A few tips to reduce the “ick” factor:
Instead of: “Can you meet for a coffee to talk about what you do?” (and take the time to drive there, in Baltimore/DC traffic, and drive back, etc).
Ask this: “Do you have 10 minutes to talk by phone about your job at X company? I’m exploring options in the field and I’d love to learn more about what you do there.”
Instead of: Asking for someone to recommend you for a position.
Ask this: Ask for a “heads up” on positions that are a good fit for your skills in X profession, in X industry.
Like this: “I’ve just started exploring options in catering in the Columbia area. If you become aware of any openings, especially for someone with experience planning large weddings, I’d love it if you could give me a heads up.”