The LinkedIn online professional network fosters connections among individual subscribers, who can leverage these relationships to build business opportunities and enhance job prospects. When you see a connection between someone you know and someone you'd like to reach, you can request a LinkedIn introduction to increase your odds of making contact with an individual from outside your circle of acquaintance. How you word your request can go a long way toward determining whether it succeeds.

Degrees of Connection

LinkedIn operates along hierarchical lines. The people who accept invitations to join your network become your first-degree direct connections. Their direct connections become your second-degree connections. People to whom you're indirectly connected -- with whom you share a second-degree connection, for example -- become third-degree connections. If you join LinkedIn groups, you become second-degree connections with other members. To increase the reach and range of your network, you add new connections. If you want to connect with someone to whom you lack a direct link, the process becomes less complicated if you take advantage of introductions.

What Introductions Can Do

LinkedIn offers InMail, a procedure through which you can approach someone who's not on your connection list. InMail carries a usage fee for people with free LinkedIn accounts. An introduction enables you to ask a connection to approach one of her connections on your behalf. Your goal can range from arranging a meeting to gaining insights into a job opening or project opportunity, and may include the prospect of adding the individual to your list of connections. If the person you ask for an introduction agrees to provide it, she contacts your target, or someone in her network with a first-degree connection to that individual, through LinkedIn.

The Mechanics of the Process

To request an introduction, you log in to your LinkedIn account and visit the profile page of a person you want to meet. You'll find a "Get Introduced Through a Connection" link in the portion of the page that shows how you're connected to the other individual. The link leads either to the only connection you share or to a list of your common connections. Formulate a message to the person you're asking for the introduction: a clear, brief statement of who you are and what you want, closing with a recognition of the fact that asking for this form of help comes with no guarantees. If you ask for an introduction from someone you know only from business conferences, not from shared work or academic history, clarify where and how she can remember interacting with you. In addition to asking for an introduction, you also can use the "Suggest Connections" button on your connections' profiles to introduce two of them without a request from either of them.

Other Considerations

Introductions carry a six-month lifespan, after which they expire. The more specific, personable, respectful and yet brief you make your request, the greater the odds that the person to whom you send it will actually read it, let alone act on it. You can designate a time-sensitive need as such, but even if your connection agrees to send the introduction request, you may not hear from your actual target. Pestering your connection won't advance your cause.