It can be difficult to know which greeting to use and the best time to use it with so many options available. Perhaps the most common is ‘To whom this may concern,’ as most opt for this as their default when writing a letter or sending an email when they don’t know the person’s name who’ll read the email. Or if you’re sending it to a department featuring multiple people.

It’s also the safest bet when searching for a job. Unless you know the name of the interviewer or hiring manager, ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is a greeting that covers every base. However, with the internet at your fingertips, you can find the names of relevant people within seconds. 

But there are still moments where it’s acceptable to use this greeting, so here’s when and how to use the phrase ‘To Whom It May Concern’.

Your cover letter

First off, writing a cover letter tailored to the position you’re applying for is a great way to help you stand out above other candidates. Even if it’s marked as an optional field, always support your resume with a cover letter. You’re in the perfect situation to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’ as your greeting here.

In some instances, you’ll notice the name of the person responsible for sourcing the right candidate. However, there are times where you’ll spot something more generic, such as ‘recruiting’ or ‘HR’. The recruitment or HR team responsible for hiring in this position might be a team of 40 — so how do you know who to address it to?

That’s where ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is perfectly acceptable. It could be a Junior Recruiter or the Director of HR. You need to make the best first impression, so don’t guess names. If you’re unsure, ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is the safest bet.

A follow-up email

If you’ve had your interview and are waiting to hear back, waiting a couple of days before sending a follow-up email is always a good idea. If your interview was with one person — great — you know the name of the person you’re chasing. 

But if your interview had multiple people in and you only have a generic email address, ‘To Whom It May Concern’ will still work as a greeting, as you never know which person from the interview will open the email and read it.

Again, if you know the names and have the correct contact details, always opt for the name. But if it isn’t 100% clear, ‘To Whom It May Concern’ won’t be considered unprofessional.

References and recommendations

Just like you should add references to your resume, there might be former colleagues you know that have you as their reference. With some of the systems in place now, receiving this sort of request won’t always reveal the person’s name reaching out to you asking for a reference.

You don’t need to research the company or person reaching out as that isn’t your job. Your job is simply to offer a fair reference as they want your thoughts on the person they’re about to hire. In this instance, ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is acceptable.

Contacting large groups and departments

If you’re emailing a lot of people or multiple departments, you won’t waste your time writing down all of their names. Sure, a greeting like, ‘Hey everyone!’ would work fine, but ‘To Whom It May Concern’ can still work here.

Let’s say you’re about to move jobs as you’ve found your dream career. Before you leave, you need to hand over all of your clients to avoid offering a lousy customer experience. Anyone who needs to be in the know, even if they’re cc’ed, should be aware, especially if you don’t know who’ll take over once you leave.

If you’re in this situation, you can get away with using ‘To Whom It May Concern’. What you could also do here in similar scenarios is, if you’re addressing it to everyone and it’s unclear who you need to reach out to, you can highlight in the email that you’d love to know who the appropriate person is. That way, your next contact with them can include the correct person’s name instead.

These are just some of the most common scenarios when you might need to use the phrase ‘To Whom It May Concern’. In reality, you could use in practically any relevant scenario, including:

  • Prospecting
  • Introductions
  • Complaints
  • Feedback
  • Offering suggestions

If there’s no single or specific recipient, ‘To Whom It May Concern’ works.

How to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’

Believe it or not, a lot of thought should go into how you format and use this phrase. Here are some pointers to help you the next time you need to use ‘To Whom It May Concern’.

  • You need to capitalize the first letter of every word
  • It’s always ‘Whom’ instead of ‘Whomever’ or ‘Who’ — this is because it’s the object of a verb or preposition
  • Use a colon after the phrase as opposed to a comma
  • Add a double space before starting your message

Let’s look at this in practice in a situation where you’re following up after an interview.

“To Whom It May Concern:

“Thanks for your time this past Monday. I really enjoyed our conversation with you all and loved learning more about the company. I could sense the passion you guys have for paper and would love to be part of the team.

“Whenever you have an update on my application, please let me know.

Kind Regards,

Jim Halpert”

Whenever you can, try to avoid the phrase ‘To Whom It May Concern’. Reaching out directly for a name or a quick search on LinkedIn will show the recruiters that you took the time to research the company and people, which will work in your favor.

Nuances like the phrases to use and when to use them are a small — yet crucial — part of landing your dream role. That’s exactly what we can help with. To help your resume stand out from the competition, visit VanHack. Our platform will let you create an impactful profile by completing challenges and filming videos for companies looking for talent. 

Best of all, our Premium Academy will get you prepared for an interview. Get started today.

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