There are hundreds of perfectly acceptable ways to start an email: "Dear," "Hello," "Hi," and so on. And then there’s one you should avoid at all costs.
According to Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas, "To whom it may concern," is one of the worst ways to start an email today.
Though the greeting may seem innocuous, it comes off as impersonal and old fashioned — and reeks of a mass-produced spam letter. "Ultimately, it sends the wrong message," Gottsman says.
It also makes you look lazy and apathetic.
More often than not, a quick phone call or Google search will unearth the name of the individual you're emailing. If you don’t do your homework, the recipient may be insulted, and your chances of receiving a response decline significantly, Gottsman says. And this is especially true for job seekers.
Even if you can't find a name — or you’re unsure who exactly will be opening the email (you may be sending an email to a generic address, such as email@example.com) — there's always a better salutation than, “To whom it may concern.”
Gottsman suggests addressing your email to the position of the person, or the group of people you're sending it to, such as, “Dear Hiring Manager,” or, “Dear Marketing Department.”
Doing this shows that you still put in some effort, even if you ultimately couldn't find a name.
Gottsman also recommends avoiding other generic greetings, like “Dear Sir," or, "Hi Ma'am." These give off the same impersonal vibe, making you seem disingenuous.
Bottom line: A little research goes a long way. Unless you want to be immediately written off, “To whom it may concern,” should be nixed from your email vocabulary.
Want your business advice featured in Instant MBA? Submit your tips to firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to include your name, your job title, and a photo of yourself in your email.
More From Business Insider