Let's start with the easiest situation: You have a mutual connection. You already have Person A in your network, and you want to get to know Person Z because of the work they're doing. Send Person A an e-mail or LinkedIn message along these lines:
Hi Person A! I hope you're doing well. As you may know, I am currently in the process of searching for a new job. While looking around LinkedIn, I came across the profile of Person X, who is doing the same kind of work I'm interested in doing [or working at a company I'm interested in]. I saw that you know Person X. Would you be willing to facilitate an introduction between us so I could ask him/her a few questions about his/her work?
Make it even easier on your friend: Include a suggested e-mail script they can use. This will be something like, "Hi Person X, my [friend / former coworker / neighbor] Your Name is interested in learning more about [field of work or company name]. He/she would like to grab coffee with you sometime to ask a few questions about your experience. Would it be OK if I passed on your contact information?"
So that's the easy version — you know someone in common. What if you're e-mailing someone completely cold?
It still helps if you can draw on something you have in common, such as if you attended the same college or used to live in the same city. Even if you've got nothing, just mentioning your interest in their field of work can be enough of a connection.
Here's an actual e-mail script I used to set up an informational interview, based on suggestions from the Find Your Dream Job course:
My name is Jessica Wode, and I recently moved to Portland from Chicago for my husband's job. In Chicago I worked in evaluation and assessment at Columbia College Chicago, and I'm hoping to find something similar out here. I came across your profile on LinkedIn and was particularly interested by the 10 years you spent providing evaluation services as a consultant, as I would imagine you have a great sense of the different opportunities someone with my experience should be looking into.
I’d love to ask you 3-5 questions about your experience and insights. Would you be available for a quick chat over coffee this Thursday morning? I'm also free any time Friday, and I’m happy to come to your office if that’s easiest for you — I'm sure you're busy with school about to start in a few weeks!
Occasionally someone does not respond to my first e-mail, so after a few days I'll send this:
This is Jessica Wode following up. I'm sure your inbox fills up quickly, so I just wanted to make sure this hadn't fallen through the cracks. My schedule next week is open, so I'm happy to work around your schedule for a quick meeting. Thanks!
That has almost always generated a positive response. It's not pushy, and I'm making it as convenient as possible for the other person to say yes, by providing suggested times and offering to come to them if they don't want to travel somewhere. If you are reaching out to someone in another location (e.g., an area you want to move to but don't currently live in), you'll obviously want to suggest a phone call instead and offer times appropriate for their time zone.
For the subject line, I will usually write something like, "Hi from Jessica Wode — interested in [Company Name or Field of Work]."
I challenge you to send out five of these e-mails this week. See what kind of feedback you get. (Hint: It will probably be positive.)
Next week we will wrap up this series by talking about the actual meeting, what to ask, and how to keep in touch!