You're looking for a job and someone tells you, "Speak with Joe Smith. He may be able to help you." But if you're like most people, you don't know how to turn the lead into a job. This plan will maximize your chances:
1. Ask for an introduction. Rather than contacting the lead, ask your referrer if s/he'd be willing to introduce you to the lead. Chemistry is usually best in-person but a Google Hangout or even teleconference will do. If a three-way conversation isn't in the cards, ask your friend if she or he would pave the way for your inquiry by touting you to the lead. Least potent is for you to call the lead cold: "Mary Jones suggested I contact you."
2. Before contacting your lead, do your homework. Get current on the field so that you sound worthy. Spend less time researching the employer -- sounding like you know more about the employer than the employer does can make you seem desperate. Have a few PAR stories ready, a 20-to-60-second summary of a problem you faced, the clever or dogged way you approached it, and the positive result. Pick stories that exemplify characteristics that would impress that lead.
3. Know thyself. If you're better at writing, write. If you're better verbally, call, perhaps requesting an in-person meeting.
4. Trust your intuition. In a conversation, sometimes it feels right to lead with your 10-to-30-second pitch: What you're looking for and if you're so good, why you're looking. Then ask for advice. Ask for a job, you'll get advice. Ask for advice, you'll more likely get a job. If appropriate, ask the person for honest reactions to your resume or LinkedIn profile and your cover letter.
Other times, it's wiser to start with informational interview-type questions:
Would you mind telling me how you got into this line of work? What might surprise me about working in this field? What ends up being most critical to being successful in this field? Why do people leave the field? What should I read, what workshops and conferences should I attend?
5. Show enthusiasm. Most employers are suckers for overt enthusiasm so, while not being phony, invoke your most enthusiastic natural self: Lean forward, nod, ask questions. Leave your monotone home.
6. Follow up. If she or he offered advice that you decided to take, report that you implemented it and how it worked. Consider sending a little tidbit related to the lead's interest. Just don't overdo it.
Yes: an article on the topic of a presentation s/he'll soon be giving.
No: free tickets to a Beyonce concert.
Yes: a used, $10 Amazon-top-ranked book on creative wedding centerpieces for a person who's planning a wedding.
No: a new $50 book on creative wedding centerpieces.
7. Stay in touch. Keep your lead apprised of your career search, especially progress. Everyone wants to back a winner and if she or he hears that employers are interested in you, he or she will be more likely to keep touting you.
8. Pay it back. After you're hired, remember that you have a cosmic obligation to be helpful to other job seekers. As you know, it's tough out there.