it to. Apart from its personal tone, it can also contain an emotional undertone. Just warms your heart while reading it, doesn’t it?
What to Avoid:
- If you are going to use a nickname, make sure it isn’t too personal. For example, if someone’s name is Nicholas, friends and almost everyone else call him ‘Nick’, but his mom and grandma call him ‘Nicky’, you might want to skip the last one. Of course, if you’re not his grandma, then it doesn’t apply to you.
REACHING THE FINISH LINE
We approach the end of the one-and-only guide you will ever need for addressing the e-mail as a professional! There are a few very important steps that will make your e-mail look like Ferrari among Fiats.
Dig into the information about the person or company that you want to write to if you don’t have it already. The company’s internet pages, blogs, and LinkedIn profile can help you with that. Nowadays, almost every company is present on popular social media platforms. Good-old Internet browsing can help you a lot with this one.
But there is no room for panic if you couldn’t gather the information. As you know so far, you still have a few options on how to address one or many people whose names you don’t know.
Don’t make a rookie mistake and assume the reader’s gender or relationship status, if you aren’t sure. Choose wisely between Mr., Mrs., Ms., and Miss. The same goes for more than one recipient – the one can never be completely sure if there is a room full of single ladies behind the computer screen – or not.
Match the format of the letter with the salutation. As you’ve learned by now, formal messages have a different kind of greetings and structure from the informal ones.
After asking yourself who are you to the person you send the e-mail, match the format, greeting, and tone of your e-mail with it. After all, being polite and showing respect to others is never démodé.
The same goes for the tone of the message that you want to send. When sending a formal one, use the greetings and a structure for this type of note. But if you rather want to sound a bit casual or you are writing to the person you already know, stick to the informal type.
You show that you are a real professional just by sending your note in proper time – don’t forget that!
Last, but not least important – make your e-mail readable. Make sure your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are top-notch and don’t forget about the font style!
There are many proofreaders online that can do some work instead of you for free. And make sure you spelled first and last names properly, too.
Now you know everything on how to greet everyone in the right way and write a real professional letter!
There is nothing left other than we keep our fingers crossed that you will be a step closer to the goal you set in your e-mail!
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