Cover letters accompany résumés for job-hunters applying for available positions or generally expressing interest in a role with a company. Although these documents are often relatively short and to the point, employers still examine cover letters for clues about the applicant’s writing abilities, business acumen and professional presentation. Starting you letter with “To whom it may concern” immediately gets things off on the wrong foot. Choose from alternatives to create a better impression.

Problems with Using "To Whom it May Concern"

There are a few reasons why “To whom it may concern” poses a problem. First of all, it sounds old-fashioned and lofty, as if you’re issuing a proclamation. It also indicates that you haven’t bothered to research the company enough to know to which employee you should be addressing your cover letter.

If the job posting indicates the name of the person fielding cover letters and résumés, using “To whom it may concern” indicates that you didn't take the time to properly read through the posting to note that a contact person’s name was offered.

Lastly, because any career counselor, job-hunting board or career-related website will tell you that this salutation should be avoided if at all possible, using it might indicate to employers that you’re out of touch with current professional trends.

Try to Find the Name of the Person Likely to Read Your Letter

Your best alternative for “To whom it may concern” is the specific name of the person who will be reading your cover letter. Sometimes job postings will provide a contact name. If not, don’t give up. Look online and search through your intended company’s website looking for the name of their hiring director or human resources specialist.

Another option is to call the company directly, explain that you’re applying for a specific job, and ask for the name of the person responsible for accepting application materials. This is an effective strategy even if you found a contact person’s name online; sometimes personnel roles will change and the information on a company's website is outdated.

Address the Cover Letter Using a Job Title

If you’re unsuccessful in determining a specific name to use for your cover letter salutation, another alternative is to address the cover letter using a job title. For example, you might write, “Dear Hiring Director,” "Dear Human Resources Specialist" or “Dear Recruiting Coordinator.” Try not to make up a job title if at all possible; choose a likely job title from the company’s website or call the company and ask for the job title. Company representatives may share this information even if they’re unwilling to divulge an actual person’s name.

Consider Alternative Formal Salutations in Your Cover Letter

Another alternative to “To whom it may concern” is to begin your letter with “Dear Sir or Madam.” This creates a more formal tone than using the job title, so consider what your potential employer’s work culture is like before using. A trendy, cutting-edge art studio or plumbing shop might find this salutation snooty and out of touch, while it could be the perfect fit for a traditional law firm.

Using No Salutation Looks Unbalanced

Skipping a salutation altogether instead of using “To whom it may concern” for your cover letter isn’t a good idea. This makes your cover letter look sloppy or unbalanced. Choose from other alternatives for a stronger approach.