To Whom It May Concern Letter: Capitalization, Usage, and Alternatives

  in Research   Posted on November 16, 2020

In business writing, “To Whom It May Concern” is a formal way to address the recipient of your letter when you do not have a specific person to write. Modern communication trends suggest that you should avoid this opening greeting.

However, there are still situations where it is proper to use “To Whom It May Concern” as a salutation. We will discuss them below, including a brief explanation on To Whom It May Concern capitalization. We will also look at some alternatives you can use to improve your business letter.

 

When to Use To Whom It May Concern

  1. Writing a Letter of Interest
  2. Writing a Complaint or Inquiry
  3. Writing a Letter of Recommendation
  4. Writing a Cover Letter or an Unsolicited Application
  5. Writing When You Are Uncertain of the Addressee

With the prevalence of social media and the internet, it has become easier to ascertain the name of the contact person you should address in your correspondence. If you are applying for a job, for example, and need to write a cover letter, the details of the hiring manager are usually included in the job ad.

If you are writing to gain prospects, you can check a company’s website or social pages like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter and find information about the head of their sales or marketing department. If you do not find a specific contact person, chances are you will see a phone number. You can then call and ask the receptionist or administrative assistant the name of the person you should address in your letter.

After doing your research and you still do not have a specific person to write, sending a To Whom It May Concern letter is acceptable. In fact, based on a survey of hiring managers, 83% said that an application that starts with “to whom it may concern” will have little effect or no impact at all on their decision to hire an applicant (ResumeCompanion, 2020). However, you might want to consider if the person you are writing to is a male or female hiring manager. This is because 6% of men compared to 2% of women said that they are “very likely” not to hire someone who addressed them with “To Whom It May Concern.”

Does Seeing "To Whom It May Concern" on a Cover Letter Affect Your Hiring Decisions?

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Source: ResumeCompanion

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To Whom It May Concern Capitalization

Since “To Whom It May Concern” is an opening greeting, it is important to get its formatting right to create a good impression on your reader.

You should capitalize the first letter of each word when writing this salutation. Also, use a colon instead of a comma after the greeting. Lastly, a common mistake is to confuse “whom” with “who.” Always use “whom” for this greeting.

This is how it should be written: 

To Whom It May Concern:

Writing the salutation properly may be a simple exercise, but by doing so, you distance yourself from the inert writing common to the younger generations of today. In one study, for instance, texting and the use of instant messaging apps have created a generation that is very comfortable with shortcuts in electronic communication. Eighty-six percent of 12- to 17-year-olds, for example, believed that writing well is important but 64% admitted to inserting some informal writing, 50% removed capitalization and punctuation, 38% used text shortcuts like “LOL,” and 25% used emoticons (Rosen et al., 2010).

writing manners

When to Use To Whom It May Concern

1. Writing a Letter of Interest

When you are writing a letter of interest or prospecting, and want to reach out to a large company or organization, it is acceptable to use “To Whom It May Concern:”.

Bloggers looking to establish rapport to get sponsored posts, for example, might begin with this greeting. Also, business development managers writing business proposals may need to reach out to different companies without having a specific person to write for their initial letter.

Alternatives: 

If you are prospecting, you can also start your letter with “To the Marketing Department,” “To the Marketing Assistant,” or “To the Marketing Manager.”

2. Writing a Complaint or Inquiry

Another situation is when you are writing a complaint or inquiry. Since you might not have the time to confirm the name of the person assigned to handle your concern, using “To Whom It May Concern” is totally appropriate.

If you want to inquire about a product or service, it is unlikely that you need to get the name of the sales head of a company. Your goal is to simply and quickly send your inquiry, so you can opt for “To Whom It May Concern” and start writing your question.

Alternatives: 

You can improve your opening by replacing “To Whom It May Concern” with “To the Customer Service Representative,” or “To the Customer Service Manager.” Doing so can help your letter stand out and grab the attention it needs from the company.

3. Writing a Letter of Recommendation

It is not only chief executive officers or supervisors who might need to write a recommendation letter. A friend or colleague might also come to you and ask you to write a reference or recommendation letter for a company, school, bank loan, scholarship, etc.

In such a case, you are not expected to research a specific name to address in your letter. You just need to write your assessment of your friend or colleague and send the document. Using “To Whom It May Concern” is perfectly fine in this situation.

Alternatives: 

If you already know the purpose of the recommendation letter, you can replace “To Whom It May Concern” with a more targeted greeting. For example, if the letter is for a job, you can use “To the Hiring Manager.” If it is for a university application, you can use “To the University Registrar,” or “To the [name of university] Admissions Office.”

4. Writing a Cover Letter or an Unsolicited Application

According to Jobvite’s 2019 Recruiting Benchmark Report, nearly 50% of job applications come from job boards, but less than 1% of applicants who apply through job boards are offered the position (Jobvite, 2019).

If you are looking for work, opportunities are not limited to what you see on job boards. In fact, between 70% to 85% of jobs are not listed (Belli, 2017). Networking and submitting unsolicited applications can also lead to your next dream job.

When submitting a cover letter or unsolicited application, you can of course look for the names of managers or other decision-makers in a company using their social media account or company website. However, these might not always be up to date. If you are unsure of the reliability of your source, it is better to use “To Whom It May Concern.”

Alternatives: 

You can use “To the Recruiter,” “To the Hiring Manager,” or “Dear Recruitment Department/Recruitment Manager.”

Where to look for a job?

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Source: Jobvite Recuitment Benchmark Report

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5. Writing When You Are Uncertain of the Addressee

There might be times when you receive an email inquiring about your service or product without the customer’s name, or you might need to respond to an automated email and you are unsure who will read your reply on the other end. In these situations, your easiest and safest option is to use “To Whom It May Concern.”

Sending a reply with the wrong addressee can look unprofessional, not to mention it can also be embarrassing on the part of the sender. When you are not sure, it is best to use the ever-reliable “To Whom It May Concern” as your opening greeting.

Alternatives: 

You can also use a simple “Hello,” “Dear Customer,” or “Good Day/Morning/Afternoon” when writing to an unknown recipient.

Better Business Writing

Do we even need to worry about proper writing? The answer is yes. J. P. Morgan states that business and technical writing skills stand at the top of the list of required competencies needed to apply for a permanent position (Tebeaux, 2017).

Moreover, the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Better Business Writing states that “Writing is a big deal. Those who write poorly create barriers between themselves and their readers; those who write well connect with readers, open their minds, and achieve goals” (Garner, 2012).

If you want to make a strong impression, every part of your business letter should be accurate, and it all starts with your opening greeting. If you are using a salutation as traditional and formal as “To Whom It May Concern,” it is best to take some time to know how to use it properly.

 

References:

  1. McAdams, L. (2020, April 20). Is “To Whom It May Concern” acceptable on a cover letter? [Survey]. ResumeCompanion.
  2. Belli, G. (2017, April 6). How many jobs are found through networking, really? PayScale.
  3. Jobvite (2019). 2019 Recruiting Benchmark Report. Indianapolis, IN: Jobvite.
  4. Rosen, L., Cheever, N., and Carrier, M. (2010, May). The relationship between “textisms” and formal and informal writing. Communication Research, 37 (3), 420-440. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650210362465
  5. Tebeaux, E. (2017). What happened to technical writing? Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 47 (1), 3-21.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0047281616641933
  6. Garner, B. (2012). HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. Harvard, MA: Harvard Business Review Press. Google Books