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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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If you are sending an email to a single-owner inbox (not a generic one like customerservice@company.com), 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.

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Alli Hill

Lifestyle Writer and Marketing Consultant

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

If you pay attention to your everyday life careful enough, you’ll know that you can learn from everything and everyone you come across. Our life is basically full of useful lessons that we should learn.

Here are 26 useful things to learn that Abhishek A. Singh shared on Quora. Let’s see how these life theories would lead you to live a different life.

1. Primacy and recency: People mostly remember the first and last things that occurred, barely the middle.

When scheduling an interview, ask the employer the time slots they do interviews and try to be the first or the last.

2. If you work in a bar or in customer service of any kind, put a mirror behind you at the counter.

In this way, angry customers who approach you will have to see themselves in the mirror behind you and the chance of them behaving irrationally will be lowered significantly.

3. Once you make a sales pitch, don’t say anything else.

This works in sales, but it can also be applied in other ways.

My previous boss was training me and just gave me pointers. I was working at a gym trying to sell memberships. He told me that once I got all the small talk out of the way and presented the prices, the first person to talk would lose.

It didn’t seem like a big deal but it actually worked. Often there were long periods of awkward silence as the person tried to come up with some excuses, but usually they bought.

4. If you ask someone a question and they only partially answer, just wait.

If you stay silent and keep eye contact, they will usually continue to talk.

5. Chew gum when you’re approaching a situation that would make you nervous, like public speaking or bungee jumping.

When we eat, our brain tell ourselves, “I would not be eating if I were danger. So I’m not in danger.” This has helped me to stay calm.

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6. People will always remember how you made them feel, not what you said.

Also, most people like talking about themselves; so ask lots of questions about them.

7. When you’re learning something new, teach it to a friend. Let them ask you questions about it.

If you’re able to teach something well, you will be sure that you’ve understood it very well.

8. If you get yourself to be really happy and excited to see other people, they will react the same to you.

It doesn’t always happen the first time, but it will definitely happen the next time.

9. The physical effects of stress — breathing rate and heart rate — are almost identical to the physical effects of courage.

When you’re feeling stressed in any situations, immediately reframe it : Your body is getting ready to be courageous, you are NOT stressed.

10. Pay attention to people’s feet.

If you approach two people in the middle of a conversation, and they only turn their torsos and not their feet, they don’t want you to join in the conversation.

Similarly, if you are in a conversation with a coworker who you think is paying attention to you and their torso is turned towards you but their feet are facing in another direction, they want the conversation to end.

11. Confidence is more important than knowledge.

Don’t be intimidated by anyone, everyone is playing a role and wearing a mask.

12. If you pretend to be something for long enough, you will eventually become it.

Fake it till you make it. Period.

13. Not to be creepy, but if you want to stare at someone unashamedly, look directly past them and wait for them to try and meet your eyes.

When they fail to do that, they’ll look around (usually nervously for a second) they won’t look at you again for some time. This is your chance to straight up stare at this person for at least 45 seconds.

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And as suggested by Brian Stutzman:

If you’re staring at someone and get caught, DON’T turn your head or your body to look away, because that just confirms that you were staring.

Just move your EYEBALLS off the person. Unlike turning your head, it’s instantaneous. And the person will think you were just looking at something behind them and that they were mistaken for thinking you were staring. Do it confidently, and ignore any reaction from the person, and you can sell it every single time.

After a second, you can even look back at them with a “Why are you staring at me?” look on your face to really cement the deal!

14. Build a network.

Become the information source, and let the information be yours. Even grabbing a beer with a former colleague once a year will keep you in the loop at the old office.

Former coworkers might have gotten a new position in that office you always wanted to work in, great! Go to them for a beer, and ask about the office. It’s all about connections and information.

15. If you are angry at the person in front of you driving like a grandmother…

Pretend it is your grandmother, it will significantly reduce your road rage.

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    16. Stand up straight.

    No slouching, hands out of pockets, and head held up high. It’s not just a cliche — you literally feel better and people around you feel more confident in you.

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    17. Avoid saying “I think,” and “I believe” unless absolutely necessary.

    These are phrases that do not evoke confidence, and will literally do you no good.

    18. When feeling anxious, clean up your home or work space.

    You will feel happier and more accomplished than before.

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      19. Always buy the first pitcher or round of drinks.

      You’d be surprised how long you could drink on the phrase “I bought the first one.”

      20. Going into an interview… be interested in your interviewers.

      If you focus on learning about them, you’ll seem to be more interesting and dynamic. (Again, people love to talk about themselves.)

      21. Pay attention parents! Always give your kid a choice that makes them think they are in control.

      For instance, when I want my son to put his shoes on I will say ,”do you want to put your star wars shoes on or your shark shoes on?”

      Pro-tip: In some cases, this works on adults.

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        22. Your action affects your attitude more than your attitude affects your action.

        As my former teacher said “You can jump and dance FOR joy, but you can also jump and dance yourself joyful.”

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        23. When a group of people laugh, people will instinctively look at the person they feel closest to in that group.

        Notice who you look at and who look at you when you laugh with a group of people!

        24. If you want to build rapport or gain someone’s trust quickly, match their body posture and position.

        If someone is sitting with her legs crossed, cross your legs. If they’re leaning away from you, lean away from them. If they’re leaning towards you, lean towards them.

        Mirroring and matching body position is a subconscious way to tell if someone trusts you or is comfortable with you. If you’re sitting with your arms crossed and you notice someone else is sitting with her arms crossed, that is a good indicator that you have/are successfully built/building rapport with that person.

        25. The Benjamin Franklin Effect (suggested by Matt Miller)

        I find the basis of the Benjamin Franklin effect is very useful and extends far beyond pencil borrowing. This knowledge is useful in the world of flirting too.

        Asking a girl in your class if you can borrow a pencil or her notes or to explain the homework will make her more likely to like you than if you let her borrow your stuff or are the one to help her. Even just asking a girl to buy you drinks (facetiously) leaves a much bigger impression than offering to or actually buying a girl a drink.

        The best part is it kills 3 birds with one stone: you get the advantages of the favor itself, the person subconsciously likes you more, and it makes them more open to future favors and conversation.

        26. Handle panic and anxiety behaviors by tapping fingers (Suggested by Jade Barbee)

        When you’re feeling stressed, worried or angry, tap each finger tip while thinking (or speaking quietly) a few specific words about what is bothering you. Repeat the same words while tapping each of your 10 fingers, including thumbs.

        For example, tap while saying, “I’m so angry with her…” Doing so will likely take the charge out of the feeling and return you to a more resourceful (better feeling) state of being. It’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or “tapping,” and it is useful in many life situations – emotional sadness, physical pain, food cravings, traumatic memories…

        Featured photo credit: Nicole Wolf via unsplash.com

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