how to use someone else’s contact when applying for a job

A reader writes:

My question is about using a contact that is a few degrees removed from me personally. She is an executive at an organization where I recently applied for a job with whom my godmother briefly worked several years ago.

My godmother instructed me to remind the executive who she was and ask whatever questions I wanted to ask via e-mail. I am not sure how to ask “do I have a chance at this job?” and “if I don’t, how can I in the future?” in a way that’s not greedy or entitled. My ideas are to ask for an informational interview or attach my resume and cover letter and ask if she has any advice for someone interested in work at the organization in the future, but I want to do so in a way that’s as polite and gracious as possible. I guess I could also give her an out by saying if she’s not available, I’d love to learn more from one of her colleagues at the organization who might have more time.

On the one hand, I don’t want to ask for too much given that my connection to her is not really that strong. On the other, I do want to use the “in” if possible — the org has a mission I’m really committed to and I devour materials like their e-mail alerts. Do you have any ideas for best practices on using these kinds of contacts and what to say when you make the initial contact?

Well, the best way to use the contact is probably to have your godmother herself reach out to her and recommend you. She should forward your application materials and explain that you recently applied for a position there, and then ideally throw in some reasons for why she recommends you (for instance, that you’re smart, passionate about their mission, etc.).

In addition to that, you should also email her yourself and say that ___ recommended that you contact her personally, that you recently applied for a position with them, and that you would love any advice that she might be able to offer you. This may cue her to tell you something useful, like that they’re really looking for people with a background in __ for this position but that they have an unadvertised position for __ that you might be perfect for, or who knows what. Or she may simply recommend to whoever is doing the hiring for this position that they take a look at you.

Definitely mention in your email to her what you wrote here about devouring their email alerts. Nonprofits love hearing that, and she will definitely take time to look at your application if you say that. (It won’t get you the job if you’re not well-matched for it, but it will get you attention, which is the first step, and it will make you more attractive than otherwise equally qualified candidates.)

Regarding informational interviews, I’m not a huge fan, as I think people too often ask for them when what they really mean is “will you interview me for a job?”  But in this case, because you’re sincerely interested in working at this particular organization and are committed to its mission, it might be a useful thing to do. But wait until the hiring for this job is over, because otherwise you’ll come across as if you’re just trying to get an interview under false pretenses. If you don’t get this job, absolutely reach out to her again, tell her how much you’d like to work there in some capacity, and ask if you can buy her coffee to pick her brain. (But make sure you have a plan for what you’re going to ask.)

I don’t think you need to worry about sounding greedy or entitled; you don’t sound that way at all, and because you’re so wary of coming across that way, you almost certainly won’t. Good luck!

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. Liz*

    I'm not the OP, but I've asked this question of people countless times and they've always given the same advice as AAM – "It'd be best for the person who knows the contact to reach out and introduce you."

    However, I have a couple of contacts who will provide me with names, email addresses, addresses and phone numbers of the hiring managers for positions I've applied for. I normally apply for a position and then ask my contacts in the organization for any guidance they can give me. Their information and short tidbits on the position are helpful, but I'd really like it if they could pass my name along, though they never offer to do so off the bat.

    I know it sounds like my contacts don't feel comfortable recommending my work, but in the instances that I've been at the organization in person they will always introduce me to a hiring manager, etc. and recommend me while I stand there.

    Is it rude to ask your contact if they would make the first step in contacting their contact?

  2. Ask a Manager*

    Liz, it's not rude at all. I think people often don't offer because they genuinely don't know what would be helpful. So it's fine to politely ask them if they wouldn't mind reaching out to the contact on your behalf.

  3. Mitch Kocen*

    With LinkedIn handily telling you who you know who knows someone at the company you're applying for, this advice is more useful than ever. As the number of job hunters outnumbers the open positions more and more, networking is becoming incredibly important.

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