So you’ve got this friend Bob.  And Bob’s kind of a big deal.  He knows a ton of people around town and says he’d be more than happy to help you with a few referrals as part of your job search, but alas, he’s extremely busy and/or doesn’t really know off the top of his head which of his contacts you might be most interested in meeting.

So how do you go about taking advantage of this critical asset?  How do you graciously take him up on his offer without hounding him repeatedly to make some introductions on your behalf?

Historically, and for this exact reason, I’ve always instructed job hunters to approach any networking conversation with a clear sense of the types of people they want to meet (by job title, industry, location, etc.) and a short list of potential target organizations they’re interested in pursuing.  Without these items in hand, it’s just way too easy to miss a quality referral opportunity.  While you can consistently rely on people wanting to be helpful, you can’t rely on them having a clear sense of what you’re targeting or being able to instantly surface some appropriate names on your behalf.  You’ve got to “help them to help you” in other words — and in a career-related networking context, this means being able to define the exact types of organizations and individuals that would be most relevant to your career interests.

But wait.  Hold the phone.  Despite all of the advice above still being perfectly valid, we all might now get to cheat a little thanks to the new “Connections Of” feature available on LinkedIn.  It’s an idea whose time has finally come, apparently, since from the very outset of LinkedIn’s launch, it always seemed odd that one couldn’t search directly for the connections of a particular person they knew on the system.  Now, instead of pestering some of your friends directly for suggestions, you can simply run a search on LinkedIn (including on the free version – it’s not a premium feature) for anybody your friend/contact may know that has some relevance to your career goals based on where they work, their industry, their job title, or similar factors.

Where do you find this cool new feature?  Simply run any type of search (blank or otherwise) on the very top LinkedIn search bar and on the next screen, you should see the “Connections Of” filter appearing near the top of the toolbar on the right side of the page.  Simply type the name of any of your contacts (e.g. Bob) into the box provided and the search results will be limited to only those folks your connection knows personally.

Given this new functionality, for example, you could check to see if your former boss knows anybody at Microsoft, Google, or Amazon.com by simply searching on those company names in the main LinkedIn box — and then using the new filter on the right side to narrow the results down to your boss’s network.  Or if your accountant, let’s say, works with a lot of small businesses and says she’d be happy to make some introductions on your behalf, you could run a search in the main tool bar for title:owner OR title:CEO OR title:president (for example) and then limit the results to only the connections of your accountant so that you could identify the best possible referrals to request from her.

All in all, while I suspect it’s going to take a little while for many of us to remember this filter is now available, I think it’s going to turn out to be a wonderful addition to the site in the long term.  Again, it should empower job hunters to take some of the immediate pressure off of their networking contacts and to be more thoughtful — and strategic — about asking people for potential referrals.

Give it a whirl when you get the chance and see what you think!

P.S.  And one other minor (but greatly appreciated) recent change to LinkedIn’s functionality?  If you haven’t noticed, when you come across people on the system who are 2nd or 3rd contacts you can now click on the “shared connections” link right underneath their name to instantly see who you know who knows them.  You no longer have to go through the extra step of opening the target person’s profile, scrolling down, and hunting for who you know in common.  Definitely speeds up the networking research and referral process…