I answer job search questions all day on Twitter at Twitter.com/ToryJohnson, so ask me anything you want in 140 characters and you'll get my advice. The same applies to many employers and career advisors as well.
Make it easy for someone to help you by spelling out very clearly and concisely what you want. When someone e-mails me with four screens of text and says they're lost, it's very difficult for me to help.
But when someone emails to say, do you know someone at this company or how do you think I can get my foot in the door in this industry, there's a greater chance I can steer them in the right direction.
When you're asking someone to help you, tell them exactly what you need: If it's a referral, say so. If it's feedback, say so. Ask directly: "Do you know anyone at this company ... or can you recommend a resource in this industry?" This makes it so much easier for someone to reply to your request and not ignore it.
Even if you don't have a personal connection, you can still reach out to total strangers, especially through social networking sites, a professional association, an alumni group, a blog and so on.
You shouldn't always aim straight for the boss. An assistant or peer within an organization can be helpful in getting your resume seen.
Make a cold call or send a cold e-mail and say, "I realize you don't know me, but I got your name here. I recently applied for a position at your company. Here's why I'd be a great asset. I'm hoping you might be willing to take a look at my resume and if you'd feel comfortable passing it on."
Or ask for just a few minutes of the person's time. You're more likely to get five minutes by phone with someone you don't know than by asking to buy them lunch. Time is so precious to everyone today -- so skip the lunch offer and ask for the five minutes. You'd be surprised: You can accomplish a whole lot in that time.
I'm rooting for your success.