Name-dropping former employee in cover letter?
March 24, 2010 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Should I name-drop a former university instructor, a former employee at the company I am applying, in a cover letter?

I am applying for an internship position at a design firm. During university, I took an elective course with an instructor who held a very senior position at the company. I did quite well and it was through this experience that I became interested in working for them.

PROBLEM: My former instructor has since left the firm. I am not entirely sure about the circumstances but it seemed sudden. He had been with the company for 10+ years. I haven't been able to contact my instructor since we only corresponded through his old work e-mail.

My question is whether I still name drop my instructor and write about my experiences from that course? Or should I speak about my experiences but omit my instructor's name?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're not sure why he left, don't drop his name. For all you know, he was fired for misbehavior, and they'll avoid you because you know him.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:05 PM on March 24, 2010

Is he in the phone book?
posted by Dasein at 1:09 PM on March 24, 2010

if you don't know why he left and you don't have his permission to have him as a reference, don't mention him.
posted by nadawi at 1:11 PM on March 24, 2010

Why not contact either the firm or the university for forwarding contact info (or if they can forward something on your behalf) and ask him?

This assumes you trust him enough to tell you to avoid doing so w/r/t the reason for his departure.
posted by griphus at 1:11 PM on March 24, 2010

Sure. Just write down that you knew him and he spoke highly of the place (if he did).
posted by anniecat at 1:16 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's no guarantee that whoever sees your letter would know who you're talking about, especially if it's a large company. And, before you say "but he's a celebrity in my field!" never doubt the ignorance of people who review resumes.
posted by dfriedman at 1:24 PM on March 24, 2010

I don't think you would need his permission if you're explaining your interest in the company as opposed to listing him as a reference. (I guess you don't need someone's permission to list them as a reference, but it'd be pretty stupid to not get it and make sure the person will be a good reference.) But if you have a real worry that he left the company on bad terms and you have no way to find out, not mentioning him seems wise.
posted by Xalf at 1:26 PM on March 24, 2010

I would contact your professor to say that you are applying for an internship at this firm, and ask if he has any advice or would be willing to be a reference for you. This leaves him open to politely decline and choose the level of information he is comfortable giving out about his departure.

Then I would not mention him in the cover letter (though I tend to find name-dropping in cover letters distasteful even in the best circumstances), and hopefully you will have heard back from your professor before an interview. If during an interview you are asked how you have heard about this job or became interested in the company, I do think it would be appropriate to say you learned of it through a course you took with Professor X, and then you'll either be able to elaborate or not based on what you have heard from him. If you do not elaborate, it's not specifically a reference then (as some distance is implied), but I would still be prepared for this company to ask your professor what he thought of you, even if you do not list him as a reference.
posted by questionsandanchors at 1:34 PM on March 24, 2010

I don't see how that helps you, and it could easily hurt you. If you can get a hold of him and see if he still has contacts in the company so he could put your resume into the hands of the hiring authority or a respected person in the company to pass along, that can move you to the top of the consideration pile, but short of that, I wouldn't see the point of mentioning that you knew somebody who used to work there and left suddenly.
posted by willnot at 2:23 PM on March 24, 2010

I think it would help your application. You're applying for an internship, and saying that you became interested while taking classes from prof so-and-so, who was a designer at the firm at the time, means that unlike some (or most) of the interns, you have a specific interest in the company and some knowledge of how it does things.

If you phrase it right, it's only a positive or neutral, and not a negative for your application (IMO).
posted by zippy at 4:17 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

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