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3 Tips to Avoid ‘To Whom It May Concern’

The five little words, "To Whom It May Concern," have been used to kick off traditional cover letters for decades. We are programmed to begin our formal introduction to companies this way. Having been taught that this was the correct salutation for a business letter of this kind, most of us don't even question it. But, maybe we should. At best, the phrase doesn't do us any favors; it just meets expectations and gets the job done. These days, we can do better.

The five little words, “To Whom It May Concern,” have been used to kick off traditional cover letters for decades. We are programmed to begin our formal introduction to companies this way. Having been taught that this was the correct salutation for a business letter of this kind, most of us don’t even question it. But, maybe we should. At best, the phrase doesn’t do us any favors; it just meets expectations and gets the job done. These days, we can do better.

what am i writing

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Here are some ideas to consider.

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1. Just don’t be boring.

“To Whom It May Concern” by definition is impersonal and yet at the same time kind of rigid. Not only does it reveal nothing at all about you, but it shows nothing about what you think of the company. It gets the letter started, does the job, and that’s all. These days, companies are looking for someone who goes above and beyond expectations and conventions. Employers are looking for someone remarkable, and beginning with “To Whom It May Concern,” suggests the opposite. Starting your cover letter another way is almost always going to be better than this. Show enthusiasm, interest, personality, and uniqueness with your salutation. It should be professional, but it doesn’t have to be so darn predictable.

2. Use more information.

A recent article by Martha C. White of Time explores the importance of using the name of the hiring manager who will be reading your resume and application packet in the salutation of your cover letter. So, do some research, use the internet or a little networking, and track down the name of an actual human to use in your letter. This will show that you are invested in this process and that you are willing to go that extra step to get the job done well.

3. Consider dropping the cover letter all together.

Sometimes, a company requires a cover letter. It may even be built into the online application packet, and therefore it’s something you should do. After asking yourself do you really need a cover letter, be open to other ideas when the answer is “no.” Can you direct potential future employers to your strengths in another way? Is an online portfolio, website, or video a better platform for showcasing your talents? Creating a cover letter alternative could help you stand out with potential future employers in a big way, so it’s definitely worth considering.

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How do you make your cover letter stand out? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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