Job hunting today is different from what it used to be—these days, it’s not uncommon to cast a much wider net while searching for the perfect position, exploring available openings beyond your local town or nearby city.
While you’re searching for a job, you may encounter a situation where you’ll have to make travel plans while scheduling an interview. This brings up a wide array of etiquette issues, not the least of which is the question, “Who pays for the interview?” Like most things in life, the answer is not completely black and white. The bottom line is: it depends. Let’s dig deeper.
When you’re arranging an interview, the HR personnel or hiring manager will know where you’re located based on the information provided in your resume. In fact, don’t be surprised if your first point of contact occurs over an application like Skype or WebEx. If this is the case, and things are going well, the subject of arranging an out-of-town interview might come up during the conversation.
If it does come up, pay careful attention to what is being said. You should get a fairly clear indication of whether or not the employer is willing to take care of the expenses while arranging an interview. The reality is, most—but not all—prospective employers are willing to pick up the costs of an out-of-town interview and will freely discuss it, saving you the potentially embarrassing task of having to bring it up.
When it’s clear
If they’re willing to reimburse you for the expenses, an essential etiquette rule to stick to is not to “go for broke”—first-class travel and hotel accommodations and expensive meals fit for royalty will not reflect well on you when a prospective employer is making a hiring decision. Some will even go so far as to arrange all of the details for you. This could be a good indication that the company is the type of employer who takes care of its employees (or maybe they’re just trying to woo you).
Other times, the employer will make the opposite clear—that you’re on the hook for expenses if you’re interested in traveling for an interview. If this is the case, don’t let them see you sweat! (In fact, they may be looking to gauge your reaction and flexibility in this situation.) However, do take time to weigh the pros and cons of the situation.
Since an interview isn’t a guarantee of a job offer, you need to ask yourself the following questions: Is this prospective expense a worthwhile investment in your career future? Will this be a one-time only expense, or will traveling on your dime be an ongoing reality if you get the job? Will you have to relocate if you get the job (and who would pay for that?), or will you be able to telecommute? Your answers to these questions will help you determine whether or not the expense of an out-of-town interview makes sense for you.
When it’s not clear
Sometimes, things aren’t so clear. You may have a perfectly positive experience during your initial contact with a prospective employer and both sides agree to take the next step and arrange a face-to-face interview. However, as the conversation progresses, the topic of who’s paying doesn’t seem to be coming up. If you find yourself in this situation, you have two options.
Option one: You can ask, politely, if you’re responsible for the expenses involved. This is a perfectly acceptable question, and if handled properly will not affect your standing in the hiring decision. If they’re willing to foot the bill (perhaps they simply forgot to mention it, they are only human after all), make sure you follow the etiquette advice mentioned previously. However, if you’re responsible for the costs, make sure you handle the news with grace if you really want this job. You should consider whether or not you’d be willing to pay for an out-of-town interview before you even send your resume and cover letter over, so you won’t have to sweat through an anxious decision-making process in the heat of the moment.
Option two: You can choose not to bring it up and assume that you’re responsible for the costs. This option spares you the potential awkwardness of having to bring this topic up (especially when things are going so well!), but you may be throwing an expense in your lap that the employer would have gladly picked up if they would have just remembered to mention it!
The bottom line
The rise in out-of-town interviews is a reflection of the evolving workplace, with technology making it easier for people to work remotely (according to a recent study by Global Workplace Analytics, at least 20–25% of the workforce telecommutes at least part of the work week), and companies eager to source the very best available talent—regardless of geographical location. If you’re pursuing a job that may entail an out-of-town interview, use the strategies presented here to handle any possible scenario when it comes to who’s paying for it.
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