Dear Sir or Dear Madam. These options are two of the most widely used greetings in communications such as letters and emails, but they’re also the most outdated salutations, especially in 2022.
Now, technology has evolved from using a quill and ink on parchment. This digitally connected world makes it effortless to find out who you’re reaching out to, so there isn’t an excuse to not know the name or team you’re trying to contact.
It’s also critical to think about this greeting from a gender perspective. Perhaps the recipient doesn’t identify as a sir or madam? It also shows signs of laziness and a lack of research. The person or team you’re reaching out to want to know you researched enough to learn more about them.
Why Avoid Dear Sir or Dear Madam
With the internet, you can find a recipient’s name in a few clicks. Whether it’s a LinkedIn profile or searching a company’s about us section, you’re bound to find the person you’re looking for. Even if you’re trying to find someone, in particular, you can address your letter or email to somebody specific and kindly ask them to direct you to the most relevant person.
It also isn’t personal. You want to grab the attention of the reader and make it clear you’re talking directly to them — Dear Sir or Madam doesn’t help with that and feels like a generic letter or email.
These salutations also don’t come across as friendly. You come across as a stranger and it sets the tone that you’re asking for something from them without making the effort to learn who you’re reaching out to.
When Is It Appropriate to Use Dear Sir and Dear Madam?
Ideally? Never. Of course, there are going to be some situations where alternatives make little sense. A business letter addressed to somebody you have never met might make these options the safest bet. However, there are plenty of other options out there today you can adopt in your communications.
Dear Sir or Dear Madam Alternatives
Here are great alternatives you can use to mix and match all of the future emails and letters you send to the relevant people.
- Hi there
- Hello [name]
- Hello [team]
- Hello [company]
- Dear [job title]
- To [first name]
- To whom it may concern
- I hope this letter/email finds you well
- Dear recruiter
- To the customer service team
- For the attention of the search committee
- Dear [department name]
- Good morning
- Good afternoon
- Good evening
- Dear Mr [name]
- Dear Mrs [name]
The alternatives in this list are perfect to use in any setting. Whether it’s a cold outreach email, a cover letter or following up to an interview, they’re all more modern and, in some cases, more personalized than a generic Dear Sir or Dear Madam.
Appropriate Greetings in an Email
Let’s put the advice into practice, starting with an email.
Your first step should be to research the person or people you’re trying to reach out to. If you’re unable to find any information whatsoever, you don’t need to default to Dear Sir or Dear Madam.
Instead, you can opt for the foolproof ‘To Whom It May Concern’. This immediately covers your back by suggesting you’re trying to get the attention of the most appropriate person who can help you with your query.
Before deciding on this salutation, ask yourself who the intended recipient of your email is. If the answer is ‘anyone’, then ‘To Whom It May Concern’ will work perfectly. However, if the answer pinpoints to a particular person, you can opt for an alternative from the list above that doesn’t require a name.
Appropriate Greetings in a Cover Letter
Another form of communication where Dear Sir or Dear Madam is used frequently when looking for a job or trying to find talent is in a cover letter. Whereas an email’s tone can vary in formality, a cover letter tends to be more formal. So, it’s critical to remain formal — without resorting to the outdated and overused Dear Sir or Dear Madam.
Again, the first step is to research who you’re trying to reach out to. If you prove unsuccessful, take a step back and rather than thinking about the individual you’re trying to reach, which department does the person work in? Are they in recruitment? Use ‘Dear Recruitment Team’. If you need to get the sales team’s attention, use ‘Dear Sales Team’.
These alternatives ensure the relevant person sees your cover letter, but it can be passed on to the correct person by somebody within the department. It’s a broader term but personalized enough to show you know you’re trying to reach somebody specific.
Examples of Alternative Greetings in Practice
Your greeting is context-dependent and where you are in your communications journey. For example, your first email greeting will differ from the third follow-up you send regarding feedback from the job interview. This is because, by then, you’re likely to know the person and won’t need to resort to Dear Sir or Dear Madam.
In this example, let’s see how you can sue an alternative when you want the hiring manager’s attention for a role you’re interested in and want to state your case.
“To the hiring team,
“I’m reaching out regarding the vacant Senior Developer role I saw on your website. I’ve tried to search for the hiring manager’s contact details already but haven’t had any luck. I’d appreciate it if you could send my attached CV and portfolio so we can arrange an interview at your earliest convenience.
“Alternatively, please can you provide me with their name and appropriate email address, or connect us directly?
“You can find my contact details below — I look forward to hearing from them.
It’s a subtle yet impactful change, especially in this scenario. Think about the hiring manager or the individual reading the email or letter. What if they’re the opposite gender of the one you’ve added, or don’t identify with either? It wouldn’t be a good start and doesn’t set a great tone for the remainder of the letter or email.
You can apply this example to any situation using any of the alternatives suggested in this article. Whether you want to find out more information about a job, rearrange an interview, negotiate your salary — you don’t need to revert to Dear Sir or Dear Madam, as others can work better in most cases.
In other email scenarios, you can opt for more specific greetings. For instance, ‘Referring to my last email’ or ‘Following up on my previous message’ instantly reminds the recipient of a previous message but tends to work best once you’ve established who you’re reaching out to.
The correct greeting or salutation might seem like a small detail, but it leaves a lasting impact. It’s also the difference between the recipient reading the letter or email or ignoring it based on an incorrect or outdated greeting.
When writing any form of correspondence, make sure there’s tact, effort and time behind in one. Show them all the same attention, regardless of how small or insignificant it seems. You might have a critical message to covey — don’t do it a disservice with a lackluster greeting or sign-off.