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When applying for a position, I often want to learn as much about the work as possible. A part of that involves looking for organizational charts and determining who does what and who might my boss be. Depending on where you are looking, this information can be relatively easy to find. When I do figure it out, I am often tempted to try to contact these potential higher-ups (either through e-mail or a social network) in order to differentiate myself from the rest of the applicants in the pool. One part of me says such an action shows ambition and will help my prospects; another part of me says it smacks of social anxiety and verges on stalking. So,

Is it ever appropriate to contact a potential employer before they contact you?

PS - I have only ever actually done this once and the response I got was quite positive. It turned out that the guy I contacted was no longer in the position I had thought he was, but he forwarded my email to his replacement and several other people.

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This is a good question given how easy this is to do now - with professional networking tools like LinkedIn and research through it or the Internet finding specific contacts is considerably easier now than ever before. – enderland Jan 15 '13 at 3:18
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Directly contacting a higher up can be risky; some will take it as a positive while others will be extremely annoyed by it. So unless you know the individual you're contacting you are taking a risk.

But this is exactly where networking comes in to play. While it may be inappropriate for you to contact a higher up directly it's usually perfectly acceptable for someone in your network to introduce you in person, via email, a phone call or other setting. In this case someone within your network already has a direct connection and an established relationship.

Obviously if you have submitted a resume directly to an individual it's perfectly acceptable to contact them and follow up on your application.

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Hmmm... I like your advice about getting a "letter of introduction" if you will. The trick, then, is to find the contacts with the fewest degrees of seperation. – AdamRedwine Jan 14 '13 at 22:17
That is in part the point of networking. Building your sphere of influence and reach. Considering your career I'd image the sphere is relatively small already. – Stephen Jan 14 '13 at 22:20

Further to Stephen's answer I think that when contacting someone as a prospective candidate, be wary of the information about you that social network holds.

For example, if I send a CV / resume to an employer I know that all of the information contained has been vetted and checked and only reflects positively on me.

If, however, I approach someone more informally such as through linkedin (or even facebook), a lot more information about me might be made available (some of which may be negative) without me being consciously aware – even information such as who I am connected to may reflect badly if an employer has had a negative interaction with someone else.

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Do you want to work at a company or for people who frown on this? Sales, marketing, entreprenuers and other "go getter" types may appreciate the do what it takes attitude.

Obviously you don't want to hinder your chances of getting a job, but if you are uncomfortable with this tactic, you may want to reconsider. You could end up working for people who are really pushy and want you to be the same.

Some say good sales people will always ask for the order even at the risk of embarassing, offending the client or being rejected.

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I think the answer lies in the statistics. About 1/2 of all full-time hires comes through internal promotions or transfers. The next highest source are from referrals and networks. Reaching out directly to folks working in the area which you are targeting is networking. So if you want to increase your odds of being selected, this is you next highest probability of doing so.

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Remember also to take into consideration the culture, especially when applying for a job working abroad, or even one in your own country. Understanding what the cultural norms are of wherever you're applying will help you determine what sort of action is appropriate. It is important to research your workplace just remember to not do it with a negative attitude towards the prospective company. Using sites like likendin can be useful to gather not only information on the company but also information on the people working there.

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There is something to be said for whether or not the higher ups want to play a role in the hiring process as I could imagine to some degree that contacting someone's boss' boss may well be where there isn't much direct influence on hiring someone for a position. I could see this working better if you contact the people that would be your teammates and try to get a foothold from that angle. While this may be harder, it could also be way better than trying to get an executive to tell someone a few levels down who to hire if we are talking about larger companies here.

I can remember for my current job that I had to contact the employer to have the initial discussion. There is something to be said for where the initial applying for a position fits into things here. While there are some people that may always get people throwing jobs at them, most of us aren't that fortunate.

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Risky behavior IMO, because it immediately raises the question: What are you doing now? Why are you going behind the back of your current employer to contact me when I haven't contacted you: It sounds like you're not very loyal or trustworthy...

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