Before the economy went south, employers would almost always pick up the tab for candidates traveling for job interviews—flights, hotels, and sometimes even meals and entertainment. But in this market, with tight budgets and plenty of local candidates to choose from, employers are increasingly declining to pay for applicants’ travel costs.
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If you’re interviewing for an out-of-state job and nothing is mentioned about travel costs, it’s reasonable to ask about being reimbursed. But these days, you need to be prepared to hear that it’s not in the budget. And if that happens, you’ll need to decide whether you’re willing to cover the costs yourself.
Here are six factors to consider when it comes to interview travel expenses:
1. Some candidates are offended or insulted when an employer won’t pay their travel costs. But think of it from the employer’s point of view: When there are plenty of good local candidates, where’s the incentive to pay to bring in candidates from out of town? So if you want to be in the running, paying to get yourself there might be worth it.
2. It’s more common for an employer to pick up the tab if the local candidate pool is more limited, which is often the case with senior positions and specialized positions. In this context, a refusal might indicate a tight hand with resources once you’re on the job too, so that might be worth exploring if you move forward.
3. Before you agree to cover your own travel costs, it’s reasonable to ask how strong your candidacy is. Say something like, “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, before I do that, could you give me an idea of how strong a candidate you think I am?” Then, pay close attention to the answer. There’s a big difference between “You’re our leading candidate” and “We’re interviewing six people, and you’re all about evenly qualified.”
4. If you haven’t already had a phone interview, ask to have one before you fly out, in order to make sure both parties are still interested after that conversation. You can also ask if the employer would be willing to conduct the first-round interview by Skype or similar technology.
5. Many employers won’t even consider non-local candidates at all, so if you’re specifically trying to relocate to an employer’s area, you might need to factor interview travel costs into the overall costs of your move.
6. Never assume that an employer will or won’t pay travel costs. Rather than making assumptions, wait and see what’s offered, and ask if the topic isn’t raised, because if you offer to cover your own costs before the topic has come up, you might end up preempting an offer from the employer to pay.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.