Rising against the outright challenges of the pandemic, curious non-native and native English language users have learned to seek help from the internet to make sense of a wide range of expressions.
In fact, people nowadays search for the meaning of even the most run-of-the-mill English phrases, such as the salutation “To Whom It May Concern.”
Albeit a bit strikingly odd, this only implies that a lot of us are getting more and more interested in inquiring and confirming language-related whatnots.
Please brace yourself as we get to know the nuances behind one of the vaguest and most misconstrued salutations in business correspondence, Mr. “To Whom It May Concern.”
What does “To Whom It May Concern” mean?
“To Whom It May Concern” is stiltedly similar to “To The Responsible Party In Question,” which is an obsolete salutation used to address a general audience in formalistic correspondence. “Dear Sir or Madam” is also another popular choice instead of this salutation.
The use of “To Whom It May Concern” in recommendation letters
Recommendation letters are official documents that support the existence, the previous performance, as well as the behavioral aspects of an employment or education seeker.
Requesting a letter of recommendation does not only make us feel self-conscious; it also tests how well we could convey our favor request to our target recommender whom we perceive as an authority figure.
Sometimes, unpredictable circumstances such as sudden opportunities also prompt us to ask for a last-minute letter of recommendation, and thus, reading some tips about it is highly suggested.
Meanwhile, as for the recommender, writing this kind of letter also entails knowing some letter of recommendation etiquette because doing this activity is both a huge honor and a responsibility.
In other words, the fate of the opportunity seeker could strongly depend on how the recommender discusses the asker’s skills and qualifications in the letter.
Now that we know the vital role of recommendation letters in seeking greener pastures, it is also essential that we comprehensively understand every detail of it, including salutations.
Avoiding “To Whom It May Concern” in a recommendation letter
In a nutshell, “To Whom It May Concern” must only be used as a desperate remedy in your recommendation letter, as well as in any other types of formal correspondence.
Why so? As you may figure, the vagueness of this particular salutation could immediately imply that the recommender may not professionally know the person being recommended for.
If you are to recommend anyone for a certain job or higher education, you are generally expected to assert the trustworthiness and overall value of the person concerning the role being applied for.
As this is the case, not being able to write the appropriate addressee’s details in the letter may suggest that you have not thoroughly communicated with the person requesting it.
In the same vein, this would also imply that the person seeking recommendation has not meticulously considered informing the recommender who the exact addressee is, or at least didn’t have the time to do so.
This would somehow become a potential problem if and when the applicant claims to possess excellent communication skills and attention to detail.
Hence, in the simplest of terms, this would imply one thing: Negligence or laziness.
This could then have a negative impact on the application process, especially if you’re dealing with someone who is a stickler for perfection and accuracy.
Using “To Whom It May Concern” in a recommendation letter
Although we already know that it is best to avoid “To Whom It May Concern” at all costs, some rigid situations may also not allow us to know who our exact addressee is.
Also, there could be times wherein we might have to deliberately opt to use a general salutation in correspondence, such as “Dear Sir or Madam” or its alternatives as well as the one being discussed.
Do you have any wild guesses as to when you might have to resort to it? If you don’t, please continue reading for more interesting revelations.
Three specific situations might encourage you to use “To Whom It May Concern,” and these are as follows:
Applying for several prospective roles
Let’s just say that you do not share a close professional nor personal relationship with your prospective recommender.
On top of that, you are well aware that your target recommender has got bigger fishes to fry, such as the dean in your college or your previous company’s CEO.
But more importantly, you are also aiming to apply for several job roles for the reason that you simply want to increase your chances of getting hired or at least secure an interview.
When you are placed in this particular situation, you may only have a single chance to ask for a letter of recommendation from your target recommender.
So, in the end, the wiser solution is to indicate in your intent letter or spoken discussion that you do not want a specific addressee as well as a definitive job position appearing in your recommendation letter.
Of course, it is also your job to provide specific instructions to your target recommender so as not to waste any of their time and effort.
Failure to find the exact addressee’s name
The second circumstance that might prompt you to want to avoid using a specific addressee in your recommendation letter is when you cannot find the name of the addressee, no matter how hard you try.
Apparently, it is highly advised that you scrupulously take every possible step in looking into your target addressee’s information before resorting to using “To Whom It May Concern.”
Since you can already find almost everything online now, then you can do a search of your target person’s Linkedin account, the company website, or even calling the prospective organization in advance.
But, in case all else fails, you can then decide to make use of “To Whom It May Concern” or any of its practical alternatives, which will be enumerated a bit later.
Running out of time
Lastly, you may also have to choose “To Whom It May Concern” if, and only if, you are already at the end of your rope or when the clock is ticking extremely fast.
This may happen when you need to submit a recommendation letter all of a sudden, such as when a career opportunity is virtually at hand.
In times like this, you might have little or no time to learn your specific addressee’s name, job title or position, and even the organization to which they belong.
Perhaps, your target recommender may also not be that responsive to your messages, or vice versa, which would logically explain why you would run out of time.
But then again, it is still best to opt for better alternatives to “To Whom It May Concern” whenever you have the chance.
And by the way, please do not forget to capitalize all the initial letters in all words in this salutation should you need to use it.
More practical alternatives for “To Whom It May Concern”
The rule of thumb in any formal correspondence is to punctuate your salutation with a colon, such as when you are writing a recommendation letter.
If you’re interested in learning more about how colons work in the English language, you may also check out our other resource material on it to make your writing even more strategic.
However, please feel free to use the more laid-back comma in anything entailing a less formalistic context or in something that needs a little more personalization and enthusiasm.
For example, you can use a comma when you are only writing a letter of recommendation reminder through an email instead of the actual recommendation letter per se.
Actually, other alternatives to “To Whom It May Concern” do exist in English. So, without further ado, here they are in decreasing formality levels:
Formal alternatives to “To Whom It May Concern”
Use these alternatives if the letter requires a highly formalistic tone, which is pretty much all the time when writing recommendation letters.
To [adressee’s title and full name] :
Please use this first alternative if you want to be extra polite in writing your recommendation letter or in asking a target recommender to write it for you.
If your target role requires attention to detail and formal language skills, using this alternative could demonstrate how keen you are in terms of informational output.
To [addressee’s title and last name] :
Technically, the addressee’s full name should also appear in the inside address section of your letter.
So, if you don’t want to be repetitive, yet you also want to maintain a formalistic tone, you can drop your addressee’s first name and just write down his or her name title and last name.
4.1.3 To [addressee’s title or position] :
Another way to avoid writing down repetitive addressee details is to use the person’s existing job title or position instead.
To Hiring Manager:
To [department name] :
However, if you are quite unsure of the exact position of your target addressee, then you should rather use his or her department’s name.
To [company name] :
Lastly, you may also address your letter to the company instead of the specific department if you are unsure as to where exactly your letter goes.
Oh, by the way, “LLC” stands for “limited liability company,” and you may or may not use a comma before “LLC” depending on the legally listed name of the business.
Semi-formal Alternatives to “To Whom It May Concern”
Use these semi-formal alternatives if you have been previously connected to your addressee, especially if you have worked with them professionally for a long time in the past.
Dear [addressee’s title and full name] :
The classic adjective “dear” evokes both a personal and formal tone because it is one of the most widely used salutation elements in English.
Dear [addressee’s title and last name] :
You may conveniently drop the first name if you want to avoid conveying redundancy, as the complete addressee’s name should already ideally appear in the inside address section.
Dear [addressee’s title or position] :
Or, you may also simply use the job title or position of your addressee in your salutation if you have already written their complete name in the inside address section.
Dear [department name] :
If you cannot find the complete name of your addressee and their job title, go for the department or office name instead.
Dear [company name] :
In case you have no way of finding out the addressee’s department, job title, and full name, then feel free to use their company name this time.
Impersonal or Neutral Alternatives “To Whom It May Concern”
If you do not feel like using a formal to semi-formal salutation, your other choices are either of these two neutrally-sounding ones.
[Addressee’s name title] [ full name] :
If you want to keep your salutation neat and short, you may simply opt for the name title and the full name of your target addressee.
[Addressee’s name title] [ last name] :
However, if you want to keep things even shorter and simpler, use the addressee’s name title and last name only.
Frequently Asked Questions about the use “To whom it may concern”
Can we use “To whom it may concern” in a letter for an employee?
Yes, you can, especially if you are addressing all employees in general rather than a specific person only. However, it is better to use the complete name or at least the last name of the person if you are addressing a single employee.
What is a synonym for “To whom it may concern”?
Synonyms for “To Whom It May Concern” include “Dear Sir or Madam,” “To Hiring Manager,” “Dear Human Resource Department,” or “To ABC Company.”
Is it rude to use “To whom it may concern” in a cover letter?
It is not necessarily rude, but it could rather create an impression that the applicant may have not gone the extra mile of searching for the addressee’s complete name, job title, department, or company name.
There are drastic situations that may encourage us to use general, traditional, and genderless salutations like “To Whom It May Concern.”
But, as much as possible, as well as to prevent misperceptions of negligence, it is still way better to convey our professionalism by choosing more practical alternatives, such as the ones listed in this post.
That’s all for now, folks. See you again soon!
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.