To Whom It May Concern: I am applying for this job I found at this company that I spent so little time researching I can’t quite remember what role is open and I’m not positive I know the name of the company or what it does. Also, I decided to address it to “whom” because you must have a whom or two over there, right?
If that sounds absurd, now you have a taste first-hand of what it’s like for a recruiter or hiring manager to see the words “To Whom It May Concern” at the top of your cover letter.
And I hope that that bland, overripe, “To Whom It May Concern”-y taste has sufficiently convinced you to vow never to use the phrase again, at least when it comes to your current and future job applications. (You may find other situations where it’s appropriate—such as when lodging a customer service complaint—but I can assure you your cover letter isn’t one of them.)
Those five little words tell a recruiter or your prospective boss a lot, and none of it is good. Not only does the phrase make you sound like a yellowing doily on your grandmother’s coffee table (in other words, ancient), but it also smacks of laziness, or apathy, or a lack of resourcefulness, or some combination of any number of characteristics that won’t help you get hired. Because to them, if you were truly excited about the idea of working for this company, you’d surely take the time to tailor your greeting.
Yes, job searching can be tedious and frustrating and sometimes mildly soul-crushing, and maybe you’re pretty sure you’d rather step on a beehive than spend any more time writing cover letters. But at the end of the day, your goal is to get a new job, or at least land an interview. What’s the point in dashing off another cover letter if the very first words on it will make the reader wrinkle their nose and toss it aside?
So do everyone a favor and next time, try one of these “To Whom It May Concern” alternatives.
The best thing you can do for yourself when addressing your cover letter is figure out who the person filling the open role would report to—i.e. your potential future boss.
Sometimes it’s easy: When I applied for my current role, the job description said something like “This role reports to the editor in chief.” I went to The Muse’s team page, found the editor in chief, and wrote my letter to her. But other times, it won’t be as immediately clear. Do some research and see if you can infer who it is, or if you happen to have a connection at the company, ask them!
While you’re doing your company research, try to assess how formal the culture is to determine:
Whether to start with “Dear” or “Hello” (or maybe neither—you can also go with just their name) Whether to use honorifics (Mr., Ms., Dr., Prof., etc) Whether to use a full name or just a first name
You’ll probably want to err toward more formal if you’re not sure, and make certain you don’t accidentally misgender someone with the wrong honorific (if you can’t confirm it 100%, drop any gendered language and just use the name).
Even if you don’t have your prospective boss’s name and choose one of the options below instead, make sure you still ask yourself the same questions about formality and tone.
If you’ve made a good-faith effort to figure out who your boss would be and it’s just not yielded any answers, don’t panic. It’s not always possible to find that information at this point in the process.
However, you might still be able to address your cover letter to a specific person by simply choosing the head of the department the role falls under. Sure, it may be your prospective boss’s boss, or their boss, but in a way, you’d still be reporting to them up the chain. And it demonstrates that you made an effort and considered what part of the organization you’d be joining and how you’d fit in.
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Along the same lines, if you can’t find the name of a department head, you can go ahead and address your letter to the team or department. For example, you could say “Dear Sales Department” or “Hello Product Team.”
Now, if you’re determined to write to a specific person but have given up on finding the manager or department head, there’s still hope! If you can zero in on the recruiter or talent acquisition specialist (or the head of recruiting), you can address your letter to them. After all, they’ll likely be the first ones to read it and decide whether you should move on to the next step.
But if you can’t figure out a name there, you can also address the team—just take a few minutes to look up what exactly this particular company calls it. You’ll end up with something like “Dear Recruiting Department” or “Dear Talent Acquisition Team.”
And you might want to stick the name of the company in there and make it something like “Dear Muse Talent Acquisition Team.” That way, you’re giving a first signal that you know which company you’re applying to and not just sending a generic letter.
6. Dear Recruiter/Hiring Manager
Another option is to address your letter more generically to the recruiter or hiring manager by using those titles, i.e. “Dear Recruiter” or “Dear Hiring Manager.”
Search Committee/Hiring Manager/Hiring Team
But even then, you might want to be a little more specific by incorporating the role you’re applying for into the salutation. For example, you might say “Dear Account Executive Search Committee” or “Hello Happiness Hero Hiring Manager” (yes, that’s a real title).
At the very least, you’re showing that you know what role you’re applying for and that you’ve done some amount of tailoring of your application—more so than a “Dear Recruiter” would immediately indicate.
Your ultimate goal when you’re writing a cover letter is to get to the next step in the hiring process. Just remember that the whoms won’t be impressed if you address them as such. After all, they do have names, roles, teams, departments, and committees. Pick one of those instead and your letter is much more likely to get read, and you’re much more likely to get hired.
Stav is a senior editor and writer at The Muse, where she covers careers and work with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, and her work has also appeared in publications including The Atlantic, The Forward, and Newsday. Stav earned a B.A. in history with a minor in dance at Stanford University and holds an M.S. from Columbia Journalism School. She won the Newswomen”s Club of New York”s Martha Coman Front Page Award for Best New Journalist in 2016. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly. You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter and can visit her website here.