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Why You Should Never Use the Phrase “To Whom It May Concern”

Opening lines are the hardest part of any writing project. That's especially true when you're searching for a job. You have just seconds to make the right first impression, and if you blow it, that chance may never come around again.

One of the biggest common mistakes involves starting you cover letter with "to whom it may concern."

If you think this is a suitable way to address a cover letter or job employment email message, we encourage you to keep reading.

Why Use a Real Name?

You know you've spent hours, or even days, searching for the perfect job, but your recruiter has no idea. If you open your letter with, "to whom it may concern," you're immediately highlighting the fact that you can't be bothered to do your homework before tackling a big project. A real first name is a better option.

Here are four reasons that using a first name helps you:

  1. We love to see our own names. Researchers say our brain cells light up when we hear our own names. They stay dark when we hear the names of others, including people we like, but when we think someone is speaking our names, everything changes.

    Imagine the impact an active brain has on your job chances. The person you're talking to is tuned into your words at a cellular level. If you mention their name, your next sentences have a better chance of hitting home.

  2. You demonstrate your passion for the job. It takes seconds to tap out a well-worn phrase. It can take time and a little effort to find the name of your future reader. Each time you tap out that name, you showcase how much the job means to you and what you will do to get it.

  3. You're reminded to alter your cover letter. You shouldn't send the same note to different companies. You're looking for an opportunity to showcase how your history and skills mesh perfectly with someone who wants to hire you. Knowing you must change the name can remind you to take a spin through the rest of the letter too.
  4. You demonstrate collaboration and friendliness. Let's face it, "whom" is a stuffy word. It may be grammatically correct, but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. A name is professional, yet more personal.
woman-typing-on-laptop

What Name Do You Need?

You know you should address your letter to a real person, but who should that person be? To answer that question, you'll need to do a little digging.

In most cases, the person reviewing your initial resume will hold a title like Recruitment Manager or Human Resources Director. This is a boots-on-the-ground person who passes through documents and determines if they're worthy of examination by a larger team. Using this name is a safe bet.

But what if you want to do more?

Imagine that you're applying for the job of Marketing Manager. Chances are, there's a Marketing Director you'll report to. Same goes for the title of Sales Associate. There's a Sales Lead in the corporate tree somewhere, and that's the person you need to influence.

Thoroughly examine the job posting, and see if there's a mention of your potential boss's title. In most cases, that's listed near the end of the job posting. If you can, look for the name of the person you'll report to when you land your job. If that's not possible, names from the human resources department might work just fine.

Where Should You Look?

By now, you probably know that a company website isn't the best place to find a job. Researchers find that only 58% of managers say they get the best applicants from their websites, but that official website could have just what you need to make your cover letter sing.

Search the corporate site for:

  • Employee directories. Some companies include the name and contact information of everyone who works for them. Others add just a few key positions, but one might be just the name you need.
  • Blog posts. If the company has an active blog, every employee might get asked to take a spin as author. Search within the blog for job titles, and you could get lucky.
  • Organization charts. Some companies publish org charts detailing reporting order. That chart might include names.

If you strike out on the corporate website, don't worry. You still have options. You can:

  • Use LinkedIn. If your target person has an account, your work is a snap.
  • Call the company. Ask the receptionist for the name (and spelling) of the person you hope to reach.
  • Try Google. Sometimes, you'll get good data on a basic search for company name and job title. But beware: the name you get might be out-of-date.

What if You Can't Find It?

woman-typing-on-keyboard

You've looked everywhere, and that pesky name eludes you. Don't let that discourage you. It's fine to send a letter without the perfect personalization, but you'll still want to avoid using "to whom it may concern."

Good alternatives include:

  • Hiring committee. This is a good choice when there are far too many options for personalization. This company likely has several job screeners, and this opener includes them all.
  • Job title. You know you'll report to the Customer Service Manager, but you can't find that name anywhere. Use the job title instead.
  • Human resources department. You're not sure of names or titles, so this is your last option. Use it only when you can't come up with an alternative.

Personalized Cover Letter: An Example

How much does personalization really matter? Perhaps this example will help convince you.

Here's what the letter looks like without research:

To whom it may concern,

I read about your Marketing Manager position, and I think I'm the right person for the job. I'm excited to get started.

As you will read on my resume, I have 10 years of experience in marketing. In my current position, I increased leads by 50% and I won my company a nationwide marketing award.

I am available for an interview on Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I hope to hear from you!

Here’s what the same letter looks like with research:

Dear Donna Smith,

I read about your Marketing Manager position on LinkedIn, and after reading a little more about you and your company, I'm thrilled to say I think I'm the person you've been searching for.

It's my understanding that I'll report directly to you in this position. You'll find that I'm a quick learner who can tackle jobs with minor oversight. In my last position, I increased leads by 50% and I won my company a nationwide marketing award. I think we'll work well together, and I'd love to discuss that further.

I am available for an interview on Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I hope to hear from you, Donna. Thank you for your time.

See how personalization makes that second letter more compelling?

Start Your Job Search

Before you can craft the perfect cover letter, you need to find the perfect job. We can help! Our platform compiles jobs, so you can search by title, by location, or both. You'll find several jobs to apply for in minutes, and there are no fees involved.

We'd love to have you try it out. Get started on Joblist today.

References

Brain Activation When Hearing One's Own and Others' Names. (October 2007). Brain Research.

Why Your Job Search Is Not Working: New Study Shows Disconnect Between Managers and Candidates. (April 2019). Forbes.

Can Employees Refuse to Appear in the Company Directory? (February 2018). Newsday.

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