Advertising
Advertising

To Whom It May Concern: Do All Formal Letters Have to Start Like This?

To Whom It May Concern: Do All Formal Letters Have to Start Like This?

You would think that a initiating a message with “To whom it may concern” is a safe bet, but you might be surprised to learn what those words really convey to your reader – and it’s not all good news.

Avoid generic formalities at all costs.

It’s been common practice to use formal, non-identifying salutations in a variety of occasions, from resumes and cover letters to addressing potential clients to writing business letters and beyond. There used to be a good reason for that: people writing these types of communications were typically either sending them en masse or didn’t have enough information about the recipient available.

But times have changed.

As marketing and communications have shifted to a more personalized approach, combined with the research assistance that the internet now provides, there simply isn’t a good justification to use the same old “To whom it may concern” segue. (The old “Dear sir or madam” is equally horrific.)

Generic formal greeting pisses people off.

Using a formal tone as your opening words has become such a tradition that people can just about anticipate what those words will say without having to read them.

Advertising

Although you might not know exactly who you are speaking to, using a generic formal greeting does nothing to help your letter stand out from others. It’s bland, it’s trite, and it’s boring. Your opening line is your chance to set the tone for your entire letter, and if you opt for the basic “To whom it may concern,” the reader will anticipate the rest of your letter to be nothing more than basic, as well.

The lack of differentiation creates a problem of a second sort.

What you might consider a safety net (since you certainly don’t want to assume a gender, job title or marital status), the generic “To whom it may concern” actually lets the reader know you have no clue “to whom you are concerning.” In other words, it immediately tells the reader that you are out of touch with your intended audience.

If you want to market yourself or establish a relationship, you need to have a better idea of who you are marketing to. Granted, you might not always have a name available, and that’s okay. But you can get to know more about their company culture, which could give you ideas in better ways to address your intended recipient.

For instance, a fun, vivacious company culture might respond to an equally fun greeting, such as “Hey there, [first name]!”

When in doubt, you can do a little research online to get a name, or call the company and ask for the information directly.

Advertising

Seeming behind the times is a problem in itself.

Whether you are selling a product for your company or selling yourself for a job opportunity, people want to work with others who are “in the now,” people who can (and have) adapted to the fast-paced changes in the industry. Think about it: are you still using a rotary home phone, dial up internet connection, and a photo development lab? No? Then why would you opt for an archaic expression as your first impression, especially when there are better options out there?

Simply put, using old phrases can make you seem dated, static and, in some ways, obsolete. And those aren’t the qualities you want to associate yourself with if you aim to get what you expect out of your communications.

Is it ever okay to use “To whom it may concern?”

Although there are so many better, more modern, more effective options, there still exists a scenario or two where the classic “To whom it may concern” might be relevant.

And it depends on whether or not the letter is for a specific purpose.

Consider if you asked someone for a letter of recommendation you could use to present to potential employers. In this case, the person would write one letter, not for anyone in particular, and you would present the letter as needed. The person writing the letter has no intentions of establishing a relationship with the intended recipients, and can use a formal salutation to cover any potential scenarios.

Advertising

However, it would be better if you could get an editable copy of the recommendation letter and each time address it specifically to the persons requesting it, but the formal option here isn’t completely frowned upon.

There’re alternatives to vague, overly-used formal salutations.

The way you address your reader is the first thing they will read, and can set the tone for the rest of your content. If you want to catch their attention and boost your chances they read all the way to the bottom, take a look at some of these alternative salutations:

Cover Letter

As a job applicant, you only have a few seconds to make a standout impression. That said, generic wording will never put you on the top of the callback pile. Instead, try these phrases in your next cover letter:

  • Dear Hiring Manager,
  • Hello [first name of recruiter],
  • Greetings, [name of department or company]!
  • Dear [First name of recruiter],

Business Letter

When you want to catch the eyes of a potential client, you want that client to feel like you know them, or least know something about them. Business is about building relationships, and those relationships won’t exist unless you make the effort to get to know the people you are targeting. Instead, try addressing your prospects like this:

  • Hi [first name],
  • Hi, [company] [department] team!
  • Hello, [company]!

Email to Potential Client

If you only choose to avoid the dreaded generic opening line in one type of communication, it should be emails. Your email stands a better chance of being opened if you can personalize it to the recipient. To do this, you should include their name in the subject line, as well as in the salutation.

Advertising

If you are sending an email to a single-owner inbox (not a generic one like [email protected]), your greeting should reflect that it’s to a person, not a potential group:

  • Hi [first name],
  • Dear hiring manager,

However, if you are emailing to an inbox that might be monitored by multiple users, you can address your communications to reflect a group:

  • Hello [company] recruiting team,
  • Greetings, [company] marketing department!

Remember, just because you see “To whom it may concern” on business communications does not mean it’s the best option. Don’t be afraid to try something different.

More by this author

Alli Hill

Freelance Writer and Marketing Consultant

An Alternative to Medication: 10 Foods That Lower Blood Pressure Organically Successful People Make Self-Learning Their Daily Habit By Using These 20 Apps You Don’t Need Vitamin Pills; You Just Need to Recognize These 10 Fiber-Rich Organic Foods A Good Reference Letter Is the Best Gift for the Person You Value Your Cover Letter Didn’t Bore the Employer, You Did

Trending in Productivity

1 10 Steps For Success: Applying The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind 2 How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work 3 How to Live up to Your Full Potential and Succeed in Life 4 How to Find Your Blind Spots in Life and Turn Them Into Strengths 5 9 Best Productivity Journal and Planners To Get More Done In Less Time

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on December 7, 2018

10 Steps For Success: Applying The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind

10 Steps For Success: Applying The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind

How big is the gap between you and your success?

What is the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people?

It is as simple as this: successful people think and talk about what they are creating, and unsuccessful people focus on and talk about what they’re lacking.

So how do you bridge that gap between wanting success and having your success? Let’s make an important distinction. You see, there is a big difference between “Wanting” and “Having” something.

Wanting: means lacking or absent. Deficient in some part, thing or aspect.

Advertising

Having: means to possess, to hold, to get, to receive, to experience.

You can have one OR the other, but not both at the same time with any particular object of your desire. You either have it or you don’t.

When it comes to your subconscious, if you’re focusing on the “wanting”, i.e. the not having, guess what, you will build stronger neural networks in your brain around the “wanting.” However, through the power of your subconscious mind, you can focus on the “having” as if it has already happened. Research has shown that your brain doesn’t know the difference between what you’re visualizing inside your mind versus what is happening out there in your reality.

This is a regular practice of elite athletes. They spend as much timing creating the internal mental imagery of their success playing out as they do actually physically practicing. This helps create both the neural pathways in their brain and the muscle memory to consistently deliver on that success.

Here are 10 “brain hack” steps for success that you can take to create your version of a happy life. Make these steps a regular habit, and you will be astonished at the results.

Advertising

Step 1: Decide exactly what you want to create and have

This is usually the biggest problem that people have. They don’t know what they want and then they’re surprised when they don’t get it.

Step 2: Write down your goal clearly in every technicolor detail

A goal that is not written down is merely a wish. When you write it down in full detail, you signal to your subconscious mind that you really want to accomplish this particular goal.

Step 3: Write your goal in simple, present tense words

…that a three year old can understand on a three-by-five index card and carry it with you. Read it each morning after you awake and just before you go to sleep.

Step 4: Backwards planning

See your goal achieved and identify all the steps required that it took to bring it to life. Making a list of all these steps intensifies your desire and deepens your belief that the attainment of the goal is already happening.

Step 5: Resolve to take at least one step every day from one of the items on your list

Do something every day, even if it is just one baby step, that moves you toward your goal so you can maintain your momentum.

Advertising

Step 6: Visualize your goal repeatedly

See it in your mind’s eye as though it were already a reality. The more clear and vivid your mental picture of your goal, the faster it will come into your life.

Step 7: Feel the feeling of success as if your goal were realized at this very moment

Feel the emotion of happiness, satisfaction, and pleasure that you would have once you have achieved your goal. Visualize and feel this success for at least 20 seconds at a time.

Step 8: “Fake it till you make it!”

Confidently behave as if your subconscious mind was already bringing your goal into reality. Accept that you are moving toward your goal and it is moving toward you.

Step 9: Relax your mind

Take time to breathe, pray or mediate each day. Disengage the stress response and engage the relaxation response. A quiet state of mind allows your brain to access newly formed neural pathways.

Step 10: Release your goal to your subconscious mind

When you turn your goal over to the power of the universe and just get out of the way, you will always know the right actions to take at the right time.

Advertising

Starting today, try tapping into the incredible power of your subconscious mind.Start with just one goal or idea, and practice it continually until you succeed in achieving that goal. Make it a game and have fun with it! The more lightly you hold it, the easier it will be to achieve. By doing so, you will move from the “positive thinking” of the hopeful person to the “positive knowing” of the totally successful person.

Hit reply and let me know what you’re creating!

To your success!

Featured photo credit: use-your-brain-markgraf via mrg.bz

Read Next