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’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.