should you accept a job when you haven’t met in person?

A reader writes:

I had a phone interview two weeks ago with a hiring manager at a nonprofit media company. The interview went well. I would need to relocate for the job, which I’m happy to do. The HR person who called me to schedule the interview said if the hiring manager wanted a second interview to meet me in person, I’d be responsible for my own travel expenses. I was disappointed to hear that but didn’t express that to the HR person.

At the end of the scheduled phone interview, I told the hiring manager that should I move on to the next stage and he’d like to meet with me in person, I’d be willing to come down and that I would in fact would like to meet him and others in the company and see the studios, etc. I said I knew from HR I’d be responsible for my own travel expenses. He seemed a bit surprised when I offered this, but said, okay, he’d let me know if that became necessary. I should add that in the phone interview he told me I was the only out-of-state person he was interviewing. All the others were local.

I’ve never been offered a job before where I hadn’t personally met the person who’d be my boss or others who work at the company. I think it’s important to get a feel for a place, the atmosphere, the culture, who your potential co-workers are, and so forth, plus I’d like to actually see the building I’d be working in.

Last week, the HR person called me and asked for my references. Which of course I gave. A few days later, the hiring manager called to say he’d talked to my references and would be making his decision next week. I asked if he could give me some idea how strong a candidate he thought I might be…and he said, I was a strong candidate. Now this is where I think I dropped the ball. I didn’t ask if he wanted to meet me in person. I’m now wondering if he would actually offer a job to someone he hadn’t met in person. And I’m wondering if I want to accept a job where I haven’t met the person who’ll be my boss, have no idea who my co-workers would be, and have no idea what the physical environment is like. And I’d be relocating to boot.

What’s your sense of this situation? Have you come across this before? If I am offered the job, would it be totally out of line to ask if I can come down and meet him and see the place? Or will that look like I’m being difficult or demanding?

I agree that it’s odd that they’re willing to offer you a job without meeting in person, especially when you offered to travel there at your own expense. I’ve hired interns over the phone before when they weren’t local, but regular staff members, when it’s going to be a longer-term relationship and the stakes are higher? I’d want to meet in person. That said, different people have different comfort levels with that kind of thing.

Of course, it’s possible that there’s something else going on: For instance, maybe you’re not his first-choice candidate, so he doesn’t want to ask you to shoulder the travel expenses when he knows he’s likely to offer the job to someone else. If that person turns him down, perhaps he’ll ask you to visit at that point.

In any case, if you do get a job offer without a face-to-face meeting, I do think it’s reasonable to say that you’re extremely interested but would like to meet in person before accepting. However, here’s the catch: You’d likely need to make that trip very quickly, since most employers want an answer to an offer within a week or so. So you’ll want to be prepared to go very quickly — like, same week.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Lacey*

    I got a 6-month paid internship from two phone interviews. I relocated for the position (somewhat internationally, I’d have moved back to the US anyway but to a different city). Though my direct boss for the position supervised me from Italy and it was several months before I even met her, even though I was working in DC at the organization’s HQ. Weird? Yes. Did it work? Pretty well.

    I actually still work for the same organization almost three years later.

    1. fposte*

      We hire people unseen often, too, but as with your case, it’s for time-limited situations; that means the damage of an error is pretty limited, since we don’t have to worry about figuring out how to get rid of somebody if they turn out to be a problem. And problems seem less problematic when you know the person’s leaving soon anyway.

  2. Anthony*

    I did 3 phone interviews and relocated for my current position (which is relatively high level). It is a somewhat specialized industry and I knew via good friends about the person I would be working for (they had known her professionally for years) and also I was working under a horrible (in numerous ways) boss, so I had my reasons for wanting out (no matter where that took me). It worked out well but you must take into consideration the numerous other mitigating factors. In my situation it made sense (given I had knowledge from a good source what I was getting into) however it does not appear that this is the case with the OP and they should proceed with caution.

  3. Anonymous*

    I think the comfort level of not meeting you depends on the company and past experiences of the hiring manager. For my previous position I did two somewhat brief phone interviews (one introduction and one technical) and was hired by my boss in another state. I was hired through a recruiter but he was even further away and never met me either (which is weird because recruiters usually insist on meeting you before they present you to the client). My team of about 50 engineers was spread all over the country and were all hired that way. I was only there about 8 months because I didn’t like the job and found something better but I never did meet anyone else on my team in person. Things actually worked very well but until that job I never would have thought it was possible to work like that.

    Having said that, if I was relocating I might want to meet my potential boss and visit the work site. If things don’t work out, you’re taking a much bigger risk. I’m contemplating relocating right now and if I do I’ll live as cheaply as possible the first 6 months or so until I’m comfortable with the job.

  4. Cheryl*

    I once took a job over the phone at non-profit which was on the other side of the country. I offered to come in for an in-person interview, but they never asked me to. They did, however, tell me they had a three month probation period, to which I responded that it would be a good time for both of us to make sure we made the right decision. I ended up working there four years for the best supervisor I’ve ever had. Maybe I just got lucky, but it’s not unheard of. It was an easier decision for me because I was looking to relocate to that city anyway. I would recommend that you definitely consider what kind of support systems you have in that city in case it doesn’t work out, but I would take the job with little hesitation if you feel positive about the organization.

  5. Jamie*

    Hum. I’m feeling the potential for the same thing… I had an hour long phone interview for a government job outside DC (I’m from California) that I’m supposed to hear from soon, and I’m sort of worried about not meeting these people in person if I do end up taking it.

    …on the other hand, after 80 applications, I’ve only had four and a half interviews in the past two years, and only had one year-long temporary job in the interim… so beggars can’t be choosers, I guess. It’s a little scary thinking I might have to move across the country on short notice to something I only know about from two very short conversations. (I guess I can ask questions, but I -really- like getting a feel in person. Your gut doesn’t lie!)

    Blargh. o_o I hope we get an update from the person who’s in the post!

    1. Nichole*

      Be careful, Jamie. You don’t say what other factors are in play here (I assume there’s more to it because no one applies for a job unless they have some interest in taking it if offered), but if desperation is the only reason you’re considering this job, don’t do it! Sadly, 80 applications and 4 (and a half?) interviews isn’t bad in my area right now, and things have been picking up a little (I work in a local employment center, so I’ve been privy to all kinds of information about the area job market). You may very well be in the same boat as your contemporaries. Ask around, do some networking and see what’s on the way up and what’s stagnant before you let a “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality rule your job search. Anytime you take a job just to have a job, avoid positions that will lock you down, even if they turn out to be a bad situation. Moving to a totally different area definitely qualifies as “locked down.” Do you want to change your whole life for a job you don’t know if you’ll like in an area that you’re not convinced you’ll at least be able to tolerate long term?

      1. Jamie*

        Thank you for the words of wisdom and sanity check! I think I am in the same boat as some of my peers. Alas. The suggestion to see what’s on the way up vs. stagnant is a very good one — thank you. I’ve never quite thought about it as trying to avoid being locked in somewhere, but that’s also wise — I need to not panic and take the first job that comes up, because, well… there’s plenty of horror stories on this blog!

        I do know the basics about the job, but they were different than what was listed on the USAjobs post. I had the good fortune to find blog posts by three people doing that exact job at that exact location earlier this year, which helped… but I have a feeling they went with people who are local. It doesn’t make much sense on their end to interview someone so far away, but I think they had to based on government …hiring pool protocol, or whatever. Who knows. I think the best course of action right now is to just keep writing cover letters! Thanks again. =)

      1. Jamie*

        Heh, nothing quite so sinister… ;)

        Actually, maybe it’s 5 — two half interviews? One “half” was a 15 minute Skype interview for a 6 month paid internship for library school graduates… they were interviewing like 10 people that day and making their choice that day, so I didn’t feel like it was quite a full interview.

        The other “half” was more of a conversation rather than a real interview — for a maternity leave cover of the registrar at my old high school. They were 95% sure I was a good fit from knowing me as a former student and from my resume, etc, but wanted to make sure it’d work out the way they wanted it to. (I worked there for a school year — loved it. <3 them.)

    2. Anonymous*

      You’re right that your gut doesn’t lie. A couple years ago, I graduated from grad school and was applying for jobs all over the country. A month later, I had my first (phone) interview with a job in FL while I was in the northeast. Right after I was offered the job, I had a gut reaction not to take it. I actually flew down there on my dime to meet my supervisor and I ended up taking the job even though my gut was telling me not to. I guess I was just desperate for a job. Should have listed to my gut though–I ended up being stuck in an awful situation for a year.

      1. Jamie*

        Ick. =( I’m sorry the situation ended up being a horrible place, but on the other hand, it’s good to know you’re in tune with your gut… =\ Bummer.

        I actually had a similar experience earlier this year — I chose not to take a job at a place where they -reduced- the salary offer by 20K from what the job post was, created a new lower job title, and told me I was a “risk” to hire because they thought it wasn’t likely I’d stay more than a year. (?! Why would you tell someone that to their face?) Then I found out later that there were extended screaming matches going on in the office, and they were trying unsuccessfully to fill about 6 other jobs that had been vacant for a year. Eep.

  6. JT*

    I got a job once with only mail correspondence…… but it was in the late 1980s, and the job was in China.

  7. Anonymous*

    When I was hired for the company I work for now, I never met my manager or any of my co-workers for my first position, but I “knew” the manager from another company we both worked for. For my second position here, my manager happened to be located in the same office that I worked out of, but he left the company shortly after I joined the team and I became a full-time telecommuter. Several managers rotated through that team without my ever meeting any of them (or any of my co-workers). I had met my next manager, but only because we both happened to be in a training session together a year or so before he took over the team I worked for. Now I’m working for another manager that I haven’t met, and I still haven’t met any of my co-workers and probably never will.

    This an IT shop for a Fortune 50 that has a distributed workforce across the US and in India and a lot of telecommuters. It all works because all of us are flexible about accommodating each other’s time zones and because we stay in touch constantly via IM, email and phone.

  8. Anonymous*

    I never met my boss prior to starting my current job either – he’s located in Iowa, and I am in Kentucky. I had a pair of fairly lengthy phone interviews with him to get the job, plus some discussion with the recruiter, and came in and learned the ropes from my predecessors for a week or so before they moved on and left the job to me. It was a few weeks before my boss was able to get down here to do his first fairly regular site visit for a few days, and he’s been back once since, about six months later, for a day.

    Needless to say after being out of work for most of the two years prior to landing this gig I feel very happy to have gotten the job, the pay and benefits are the best I’ve had so far, and the boss turns out to be what I expected. Easily the most compatible boss I’ve ever had to deal with. So it all worked out well.

  9. Joey*

    Use Skype, FaceTime or some other video call. Although it can’t replace a handshake its better than plain old phone conversations.

  10. Anonymous*

    My organization usually does extensive interviews, but we recently hired a mid-level employee without an in-person interview (with good results). We were on a tight schedule with a tight budget. I think we’d actually be more likely to do this for a mid-level position than for an entry-level one–someone who would already have built a reputation and would be likely to know that of our organization.

  11. Ashleigh*

    I got my current job with only a phone interview and didn’t meet my boss for the first 5 months that I worked here. The office is in PA and I live in CA, so there was no way to meet in person initially. It has turned out to be, by far, the best job I have ever had.

    I also think that Joey’s idea of doing a Skype video call is a great one.

  12. Another Anon*

    I like the Skype idea, too. But AAM’s advice here seems a bit premature. She’s usually counseling patience with the workings of internal hiring mechanics, and dissuading people from this kind of “what if”-ing. This case seems like a whole lot of speculation based on not a lot of data. Slow down, and think of your responses across the board – request for an in-person final interview, follow-up phone interviews, offer without in-person, delay, no offer…

  13. GeekChic*

    I moved to a different country for an upper management position based on one long phone interview. I did offer to go down for an in-person interview, but they did not feel that it was necessary and they did not want to impose the financial burden on me (this was a non-profit). I was at that company for almost 10 years.

    That said, I was used to moving around a lot as a child and also from previous military service – so the moving aspect of it didn’t really concern me.

  14. Cary*

    One of our best professors ony ever accepts a student into his lab once they come to the Uni to do a interview. This is way more than simply answering questions but involves meeting all the other people in the lab to make sure they’ll be a good fit. It’s time consuminf and usually involves covering some expenses but it is worth it.

  15. Sarah G*

    I accepted a job sight unseen, at a large nonprofit organization. I had only one phone interview for 45 – 60 min. I was on speakerphone with 3 people on the other end asking questions. My would-be supervisor spoke to my references at length. I knew it was a reputable organization, and was already planning to leave town if not necessarily to this specific city.
    It was nervewracking as my first day approached, but I ended up with an amazing supervisor, a great director, and a very well-fitted job. Just follow your gut!! (And hey, if you don’t need to spend $ to visit, take that into consideration, unless you’re not even sure about the city to which you’d be relocating.)

  16. OP*

    I’m the OP in this question. Just wanted to give an update. I learned today I did not get the job. So the issue is now moot. However, I did follow AAM’s advice from previous posts about sending thank you’s even if you don’t get a job. I emailed both the HR person and the hiring manager thanking them for giving me the opportunity to interview with them and learn about the job and the company. I also said I’d be keeping my eye on their website’s job openings for appropriate jobs as I’d like to work for their company.
    Thanks for all your comments – I had no idea how common it is to hire someone sight unseen. And thanks AAM for giving me the encouragement to ask for an in-person interview should this situation happen again.

  17. The Plaid Cow*

    I accepted a job as a contractor in Indianapolis while I was still living in New Hampshire. I had only one hour-long phone interview on speakerphone with my future boss and several other managers before getting an offer. It worked out well, but was a scary time as I moved almost 1,000 miles for a job I knew would last a maximum of two years.

  18. Liza*

    Be cautious in a situation like this.

    The in-person interview really is a two-way interview. While it gives the prospective employer a chance to see what you are really about, it also gives you the opportunity to see what they are really about. I learn a lot about the company during the in-person interview, based on what I observe about the environment, the people interviewing me and how people interact with each other. Most communication is non-verbal, with the majority based on visual observation (i.e. body language). Without an in-person interview, both employer and employee are missing out on this important piece of communication. At the very least, it is very easy and inexpensive to do an interview over video conference. I also agree with Alison – try to do an in-person meet and greet before accepting an offer.

    My husband landed a job after a 30-minute phone interview, which immediately raised questions about how the company operated. Sure enough, the hiring practices reflected some of the other business practices and the company was out of business less than a year later. While we both don’t regret the wisdom gained from that experience, it is still tough to go through.

  19. New Negotiator*

    This may highlight my ‘old school’ tendencies, but I think this whole thing is bizarre.

    What does it say about an organization that would hire someone whom they have not met and vetted? To me it screams ‘these are amatuers-be careful.’ They don’t hold their position or you, the candidate, in high regard. And, if it’s that easy to get in, how easy is it to get out, to get left out, to be gotten rid of? A lack of professionalism is on display here. Proceed with caution.

    What does it say about you that you’re so unsure of yourself that you’re willing to proceed under these less than desirable conditions? Your behavior clearly states the types of things you’re willing to put up with. At some point in your career at this place, you’re credibility will be tested, it will be placed on the line. By entering in a weak manner, you are assuring that your voice will not be taken seriously within the organization. Then where are you?

    You need to rethink this entire process, and rely on your good sense and professionalism to see you through.

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