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Monday, September 7, 2009

job searching from afar, paying for interview travel, and how long you can wait before starting the new job

A reader writes:

I'm planning on conducting a job search in anticipation of a move to a location 2000 miles from my current home. I've never before conducted a job search remotely, and I have some questions as to how to go about this.

I'm assuming I should explain in the cover letter why I'm looking for a job in California while living in Chicago, and that I should state my definitive plans to move once I find the right job. But what is the best way to phrase this or make this point?

To the extent that this might be relevant to your input, I'm a case manager at a non-profit NGO social service agency (6 yrs at the same agency) and will be looking for position in a similar or related field. Given this, I don't make the kind of money where I can fly back and forth multiple times for interviews.

I'm hoping there's a way to handle this by scheduling more than one interview within a close time frame. If that isn't possible, is there a professional way to express that I'd like a phone interview first, and/or (if they want to interview me) that I'm extremely interested in a job, but want to know if they're truly considering me for the position -- i.e. if they're planning to probably hire from the inside but are interviewing as a formality. Should I say in the cover letter that I'm willing to travel for an interview, or should I not address the topic at all until I know they're interested in me?

Lastly, if I'm made an offer, what is a reasonable amount of time to expect they will give me before starting a position? I'm required to give 3 weeks notice at my current job in order to get my vacation pay-out, but I'd actually feel uncomfortable giving less than 4 weeks. Comfortably, I'd want a 6-week window. Is this realistic?

Yes, definitely state in your cover letter that you're planning to move to the area soon (and possibly explain why, if your reasons are ones you're willing to share, as that can make employers more comfortable moving forward with an out-of-state applicant). For instance, you might say, "I am in the process of planning a relocation to California to join my partner" or whatever your reason is.

Additionally, in case they're just skimming your cover letter and miss it, do this too: On your resume, directly under your address, include a parenthetical note that you're soon relocating to __ (fill in their city). I just saw an applicant do that and thought it was really smart -- because cover letters get removed from resumes or read once and specifics forgotten, etc.

Regarding traveling for interviews, this can get tricky. In general, most employers expect to pay for travel when they invite out-of-town candidates to interview. However, you have two things that may complicate this in your case: (1) Some nonprofits are less likely to do this than for-profits (but not always), and (2) Some employers won't consider out-of-town candidates for jobs for which they have many strong local candidates, unless the candidate is in the process of moving there -- and if you are, they may decide you should pay your own way since they wouldn't be considering you otherwise.

Now, this may be a non-issue because they may end up covering your expenses, but if they don't, it could end up being difficult to schedule all your interviews in the same time frame -- because employers move at different speeds, and it can be challenging to coordinate it. However, once you get an initial expression of interest from employers, you can definitely let them know that you'll be in their area from out of town during such-and-such dates and ask if it would be possible to interview then. But be prepared for them to say no -- I've had to say no to candidates in that situation who I'm interested in, simply because their timeline clashed with mine in some way: I wasn't going to be ready to conduct final interviews by then, or one of the people who would need to interview them would be out of town then, or whatever. So you can and should give it a try, but be prepared that it might not come together.

If you do end up in a situation where you have to cover your own travel expenses and can't do everything in one trip, it's completely legitimate and reasonable to say something like, "I'm happy to cover my own expenses, but would it be possible for us to conduct a phone interview first to make sure that I'm a strong match?" It's also reasonable to say, "I'm extremely interested in this job and more than happy to pay my own way out there if you think I'm likely to be a strong match. However, given that money is tight for everyone right now, could you give me an idea of how strong a candidate you think I am?" I've had candidates ask this before -- people definitely do it, and any good employer will know that's reasonable (especially since they're probably feeling slight guilt about sticking you with the travel expenses).

By the way, no need to get into any of this travel stuff in the cover letter; it's assumed that you'll be willing to travel for an interview should it come to that, and you don't want to explicitly volunteer to cover your own travel expenses before they've asked you to, as you might end up preempting an offer from them to pay.

Regarding your last question, about whether you can ask for a start date six weeks out: You can ask for six weeks, and plenty of employers will give it to you. But plenty others won't want to push it beyond a month, so be prepared for that. It depends on the job and the employer, and there's a lot of variation there. There's nothing wrong with asking though, as long as you're prepared to hear that they don't want to go beyond four weeks. (Some employers will prefer even less, but with a move in the mix, most will agree that four weeks is reasonable.)

Good luck!

5 comments:

jessified said...

I was once in a situation where I was asked to fly halfway across the country for a lunch/meet-the-team on my own dime; this was after two phone interviews. I flat-out said, "Before I do that, I need to know that if this meeting goes very well, as I expect it will, I will be offered the job." The person did not hesitate to say yes, so I booked a last-minute ticket, went to lunch and came home with a job offer.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Why not ask about a video conference interview?

Also -- if you're applying to national companies, maybe a local branch could do an initial interview in Chicago?

Anonymous said...

My only advice is to not get too in depth in your cover letter. If a candidate is going into whys/hows/expectations/travel expenses, I'm probably passing on them because they appear high maintenance.

Starting with a phone interview isn't a problem at all, but in all honesty, if a mid-level candidate asks me for six weeks notice, I'm telling them no. Two weeks notice is common practice, and I'd be willing to allow three plus a week for the move, but beyond that is simply unnecessary. If you aren't ready to start a job for nearly two months, you maybe should hold off on interviewing/accepting something until you're local.

Anonymous said...

This is great advice! I'm considering changing my telephone number to a SF area code (where I'd like to relocate). Would that make a difference, or will the parenthetical note on my resume be sufficient?

Ask a Manager said...

I think the parenthetical note is a stronger move. Area codes don't reveal a lot these days -- so many people keep their cell phone numbers when they move so you get people who have lived in City A with an area code from City B for five years, and so forth.