Nothing gets you in someone's door faster than a referral from (or connection to) someone they know. When a prospective employer reads your cover letter, and it states that someone she knows recommended you contact her or when a potential employer reads your resume and is acquainted with an individual you've listed as a supervisor or reference, your credibility quotient will instantly go up a notch or two. Those in a position to hire will always rely on the recommendations of people they know and trust over taking a chance on an unknown entity.
Once you assemble your list of likely targets, ask your friends, co-workers, classmates, anyone you know if they know any of the individuals you'd like to meet. Should one of your contacts know someone you'd like to meet, ask that person if she'd be kind enough to make a call on your behalf to recommend you or to help set up a meeting. Be sure to let her know how much you'd appreciate the help. (You might even express your gratitude by inviting her out to lunch or dinner. It never hurts!) If for some reason, however, she isn't in a position to make a call for you (too bad, there goes that nice dinner), ask her if you could use her name as a reference. A direct call on your behalf would be preferred, but use of her name would be your second-best way in.
Another time when receiving a recommendation from others is helpful is when you're up for a specific job. There have been a couple of times when I've been up for positions I really, really hoped to get; and each time, although totally unsolicited, a couple of close friends and colleagues made calls to my prospective employers to extol my attributes. On one occasion in particular, one of my producer friends called an executive I had interviewed with, even though the two of them had never met. Whether you ask for the help or it's volunteered, it's always a boost for you when someone can call on your behalf.
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