While there are reportedly now more than 60 million people signed up as LinkedIn members, I still maintain my belief that the vast majority of these individuals are casual users who have barely even scratched the surface of the site’s potential and functionality.

For example, when people tell me that they’re already pretty familiar with LinkedIn, I can’t resist asking them “Oh, that’s great to hear.  How many ‘Get Introduced’ requests do you typically send out in a given week?”  If the person knows exactly what I’m talking about, bingo, they definitely qualify as a power user.  If they answer “Gosh, none” or “Ummm, what’s a ‘Get Introduced’ request, exactly?” on the other hand, then I know they probably have a lot more to learn about the system — and aren’t nearly leveraging it to its full potential.

Simply put, Get Introduced requests (often just nicknamed “Introductions”) are the lifeblood of effective LinkedIn usage.  For those unfamiliar with them, they involve using the People Search function of LinkedIn to find somebody out there the big wide business world that you’d like to chat with for career or business purposes — and then reaching out to this person through somebody you know, or the friend of a friend, to initiate a warm introduction.  As a free user of the system, you can submit up to five such requests at any one point in time, whereas paid “premium” users have access to even more bandwidth.  The bottom line, though, is that anybody seeking more QUALITY REFERRALS of any kind in their current situation should lean on the LinkedIn system as a major competitive advantage.

Here’s the key tip I want to share in this article, however.  When you write a LinkedIn “Get Introduced” request, don’t think of it as a cover letter that you’re submitting as you would to a job opportunity.  Think of it more along the lines of a short, friendly voicemail you’d be leaving to the person you’re trying to reach.  This is an etiquette point (or perhaps more accurately, a best practice) that many novice users of LinkedIn tend to violate, thinking they have to “sell” the recipient on the idea of meeting with them or provide a lot of information about their background, as they would when responding to a “cold” job advertisement or opportunity.

Remember, though, that LinkedIn interactions are a whole different animal from a typical cover letter scenario.  For starters, the recipient of your note can instantly click to gain access to your full profile on the system, so there’s no need to provide them with extensive details on your background and work history.  Secondly, and even more importantly, if you use LinkedIn correctly — and only connect with people you know well and trust — you should be pre-sold (so to speak) in all of these situations, based on the trusted relationship you have in common.  In other words, if somebody I trust and respect asks me to talk to somebody THEY trust and respect, I’m pretty much going to honor this request and respond to the individual in almost every case.  The relationship does the heavy lifting, not clever copywriting.

So my advice, when sending out Introduction requests, is to make your message no more than 3-4 sentences in length.  Reinforce the name of the person you both know in common, quickly explain why you’re writing, perhaps give a brief description of your background, and then wind your note down with a polite request for a brief amount of the other person’s time.  In most cases, this formula will serve you pretty well, and might sound something like the following three examples:

Hi Betty!  I don’t believe we’ve had a previous opportunity to meet, but as mutual acquaintances of Harry White, I was hoping I could write and ask you a quick favor.  I recently submitted my resume to a Financial Analyst position at Expedia, a job I’m highly qualified for given similar responsibilities I’ve held for years at T-Mobile, and I’m just trying to get an “inside scoop” on the hiring process at your organization and whether there might be any further steps I can take to enhance my candidacy.  Would you perhaps have 5-10 minutes on the phone, sometime soon, when I could call to ask a few quick questions?

Stewart:  I’m dropping you a quick line, at the suggestion of our mutual friend Doris, in the hopes that you might be willing to lend a hand with a research project I’m currently conducting.  I’m in the process of exploring some career possibilities for myself outside of my traditional field of accounting, and one of the options I keep turning up relates to your field, web analytics.  Is there any chance I could give you a quick call to learn more about the realities of this profession?  I promise not to take more than 15 minutes of your time.  It’s just that I’ve done a ton of web research up until this point and really want to confirm some of the things I’ve uncovered with somebody “live” who actually works in the field.  If you’d be able to help me out, I’d greatly appreciate it!

Connie:  Given your role in recruiting, I can only imagine you’ve been bombarded with requests lately from job hunters seeking advice, but I couldn’t resist reaching out to you, regardless, given our mutual friendship with Todd Parker.  I’ve just got one quick question.  As somebody who stayed home for a couple of years to raise young children, in between some highly responsible roles in sales management, would you advise me to include an explanation of these years on my resume?  Or just leave the gap open and assume if people want to know what I did during these years, they’ll ask me?  I’ve gotten a lot of conflicting advice on this issue and figure a recruiter would probably know best how to handle it.  Any quick thoughts you have on this matter would be MOST appreciated and I’d be glad to return the favor, any way I can, down the road.

Obviously, your writing style or situational needs may be different than the examples above, but in general, this is about the length and tone I’d recommend for these kinds of Get Introduced notes.  Keep things short, keep them sweet, and don’t bore your reader with a long drawn-out message they don’t have time (or want) to read!  In the majority of cases, the “relationship card” should be enough to compel a response, just as long as your request is a clear one and doesn’t ask for the moon and stars.  Have fun and hope this tip helps!