I'm applying for a job in research at a big university, and a career coach gave me the following advice: in addition to submitting my resume and cover letter through the online system, I should also have my current boss (principle investigator) email the hiring manager with a short and sweet "hey, my assistant applied for the position of research assistant, she's very capable and skilled, etc. let me know if you have questions." He said to cc the lead research scientist on this as well (who does hold sway in the hiring process-it's his lab, after all).
My boss said she'd be happy to do that, but expressed hesitation at emailing someone she doesn't know with information about someone they don't know. Should we do it, or is it just another annoyance to the hiring manager and I should let me resume and c.l. speak for themselves? Are there rules for this sort of thing in higher ed hiring vs. the business world?
It's absolutely worth doing if the email is going to really rave about you. If it's going to sound generic or tepid (which hopefully you can figure out from your relationship with your boss and her personality), skip it.
I've done this for a small number of people before -- employees who I thought were absolutely amazing -- and as far as I know, each time I did it, they ended up getting an interview.
But I've also been on the receiving end of this where the boss's letter just wasn't that enthusiastic -- reading more like a generic letter of reference that the boss had written as a favor. Those don't work. In order for it to be successful, the note has to give the reader the sense that the boss considers you truly above and beyond, that she feels she's doing the employer a favor by tipping them off to you. Every boss is searching for rock stars -- if the letter conveys that that's who you are, any smart hiring manager is going to be excited to take a longer look at you.
Which means that your boss needs to (a) really feel that way about you and (b) be capable of conveying that in an email. If she considers you average or the letter sounds like she does, it doesn't really get you anywhere ... but it's also still not rude for her to reach out on your behalf, so she shouldn't hesitate on that account.
Of course, one of the reasons it works is that so few people do it, so it stands out. If everyone learns this secret and starts doing it, it'll probably dilute the impact.