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Why you should ask for an informational interview

(MoneyWatch) Social media has dramatically changed the job search process. Introductions between job seekers and potential employers can now be made in a millisecond, with a simple click of the keyboard. But while LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are helpful, job seekers shouldn't overlook the importance of an informational interview. Looking someone in the eye, having a natural dialogue and making a personal connection is simply more effective than an online-only one. It's like dating. You may "meet" someone online on a dating site, but to deepen the relationship you arrange a meeting.

Face-to-face is also ideal for a fact-finding interview, but over the phone or Skype can be effective, too. "It's tough to schedule things live so I would choose a phone interview to be scheduled quickly, rather than wait for the in-person," says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career coach with Six Figure Start.

Here are three great reasons to put "Get informational interview" at the top of your "to do" list. Although there might not be a job open right now at your dream company, you'll be on their shortlist once they start hiring.

You can share your portfolio

Emailing examples of your work is a great idea in theory, but is only effective if the recipient takes the time to look at it. "The in-person informational meeting allows you to share work samples from your portfolio or walk through your website demo in real time and receive direct feedback from the interviewer," says Colette Ellis, founder of InStep Consulting.

They're a true "in"

Being connected online may be a step in the door when a job appears, but having had a personal interaction gives you a leg up on all the other candidates that are new to the employer or merely online contacts of someone at the company. "By conducting an informational interview with a decision maker, you become a known entity. When something does become available within the organization, you are in a better position to be considered for it if you have already had that personal contact," says Cheryl Palmer, founder of Call to Career, a career coaching firm.

You'll show you mean business

It takes five seconds and little initiative to click a key, but it takes an investment in time and a little gumption to ask to meet someone in real life. "In today's digital age, it's pretty easy to start following someone on Twitter or to "like" a company page on Facebook -- but by initiating and attending an informational interview, you're showing that you're serious about your career path," says Heather R. Huhman, founder of Come Recommended.