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May 18, 2009



I find both "to whom it may concern" and "Dear Sir or Madame" a bit too generic and also archaic-sounding. In response to a blind ad on Craigs List, I think you can customize your salutation in the spirit and lingo of Craigs List, either using exactly their wording, as in "To the publisher in search of an experienced freelance copyeditor" or extrapolate just a bit on what they seem to want (which happens to be just what you are offering!) "To the publisher in search of superb cookbook copyeditor." Or you could use "To the poster of job1234@craigslist.com." Granted this is not how we were taught to write letters 25 years ago, but times (and professional communications) have changed. If you are professional throughout the rest, I think you are OK to take this slight license on the salutation. In fact, I think it conveys more confidence than relying on old customs. Just my 2 cents.

Susan Bunyan

I agree with Sandy. I suppose you could use "Dear Job1234". We also get cover letters with "Dear Hiring Committee" and the generic "To Whom ... ". I don't think I've ever been put off by the salutation of a cover letter, it's more likely to be bad grammar, run on sentences, fragments, misspelling, etc. If your cover letter is well written, clear and concise, they'll study it and your resume to decide if they want to interview you. On the resume, I don't like more than 2 pages as a rule and want it to really give some information about the jobs the person has had. The new format seems to be to list all the skills and skip over the jobs but I like to know what a person has had real experience with. We hire IT people though and publishers could be an entirely different breed.


I use "Dear Hiring Manager." Ok, it's not brilliant or original, but it's usually who the letter goes to so.... it seems to make sense if I don't have any other info.


As a hiring manager I haven't seen a cover letter in years. They generally get screened by human refuse and don't make it to the hiring mangers. So in reality, it probably doesn't matter what you say since the person you intend to see it most likely isn't going to get it. That said I still use dear sir/madame. Slightly better than to whom it may concern.


Excellent advice, Sandy!


Susan: That's what I always thought, too -- that the body of a good cover letter is more important than the salutation, so I was taken aback by this guy's "kiss of death" judgment of "To whom it may concern." My resume is indeed a one-pager, complete with work history (and skills), so thanks for that confirmation.


On the hiring side of things, the last thing I worry about is the salutation. Kiss of death? Unless it's totally off the wall, I barely notice it. A bad opening paragraph - that's the deal breaker.

[And as someone who deals mostly with entry-level and intern hires, I see some awful cover letters and resumes. Colleges need to do a better job teaching these kids how to write these things.]


Karen, I think "To Whom it May Concern" is perfectly fine when you have absolutely no way of finding out the contact person's name. Finding a typo is much more of a turn-off to me. Goes right in the trash.


Just my two cents, but if you're using "Dear Sir or Madame," I'd leave off the "e" and say "Dear Sir or Madam."

I also think it depends on your audience. If you're dealing with people in the publishing business who make a career out of writing and language, I don't think you can go very wrong by using formal salutations.


Elena: EEK -- I do leave off the "e"; thanks for catching that! (Although either is correct; see #3 here: http://verbatim.blogs.com/verbatim/2009/02/work-notes.html.)


I have also used "Greetings" or even "Hello" but it does depend on the audience. One thing that totally creeps me out, though, is "Yours truly." Ugh!


I think, Dear so and so, sounds and looks better.


If possible, get the correct name of the employer's contact. Call the company or maybe look at their website. If not possible, you can write, Dear Selection Committee.

Debra Snider

I've always preferred "Ladies and Gentlemen" to "Dear Sir or Madam" largely because it treats men and women equally traditionally rather than sexistly assuming the women are married. But, honestly, I've hired lots and lots of people over the years and I've barely noticed the heading unless it had a typo or referred to me personally as "Mr. Snider" (which happened more often than you'd believe despite the "Debra" being right in the address block). I have no problem with "To Whom it May Concern" and I'd be surprised if anyone really considers it a kiss of death. Seriously, if the rest of the letter and resume are great and the person is qualified, what kind of dope would bump him or her because of a perfectly correct, if old-fashioned, salutation?


We had this exact conversation recently in my Intro to Word Processing course (I am back in school). My teacher told us that "To Whom It May Concern" is no longer proper; she said that if you cannot find the person's name (always the best option, but impossible sometimes with craigslist), use "ladies and gentlemen".


Ms. Snider,

"Madam" is a proper address for an unmarried woman. I would think "Ladies and Gentlemen" incorrect for assuming more than one of each, even if I am alone in associating the phrase with hucksters.

Joe Wallace

I think leaving the salutation off altogether is far better than "To Whom...". When I've put out calls for writers--freelance and regular hires--I always felt put off by the generic open and gravitated towards those who just got to the point. I'm just one editor among many but that's my take.


I am faced with this problem currently and I'm glad I found this site, it has given me great ideas. It is unbelievable how little this topic is discussed.

I have always used "Dear Seekers of [job]er". I suppose I thought it was cute, however I have concluded it may be too informal.

What I am hoping to find is something not so outdated and old-fashioned as "To Whom it May Concern" and not as tactless as "Dear So and So".

Any ideas?


Lately I've been using "Dear Hiring Manager" when I have absolutely no information about the company or decision-maker involved.


I agree with the comment about how ridiculous it is that this topic is never discussed - or at least that there is no "correct" answer. Why must we grapple with these technicalities? It's all just a silly game. Let's just create a definite standard already and be done with it!


I'm going through the same process at the moment and I've decided to use:
"To the Hiring Manager/Committee" followed by "Ladies &/or Gentlemen"


This is a great post, as others have said. I googled "to whom it may concern alternatives" and this is the first link. I work in academic research and I apply to jobs mostly through websites which don't have any contact names. Due to the generic quality of the job postings (most are templates), it would be pretty difficult to find out who is making the hiring decision. Unless I find something better, I'm going with "Dear Hiring Manager".

Li Tai Fang

"To whom it may concern" is a kiss of death IF AND ONLY IF you are applying for a position in espionage. I'm sure the HR and hiring managers are testing your skills as a private investigator by deliberately withholding that information on the job posting, and expect that you find their name.


Omit the salutation line. Just start with the body. It does read better IMHO and is more appropriate if you don't have a specific person to address.


I'm going to use "dear sir or madame", it sounds classier. :)


Good blog BTW. :)


Funny that you started this blog topic in May 2009 and it's still serving as a valuable (and surprisingly rare) discussion of this topic, right after the 'To Whom It May...Kiss of Death' article that comes up on Google. The latter seems woefully out of touch with the veiled, anonymous nature of how jobs are posted on Craig's List and other sites.

I don't think a salutation should be a deal breaker w/ # of typos I so often see, even in online articles that offer 'best examples' of writing. My standard TWIMC salutation is feelin' clunky though, and I like Sandy's May 18, 2009 approach of "To the publisher in search of..." OR just leaving off salutation. "To the poster of job1234@craigslist.com" seems, ick, equally impersonal, I don't like being called Madam any more than Ma'am (sorry), and Dear Hiring Committee is ridiculous for the growing atmosphere of streamlined, entrepreneurial firms seeking similarly minded freelancers or staff. THANKS for this needed discussion!


I Just thought of a really good one: "Thank you in advance for your time,"



NEVER start a salutation with 'dear' unless you actually know them (and think of them dearly) If you are writing to a potential employer it makes no sense to regard to them as 'dear'


What word would you use instead? I use "Dear" all the time, and I'm on the receiving end of it daily too. I think it long ago lost its sense of meaning "endearing" when used as a salutation.


After reading all of the above, I choose "Greetings!" for non-job inquiries and coming up with something more creative and is specific to a posting for job related letters. Thank you all for your input.

E. L. Schiff

Please leave off that final "e" in "Madame": it is French. I still prefer using "Dear Managing Editor" when I cannot find a specific name to direct inquiries to. Also, when one is addressing new, cutting-edge enterprises in technology-related areas, use of a salutation may not even be essential.


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