When you’re busy looking for a job, it’s easy to dismiss the importance of an informational interview. Who has time to meet for coffee when you’ve got a stack of job applications to complete and cover letters to perfect? However, close to 80 percent of jobs are never formally posted – they’re filled via word of mouth and good old-fashioned networking. And the only way to get these jobs is to master the art of asking for the job at an information interview.

As a Senior Executive Search Consultant placing top accounting and finance talent, I know first-hand the role that informational interviews continue to play in landing a candidate’s dream job, even for candidates with years of experience under their belt. Even if there’s no job currently open, informational interviews are an opportunity to ask for the job without awkwardly saying, “Hire Me!”

Asking for the job during an informational interview is as much an art as it is a science. Here’s how I advise job candidates to approach this conversation:

 #1: Identify the right people.

Ideally, you’ll want to have an informational interview with the hiring manager or the person who would ultimately be your boss. Employees at your level can perceive you as a potential threat to their own promotion, so you’ll want to speak with people who would be in the position to hire you or recommend you for hiring. Finally, meeting with more senior level individuals (or even those who are retired) can still be beneficial – they may not be directly responsible for your hire, but they’re likely to have a plethora of industry contacts who are.

 #2: Master your pitch.

“Tell me about yourself” is typically the first question that comes up in an informational interview. This is your make-it-or-break-it moment. Your elevator pitch needs to be concise, specific and aligned with your professional goals. This is especially important if you want to change career trajectories. Succinctly summarize your current strengths, how these strengths prepare you for a new direction, and why you are excited to shift paths.

 #3: Ask passive questions.

Sure, you can’t come straight out and say, “Can you hire me?” You can, however, ask passive questions that will strengthen your candidacy and better position you for a job when one is open – or even motivate the hiring manager to create a position for you. “Do you have any advice for how I can stand out as a candidate?” is one of my favorites.

If you’re currently job hunting, what role are informational interviews playing in this process? I invite you to share your experience in the comments section below.

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