What About “To Whom It May Concern”?

One of my readers asked yesterday if all of the words in "To Whom It May Concern" should be capitalized. My answer was twofold:

1. If you must use this salutation, all of the words should be capitalized. This is my opinion, and it is also the opinion of the Owl at Purdue, which is a good grammar reference. http://owl.english.purdue.edu Here is what their website says:

"If you don't know a reader's gender, use a nonsexist salutation, such as 'To Whom It May Concern.'"


2. The other part of my answer was that I NEVER use "To Whom It May Concern," and I do not recommend it in my workshops because it is an antiquated form and because I think the writer should make an effort to call or e-mail to find out the name of the person being addressed.

If this is not possible, the writer should create a title that fits the situation. This title (e.g., Dear Director of Human Resources OR Dear Publications Assistant) should be used in the salutation and also on the envelope. It says the writer took some time to prepare, and it also allows the mail room of a large company to figure out where to deliver the letter.

I like what Rachel Zupek said recently in an article titled "Is 'To whom it may concern' the kiss of death?" This appeared on the careerbuilder.com blog called the Work Buzz. http://www.theworkbuzz.com/career-advice/whom-it-may-concern-kiss-of-death/. Here was her comment:

Most job seekers know that, whenever possible, it's best to address your cover letter to the person who has the power to hire you–or at least the person who can bring you in for an interview.

But, all too often, if a name isn't listed on a job posting, the job seeker resorts to an old-fashioned salutation like, "To Whom It May Concern." What they don't know, is that this approach can sometimes be considered the kiss of death.

Impersonal salutations like "Dir (sic) Sir/Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern" show an employer two things: The first is that you lack the initiative to locate the appropriate contact; the second is that you show a disregard for any research needed to be done on your part. In short, employers will think you're lazy and your cover letter will end up in the trash.


I agree completely with this opinion, and I often say so in business writing workshops. I do have a few comments about the punctuation in this comment, and I will address those in my next blog entry.

 


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  22. Rachel Valentine says:

    You should delete all those spammy comments…  But thanks for the information, I have always been confused on what to capitalize!

  23. admin says:

    I am glad you found the information useful. You are so right about the spammy comments. Most of those were dumped here before I started using the correct filter. I will try to find a block of time to go back and delete those!

  24. Lavern says:

    I am having my current supervisor who is getting ready to retire provide me with a letter of reference that I intend to use for more than one organization.  Would that be an exception to the "To Whom I May Concern" rule?

  25. admin says:

    This is a good question, and I would say you have a choice. You can view it as an exception and use “To Whom It May Concern,” which would be the more traditional style. However, many business writing references today would suggest that you simply leave out the greeting and begin with your first paragraph. This is what I now do if I am asked to provide a letter of recommendation. I use the date and my return address information and then begin with the first paragraph.

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