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Sunday, September 12, 2010

should an employer pay travel costs when inviting out-of-town candidates to interview?

A reader writes:

I've been invited to an interview for a senior-level job by a potential employer who is only willing to cover part of my travel costs to the interview. Because the invitation was silent on this topic, I had to raise the reimbursement issue. I was surprised about this based on my prior experiences as a job seeker and on my own HR experience. Based on my application materials, it should have been clear that I would have to fly to the the interview. 

I initially responded asking about whether they wanted me to make travel arrangements and submit receipts or have them make the airfare purchase directly. They responded that I should make arrangements directly, and that I should send them the cost so they could decide what portion they could cover. I submitted my projected costs and they replied that they could cover 60%.

I've already accepted the appointment, since delaying to negotiate wouldn't work in my favor as an applicant, and could make my share of the expenses go up if fares increase. But I'm concerned that if the interview goes well, it may spell trouble down the road. (E.g. have I put myself at a disadvantage during salary negotiations by signalling desperation? Once on the job, will I be working in an institution where reasonable expenses aren't built into budgets?) Obviously, I haven't gotten to that bridge yet, but these concerns are real. Is this a red flag, or just par for the course in an employers' market?

Here's the deal with interview travel expenses:

When an employer has a ton of good local candidates, there's no incentive for them to pay to bring in candidates from out-of-town. So if you want to be in the running, you may need to assume the cost of getting yourself there (and possibly of relocation too).

For instance, I recently hired for a position where I had two out-of-town candidates come in for interviews. I never even raised the issue of reimbursement and neither did they.  I simply said, "We'd love to interview you next week if you can get to D.C."  It wasn't a specialized job, I had more qualified local candidates than I could interview, and while I was happy to consider them as candidates, I didn't have sufficient financial motivation to pay to do it.

Now, in other cases, where my candidate pool is more limited, I assume from the start that I'll probably have to pay to bring in non-local candidates. It really comes down to the nature of the job and the depth of options facing the employer. Remember, this stuff is all business transactions.

All that said, if you do end up in a situation where you'd have to cover your own travel expenses, it’s completely 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?” (They may say no, but you're entitled to ask and you're entitled to decline to fly out.)

It’s also reasonable to say, “I’m extremely interested in this job and 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?”  Their answer may help you decide, since there's a big difference between "you're our leading candidate" and "we're interviewing six people and you're all about evenly qualified" in terms of the risk you're paying for.

So, back to your questions -- have you put yourself at a disadvantage during salary negotiations by signaling desperation? No, I don't think that flying yourself out signals desperation. You've simply signaled that you're interested in the job, which you'd also signal by, you know, applying and interviewing. (I hope you've first ascertained that the salary is in a range you'd accept though -- you don't want to fly yourself out and then discover later on that you're wildly out of their price range.)

And once on the job, would you be working somewhere without reasonable expenses built into budgets? Again, I don't see reason to assume that, for the reasons I explained above. But if given a job offer, you could certainly ask about budgets and resources.

Ultimately, travel expenses are -- in many but not all cases -- one of the many casualties of this bad job market. If you want a job outside of your local area, the large number of candidates competing with you means that there's a good chance the employer isn't going to be motivated to cover your costs.


Anonymous said...

and tax deductible.
But its a sad statement about a company who invites a candidate and won't pay.
Fact is, I wouldn't bother with the interview, desperate or not.

Which reminds me of an interview I had a few years ago. I was invited to an interview, they offered to pay. Sounded good.

After 4 months of game playing with the HR clerks, they denied reimbursement.

HR claimed I had no written confirmation of the reimbursement and that its not their policy to reimburse. True, I only had the Directors verbal ok. The HR Dir. wouldn't answer my emails or calls.

Eventually I wrote the CEO. They paid.

Oh, it never went to a 2nd interview - neither had interest.

Interviewer said...

My company hasn't paid for travel expenses for out of town candidates in a long time. About 2 years ago, I had one ask if she could be reimbursed for mileage, and the answer was no. The rest have all offered to come to town, at their own expense, to interview with us. We do extensive phone screening with HR and the hiring managers to ensure up front that it would be a good use of everyone's time and money.

In this economy, local candidates are plentiful, and out of town candidates are all assuming the cost of travel. You must have something appealing in your experience if they want to pay for some of the expenses. I would confirm that up front with the phone interview.

But I wouldn't make assumptions about the company's financial resources or budgeting policies based on their unwillingness to cover more of these expenses. We are doing well, and just being cautious about going overboard to recruit out of town. If we don't have to spend that kind of money to attract candidates, why do it?

Ask a Manager said...

But Anonymous 3:46, why do you think it reflects badly on the company? If they have plentiful great candidates who are local, and if they'd be perfectly happy to focus on those, what's the sense of paying to bring in additional candidates? Shouldn't they still be able to invite non-locals to participate, on the understanding that those non-locals will say no if they'd rather not incur the travel expense?

As Interviewer wrote, "If we don't have to spend that kind of money to attract candidates, why do it?" That's a genuine question I'm throwing back your way -- why should they, and why does it reflect badly on them if they don't?

There are a lot of out-of-town candidates who would actually like to be given the chance to be considered, even if it means paying to get themselves there. (I know, because many of them write to me asking how to get long-distance employers to consider them!)

Anonymous said...

While it would be a plus if the company offered to pay at least my flight expense, it doesn't seem to something an interviewee should expect. After all, you don't see them giving you a reimbursement check for the gas you use to get there if you are a local.

My thinking: Why would a candidate apply to a company they would have to fly to for an interview if they didn't want to chance paying 100% of the cost? You should know where the company is located when you apply.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:36 here.

Allow me to go a bit off track in my response.

Why in the first place invite someone from afar when locals fit the bill? Go figure. My opinion HR
is a bastion of clerical pettiness. My opinion.

It reflects badly because at that stage, if the company did their pre-screening effectively, yet decided the candidate from out of town is worth pursuing, then show the person professional respect.

To "play games" about $250 or maybe $500 tells the candidate they're perhaps dealing with a company mentality that doesn't respect you as a professional and is willing to treat you like a commodity. Do you feel like a commodity? Surely you find that personally offensive.

Taking advantage of someone for the sake of saving a few bucks is indicative of the prevalent attitude inherent in corporate HR departments. Which I might add, your blog constantly confirms.

Treat people the way you expect to be treated.

What's a few bucks to make a good impression? The payoff could be more than you expect.

Jojominica said...

Anonymous right above me, all too many employers just don't consider non-local applicants at all. As an applicant who is aggressively trying to move to a different state right now and is finding employers hesitant to even look at me because I'm not local, I would MUCH RATHER an employer treat me like a local candidate and let me pay my own way than just not consider me at all just because they don't want the expense. I will gladly get myself out there for an interview at my own expense. If someone else feels differently, let them turn the interview invitation down.

(And I can not imagine what you think AAM's blog "constantly confirms". She always stands out to me as much more compassionate and reasonable than what I'm used to finding.)

Rachel - former HR blogger said...

Here's an important lesson: Don't apply for out of town jobs if you're not willing to pay full price to get to the interview. If the job isn't that important to you, then why should you be that important to the company?

Unless it's a very high level position (as in the highest 8 positions), my company (a NP) will not provide travel expenses. That said, we have worked with candidates before and done interviewing via Skype to save them the cost of coming for a first level interview even when they've been more than willing to pay.

Anonymous said...

Rachel - That's interesting that you brought up Skype. How willing are companies to use a video-phone such as Skype to conduct a first interview? I understand it doesn't replace the true face-to-face, letting the candidate see the workplace, etc., but in this day in age, it could help at an early stage I'd think.

GeekChic said...

The original poster said this was a senior level position - I'd be very skeptical of paying my own way at that level. And, indeed, I've never paid to travel for interviews at that level (had over 10 out-of-country interviews at that level).

That said, all of those positions had phone interviews first as a cut-down phase. One position was phone interview only!

For lower-level jobs I did pay my own way to interviews and I think that should be expected.

Anonymous said...

First, thanks to the blog host for providing a thoughtful answer to my question, and to those who responded with their input. It seems like the split we see here may have as much to do with expectations in different sectors as with the difficult job market. Since I'm most familiar with academic job searches, where candidates' resources tend to be very scarce, my expectations may have been too high. Either way, hearing that this employer isn't out of bounds will help me keep my game face on for the interview. So thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

Count me as another who would be happy to pay my way to an out-of-town interview. I've been searching for years (yes, years) now for a job out of my local area and I have yet to even get an interview. Talk about frustrating! Why do more employers not Skype?

So yeah, I'd jump at any chance to interview for a job I applied for in hopes I could actually start moving forward in my career again rather than stagnating in a boring job in an area where there's nowhere else to go.

Rebecca said...

Re: Skype -- I did know one manager at one company who was happy to interview people over Skype because it was fast: call somebody on Monday, interview them on Tuesday. Caveat -- same boss had HIGH turnover because she was insane, so she frequently needed to hire someone ASAP.

Why don't more people use Skype for interviews? Probably because most people think one or more of these things:

1. Internet = Unprofessional
2. I dunno, I don't understand how to use those FaceSpace YouBook thingies...
3. The internet is a series of tubes, if the candidate can come down the tubes why can't they just fly or drive here?

Anonymous said...

As a recruiter, I used to use Skpe all the time. In my last job, I worked for a Non Profit in the medical field. We needed bilingual professionals with masters degrees that focus on providing culturally sensitive service. There are very few professionals in my state with these qualifications and we generally fought with other NPs for these candidates. To get ahead, I helped our NP develop relationships with schools out of state. Our budget couldn't afford flying people in for the interview or relocation for that matter. The managers I supported hated computers and definitely didn't feel comfortable with skype. To faciliate the process, I made it my job to set up all the equipment in the conference room and help the managers use skype to interview candidates. I sat in the back of the room for the first few interviews until the managers got comfortable with the technology. We actually did the entire hiring process using skpe and online tools. The managers never physically met these candidates until their first day on the job. These candidates generally stayed with us much longer then the local candidates. Skpe is a great tool that gives us a competitive edge. Our ability to provide more bilingual staff then other NPs allowed us to get more grant monies. In this horrible economy we have actually been able to expand our services.

Jamie said...

Rebecca - #3 is awesome...and sadly for some people not too far from how they think it works.

I like the idea of using Skype to interview before anyone, company or candidate, shells out money for travel.

After I typed that I had a bad flashback to setting up remote workers with Skype. So seemingly simple yet the process became akin to performing neurosurgery while blindfolded.

On second thought, still a great idea with one caveat: Don't make your IT department deal with the candidates technical issues.

At least not without a big raise and some complimentary medication.

Amewsing Mews and Views said...

Like no! If the jobseeker intentionally applies for a job out of town, then they should assume the travelling cost. They should be grateful that the employer is willing to set time aside for an interview with someone from out of town.

Anonymous said...

Rebecca -

While you need an internet connection to use Skype, you do not need your internet browser to be open. The interviewer would probably request a video conference call which would require the interviewee to be as professional as if they were in the same room. For skype, all you need is to have the software downloaded (free!), a microphone, and (sometimes) a webcam. It only costs money if you use Skype to call an actual phone number, but if the other person has Skype and is online, then it's free.

Skype is not that difficult to use. It's basically a digital phone without the dialing (if the other person has Skype). If you know how to use a real phone, then you probably can figure out Skype. Facebook and Myspace "thingies" aren't required. The most you have to do is add the other person to your contact list before you can call them.

The internet is a bunch of tubes? Sounds like an old television to me! It's probably wise not to use it as the second interview, but it can be used early on in screening.

Anonymous said...

First of all - let's please stop using the catch phrase "this economy" to talk about how employers don't want to pay for an out-of-state candidate to interview face-to-face. The reality is that companies will pay for what they really want.

And you are right to hear alarm bells going off - if they won't pay for the flight out, what else won't they pay for; professional development, seminars, etc.

Out of State searcher said...

I was an out of state job seeker who recently found employment. I posted about my journey in detail on one of AAM'solder posts but to sum it up, I paid for all my travel. I added it in as a part of my moving budget and had I not paid for it I don't think I'd have an offer letter in hand because not a single employer offered to pay.

The only thing is you need to apply for really good opportunities that a. you really want and b. pay well enough to make up for the upfront expense of you having to pay.

I would not pay to travel for "any old job" but in my case I only applied for jobs that I really wanted so when I started getting interview calls I was more than happy to pay to get there.. Airfare Watchdog helped a lot with finding cheap fares.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Anon 3:46. I interviewed with a company out of state through a recruiter. They offered to pay for my flight but no other expenses. In my opinion, I should bear $0 cost. Then they invited my husband too "so he could have a look around town" but refused to pay his way. I guess they decided we needed a vacation.

An employer has got to impress me just like I need to impress them. If they are not willing to pay for my travel (and an invited guest), then I don't go there. And I never did go on that interview! Hah!

Anonymous said...

anon at 2:48

why would they pay for your husband? There isn't a business reason/benefit for your husband to go. Perhaps they were making a bit of small talk and thought the city they are part of is worth touring.. and if you are going to visit, you should bring your husband too. Unless they said, "we would like your husband to be here while you are being interviewed." then don't expect anything.

Why would people say that if a company doesn't reimburse you for your travels to an interview, they probably won't pay for seminars and professional dev when you are an employee?
A huge difference is in one scenario you got an employee, and in the other, you don't. Expecting that a non-employee should be treated like a employee is asking for too much in my opinion. In any case, if you do get an offer, then you can ask about their employee reimbursement policies.

Bisty said...

I wouldn't take a job where they won't pay for an onsite interview.

Realistically, the only thing an onsite adds above phone interviews is the potential for the employer to get rid of you because you're too old or too fat or too female. If they insist on an onsite before starting, then they should pay for it - period.

Ask a Manager said...

Bisty, I think it's completely legitimate to decide you won't pay to travel to interviews (although know that you may not get many out-of-town interviews though; that's the trade-off). But I disagree that in-person interviews don't have value. I've frequently learned things about a candidate (good and bad) that I hadn't picked up in the phone interview. And those things weren't related to weight or age or appearance, but rather interpersonal skills, etc.