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I got an email from the HR department of a company about a job opportunity. The email is addressed directly to me, so I was wondering if it is okay to ask them where they got my email address, or would it be considered rude?

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Unless your definition of "ask" is "CC them on an email you're sending to spamhaus denouncing them for spamming, warcrimes, and spoiling the plot of movies for everyone at your local movie theatre then there's no way that asking them could be rude. –  RobM Mar 30 at 19:41
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I don't have a public work email address. –  l19 Mar 31 at 1:30

4 Answers 4

up vote 51 down vote accepted

I was wondering if it is okay to ask them where they got my email address

Of course it's okay.

After all, if this turns into a great job opportunity, you might owe someone a "thanks".

Every time I've gotten a solicitation like this, I've asked where they got my email address (or phone number if they call). Most often, they read my name somewhere online, and got my contact information via a search. Occasionally, it has come through a friend or former co-worker. Usually, it was nothing I was concerned about. I don't believe I've ever been considered rude when I asked.

I also often encode my email address when I register at a website. I include something in the email address I use which can give me a hint as to where my email address was found.

Gmail lets you use your normal email address with a plus sign followed by additional text, and sends it all to your normal email address.

For example, if your Gmail address is:

john.doe@gmail.com

you could use john.doe+workplace@gmail.com and all the emails addressed to either would end up in your inbox.

Using this trick, I often don't have to ask how they got my email address - I already know.

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It's not really a "trick", it has been standard email behaviour for decades. Its just all those crappy mail providers that run weird tests and normalizations on recepient emails that do not conform to the rfcs present at their given time. Thus this feature got lost over the decades... –  PlasmaHH Mar 30 at 21:07
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@PlasmaHH: I've looked at the RFCs from 1977 and onward, and it seems that in the history of the internet, the 'trick' with the plus symbol has never been standard behaviour. –  Marcks Thomas Mar 31 at 13:35
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@MarcksThomas: The issue with RFC compliance is not semantics of the + symbol, it's that some forms may refuse to validate if it is present. Of course, if the semantics google applies to the + symbol were standardized, mailing lists would routinely strip it to protect their sources. The non-standard usage is the only thing that makes it useful. (And gmail.com is big enough that some lists may treat it specially anyway... much less likely to see the tag stripped from google-managed private domains) –  Ben Voigt Mar 31 at 17:05

It is perfectly fine to ask something like this. In some countries a company is even legally required to answer this question. It can even be illegal to send this type of unsolicited email.

For example, in Germany where I live, companies are required to give you this information. We have very strict regulations regarding when an email is unsolicited and thus not exactly legal to send.

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If you're interested in knowing I would just add the question at the end of one of your other e-mails (assuming you're e-mailing them about the job opportunity, even if to turn them down) as a throwaway question. Something along the lines of:

Oh, and if you wouldn't mind, could you let me know how you got my contact details please?

This way it doesn't seem demanding or rude at all, and most companies don't mind giving out this information, or at least that is the case in my experience.

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Many companies ask me how I learned about a specific job opening when I fill position application forms with them. Turnabout is fair play if I ask them how they got hold of my email address. Prospective employers reach out to me through Linkedin. Anyone who reaches out to me as a new prospect through email - That one is a rara avis or rare bird. I have stale resumes floating in forums that are long closed and it is possible that they got my email through them, but I won't know for sure unless I ask :) I don't ask anything if I think that I am being scammed.

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