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.