Dear Sir or Madam Alternatives for Professional Correspondence

Stephen Greet
Stephen Greet April 8, 2024
Dear Sir or Madam Alternatives for Professional Correspondence

The salutation, Dear Sir or Madam, has been in use for hundreds of years. However, it’s a bit outdated in today’s environment.

Nowadays, you’ll occasionally hear a grocery clerk or bank teller calling someone sir or ma’am (contraction of madam) while serving them. Many people see it as polite to use when you don’t know someone’s name. However, it can have a different effect in modern professional correspondence, such as addressing the recipient with “Dear Sir or Madam” when writing a cover letter.

In a hiring context, Dear Sir or Madam can seem too impersonal. So, should you ever use it? We’ll dive into that in this article, covering the history, modern alternatives, and tips to help make your professional communication successful.

The Legacy of Dear Sir or Madam

The Legacy of Dear Sir or Madam

Although using “Dear Sir or Madam” has mostly gone out of style, there is a lot of historical significance behind it. The history of it being a professional and courteous greeting is why some will still wonder if it’s right to use it.

A Glimpse into History

The use of salutations can be traced back to ancient times. People have used variations of words like sir or madam for centuries to greet each other politely when not knowing someone’s name. For example, before addressing someone as sir or madam became popular, those in medieval England would say “Hail!” or “Hail, fellow!” while greeting someone they didn’t know.

Eventually, England and other royal colonies transitioned into using more gender-specific greetings. That caused salutations like sir and madam to gain popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries. You’d often hear people use “Greetings, sir” or “Greetings, ma’am” while addressing someone they didn’t know.

However, formal writing posed a different challenge when you didn’t know the name or gender of the person you were addressing. That’s why “Dear Sir or Madam” became a polite way of starting a formal letter, covering both genders during that time.

Relevance in the Digital Age

Today, we still write formal letters. You’ll most commonly see this type of writing in the hiring process or other work-related communication. Creating a cover letter, resignation letter, and job acceptance letter are all examples of this. However, the way we address people in those letters has evolved. So, is Dear Sir or Madam still appropriate?

In most cases, starting a formal application with Dear Sir or Madam won’t work well. The biggest reason is that hiring managers and employers expect communication to feel personalized.

When you use Dear Sir or Madam, it feels like you don’t know anything about the company or who you’re writing to. That’s why we always recommend addressing a specific person directly in our resume templates. The biggest thing that’ll stand out when hiring managers receive tens or hundreds of applications for a job opening is showing you did your research and connected with what the company is all about.

The form of communication is also important to consider. Nowadays, email plays a bigger part in most hiring processes. By nature, email is less formal, so using Dear Sir or Madam in emails would be out of place. Instead, using something like “Hi/Hello [hiring manager’s name]” is more appropriate and is what almost all cover letter and resume examples recommend.

Gender-neutral greetings have also dominated. For instance, some people prefer using the pronouns they/them, so using sir/madam may feel off-putting for those who no longer identify with the terms. In any case, instead of using Dear Sir or Madam in cover letters and emails, other alternatives usually will be a better fit for today’s professional communication requirements.

The Case for Modern Alternatives

The Case for Modern Alternatives

There are many reasons why modern alternatives to Dear Sir or Madam will be a better fit for professional communication. Here’s more detail on why that’s the case and some good variations you can use.

Why Change is Necessary

Let’s face it—change is sometimes difficult. Moving on from old habits or things that seemingly worked well can feel awkward. However, adapting to modern alternatives will actually be a good thing, especially when you want to stand out in the hiring process.

Most hiring managers will decide about an application within six to eight seconds of viewing it. That includes looking at the greeting and introduction of your resume to see if it’s personalized and to determine if you used the proper resume format, which is a good reason to use a resume builder or pass your resume through a resume checker.

That means using Dear Sir or Madam versus addressing the hiring manager by name at the start of your resume and cover letter could make or break your chances of getting an interview.

This is a sign that modern workplaces are adapting. Today, individuality, inclusivity, and connection are more important than ever. It creates strong workplaces where everyone involved possesses similar values and aligns with the company’s goals.

It’s similar to how someone who loves camping—while having a similar skill set as other applicants—may be the best fit for an outdoor retailer’s marketing team since they understand what customers value.

Considering those details about each individual in the hiring process can put employees in better positions to be successful and ensure companies hire the right people for their teams.

Finding ways to personalize shows you’re willing to go the extra mile in the workplace. Using alternatives to start a letter other than Dear Sir or Madam is a great way to achieve that.

All it may take is a few simple adjustments that will help significantly increase your application response rates and get you hired much quicker for a job that’s right for you.

Recommended Alternatives

The greeting you use in professional correspondence can vary depending on the situation and how well you know the person you’re addressing. To give you some ideas, here are some good modern alternatives to Dear Sir or Madam.

  • Dear [hiring manager’s name]: Addressing the hiring manager by name is a great option when crafting a cover letter, letter of interest, or similar correspondence since it personalizes it to the recipient. You can format this as “Dear [First Name Last Name]” or “Dear Ms./Mr. [Last Name]” for a respectful sir/madam alternative.
  • Dear [name of company] hiring team: This is a good option when you can’t find the name of a specific hiring manager or contact person while applying for a job. Addressing a team is also an excellent gender-neutral Dear Sir or Madam alternative when you don’t know the person you’re writing to.
  • Hello/Hi [recipient’s name]: Starting with hello or hi is a good way to start a letter other than dear. This one is fitting for emails or other less formal correspondence. You can address someone with first and last name to make it more formal or just their first name if you know them well or the message is less formal.
  • Good morning/afternoon/evening [recipient or team’s name]: This is another good letter greeting other than dear. It’s usually used for less formal correspondence or when you know the person you’re writing to well.
  • “Hey team” or “Hey everyone”: You can use this as a casual greeting when writing a workplace email to your team or the department you work with.

Implementing Alternatives in Various Contexts

Implementing Alternatives in Various Contexts

To guide you on which alternatives to use, let’s examine the most common contexts where you’d want to use a modern variation of Dear Sir or Madam.

Cover Letters and Formal Emails

One of the most common reasons you’ll be writing formal letters is for cover letters during the job application process. Typically, cover letters are more formal, so you’ll want to consider that when choosing your salutation. While “Dear Sir or Madam” cover letter greetings are outdated and won’t work the best, it just takes a few minor adjustments to adapt them to modern standards.

Starting a cover letter with “Dear” is usually recommended to give it a formal feel. You could also use a greeting like “Hello” if you want an alternative to dear that still sounds professional.

Most hiring managers will appreciate it when you address them by name in the cover letter. It gives the letter a personal feel and shows you took the time to learn about the company and position. You can usually find the name of a contact person on the company’s website, in the job description, or by reviewing their social media accounts, such as LinkedIn.

That said, some companies have more information available than others. When you can’t find the name of a contact person, using “Dear [name of company] hiring team” or a variation of that is still a good option.

You’ll likely want to take a similar approach when writing formal emails. It’s usually best to address the recipient by name whenever possible. However, since emails are a bit less formal, it can work well to use alternatives to dear. Using hi or hello is usually a safe, professional option when beginning an email.

Choosing the Right Salutation

The recipient’s job title, the information you have, and how well you know them can also impact the salutation you use.

For example, while addressing someone higher up in the company, like the CEO or a member of the board of directors, you may want to begin with a more formal approach. Something like “Dear Mr./Ms. [last name]” or “Dear [first_name last_name]” could work well in this case. These are both options that show respect and professionalism.

You may also run into instances where you need to write a formal email to someone but don’t have much information about the recipient. If you don’t have someone’s name, you could start with “Dear [department name]” or “Dear [job title].” This will ensure your message gets to the right place in the company while maintaining formality.

In rare cases, “To whom it may concern” is another option. However, this is also outdated, like Dear Sir or Madam. It’s only recommended to use it if you have very little information about the recipient, such as when you don’t even know their department or job title within the company.

Lastly, your relationship with the recipient can affect your salutation. For instance, if you’ve been working with a client for a while, you may be able to take on a more casual approach to your communication, such as addressing them by their first name or using greetings like “hey.” Something like “Hey John” or “Hey Team” would work well in this case.

Beyond the Greeting: Crafting Effective Professional Communication

Crafting Effective Professional Communication

Once you’ve mastered the greeting, there are still more parts of the letter you have to cover. Here’s a quick overview of how to write a clear and professional message.

The Body of the Message

When you email someone or write formal correspondence like a cover letter, it should have a clear purpose throughout. For example, you’d want the body of your cover letter to explain how your skills and experiences make you a good fit for a company’s needs.

Aim to keep your correspondence concise and to the point. You don’t want to lose anyone’s attention, giving them too much information they don’t need. Formal communication, like cover letters, should be about one page long. Other correspondence, like business emails, should usually be around 100-200 words.

Resume templates or tools like a cover letter generator can help if you’re struggling to find the right structure. They’ll give you a good overview of what works best in professional settings, and then you can customize it to your specific needs.

You’ll also want to consider your tone as you write. The nature of your message and the recipient will usually decide the appropriate tone to use. For example, you’d likely want a more formal approach when sending a quarterly performance report to your boss. However, when emailing a co-worker you’ve known for a while, you could aim for something more friendly and casual while still maintaining professionalism.

The Closing Salutation

Just as with the greeting of your letter or email, you want the closing salutation to sound professional and leave a lasting good impression on your recipient.

When writing formal communication like a cover letter or resignation letter, closing with “sincerely” followed by your full name is often a good choice. “Thank you” is also a sound choice if you’re looking for an alternative.

Some other generally accepted closing salutations for professional letters and emails are:

  • Regards – you can also do variations of this like kind regards, warm regards, or best regards
  • Thanks – a little less formal than writing out thank you
  • Best – other variations are all the best or best wishes
  • Talk to you soon – this is a good one for emails where you want to reinforce that you’re looking forward to hearing from someone
  • Take care – another good one for emails with a similar effect as best wishes

It’s important to understand your recipient and the nature of your message to choose the right option. For example, while a closing salutation like “cheers” can sound fun and lighthearted, some may not appreciate it in professional communication due to its association with drinking. So, keep in mind the different meanings of phrases you’re using.

Common Mistakes

Common Mistakes

Before sending professional correspondence, it’s essential to proofread and ensure you avoid common mistakes that many run into. Here’s a brief overview of what to watch out for.

Avoiding Pitfalls

Some of the most common mistakes in professional correspondence are:

  • Grammatical errors: Misspelled words or misuse of punctuation will detract from the professionalism of your message. It’s one of the primary things that causes job applications to get passed over.
  • Repeating your resume: You may have used a resume checker and templates to ensure it’s top-notch, so repeating that already great information can seem like a good idea. However, it’ll make your cover letter less impactful. Instead, try to fill in any missing gaps and connect with the company rather than repeating everything.
  • Copying stock letters word for word: Stock cover letters or other templates can be used as tools to guide you, but they shouldn’t be submitted verbatim. Instead, you should personalize them to fit your needs and recipient. For example, a Dear Sir or Madam letter sample might use outdated language that won’t resonate in today’s job market.
  • Complicated jargon: While you may be an expert in your field, consider not every reader will know as much as you do. For example, someone applying to be a DevOps manager could be sending a cover letter to a hiring manager who doesn’t know all the intricacies of SDLC and agile tooling. So, try to find ways to simplify for any reader.
  • Poor subject lines: Most people get tens or even hundreds of emails daily, meaning some can get overlooked if your subject line is too vague or gives the wrong impression. Aim for something that’s brief but tells all the information needed. For example, when sending a letter of interest, a good subject line could be “Referred by Kim Johnson – Informational Interview Request.”



Using “Dear Sir or Madam” isn’t the best option for modern professional correspondence. It lacks personalization and can even be off-putting to some people. Fortunately, there are many other options and ways you can adjust your communication to ensure you stand out.

In most professional communication, addressing someone by their first and last name is a safe option. If you don’t know the recipient’s name, using company names, job titles, or department names can also work well.

While starting with “Dear” is common for formal communication, it isn’t always the best option for every type of professional letter. For example, “Hello” or “Hi” can work well in an email.

Always try to customize your message to the recipient to ensure it stands out. For instance, describing how you connect with the company in a cover letter can set you apart from other applicants with a similar skill set.

By following these guidelines and maintaining professionalism, you’ll be on your way to writing top-notch letters and emails!

Dear Sir or Madam FAQs

Dear Sir or Madam FAQs
How do you start a professional letter without dear?

“Hello” or “Hi” are usually safe starters other than dear. For something more formal, hello will be the better choice. Hi is usually a good choice for informal communication. You could also use other alternatives like good morning, good afternoon, or good evening in professional emails.

What is the best replacement for “Dear Sir or Madam?”

A good formal replacement for Dear Sir or Madam is “Dear [First_name Last_name].” If you don’t know the recipient’s name, you could also use the company name, department name, or job title.

What’s the difference between “To whom it may concern” vs. “Dear Sir or Madam?”

Both of these greetings are seen as formal but outdated. The main difference is that “to whom it may concern” is more gender-neutral since it avoids using male and female titles entirely. That means using “to whom it may concern” may be appropriate, but use it only in the worst case when you have no information about the recipient.

Is it always inappropriate to use “Dear Sir or Madam?”

Dear Sir or Madam is still seen as a formal greeting but isn’t the most appropriate in today’s professional communication. The main reasons are it feels impersonal and isn’t the most inclusive phrasing since not everyone identifies with the terms sir or madam. Instead, try to choose other options, like addressing someone by name or their job title.