WONDERING IF YOU SHOULD PAY TO TRAVEL FOR A JOB INTERVIEW? CONSIDER THESE DOS AND DON’TS FIRST.
About two years after I graduated from college, I was living on the West Coast and feeling rather unfulfilled. I was a Political Science/International Relations major and had always wanted to live and work in Washington, D.C. Something motivated me that spring to try for a position there, and I spent hours in Starbucks writing personalized cover letters and tailoring my resume to meet job requirements in any way possible.
Applying for jobs from a distance is tough—recruiters often call local candidates before those in other areas. I sent out hundreds of applications and, over the course of four months, got two phone calls for interviews. Neither was offering to pay for travel expenses and a last-minute plane ticket from San Diego to Washington, D.C. was around $800. My mother gallantly stepped in and offered to pay for the first one in the hopes that it would help me get my dream job. I was offered the position, but ultimately the salary was too low, even for a nonprofit D.C. starter position, and I had to turn it down. Luckily, I had one other chance.
I can’t put a specific number on how much to spend on interview travel, but there are a few things that I would recommend considering:
- How much is it worth to you?
- Do you think it will be a worthwhile investment?
- How interested in the position are you, and how much do you want a job in this industry/location?
For me, this was a longtime goal and I knew I would always regret it if I did not try for a position in D.C. So when a recruiter at the British Embassy called me asking if I could be there in three days at my own expense, I immediately said yes and decided to work out the details later. I don’t regret it.
When a recruiter at the British Embassy called me asking if I could be there in three days at my own expense, I immediately said yes and decided to work out the details later. I don’t regret it.
If you’re considering whether to pay to travel for out-of-state interviews, these are a few of my personal dos and don’ts:
DO research what travel expenses will cost you if you’re looking for a job in a different city. It will give you the opportunity to think through how much you might be investing and determine if it’s something you are willing and able to do.
DO have a clear idea of what the job entails and at least a general idea of salary range and benefits. Yes, you can always negotiate, but it’s disappointing to pay for expensive travel and then find out that you can’t afford to live on the salary they’re offering. I learned my lesson on the first interview and was prepared for the second.
DO ask if travel expenses are covered. Typically, if reimbursement or travel arrangements are available, the recruiter will be upfront in telling you. If nothing is mentioned, say: “ I notice you didn’t mention covering travel expenses. Are they reimbursable for interview travel for this position?”
DO be willing to pay the travel expenses if you really want the job. In addition to being there for the interview, the recruiter and my future boss knew I had jumped on a plane from California at my own expense at the last minute and I think it showed how interested I was in the position.
DO use your resources. If you have a friend or family member in the city where you’re interviewing, let them know that you are hoping to get a job there and ask if there’s a chance you can stay with them if and when you get an interview. Bonus: They may have connections that can help you get another interview. In addition, bring snacks on the plane and do some quick Google searches in advance to figure out the most affordable dining and transportation options at your destination.
DON'T give recruiters an ultimatum, such as “if you want me, you’re going to have to pay.” The job market is extremely competitive, especially for recent college graduates, and a company may often be able to find someone locally who meets their requirements. If you decide not to take the interview because of travel expenses, politely say: “I’d love to interview for this position, but unfortunately can’t cover the cost of travel expenses on my own.” They may offer to cover it, but if they don’t, they’ll appreciate knowing why you have turned down the interview.
DON'T ask for reimbursement before you have the job. The last thing you want is to be eliminated because of that. That said, once you have a job offer, it never hurts to say: “I did incur some costs to travel for the interview. Is there any room for reimbursement here?” Or an even better idea? Negotiate your salary a little higher so that you have the money to pay off that credit card charge—plus, you’ll start off with a higher salary that will continue paying dividends throughout your career.
DON'T pay if you’re not comfortable with the cost, but also don’t miss out on a great opportunity. Sometimes it takes a little investment to get where you want to go. Know what you are comfortable paying and remember, you are investing in your career. I rarely advocate spending money you don’t have on a credit card, but I charged $800 for a plane ticket that I didn’t have less than an hour after the British Embassy called me for an interview—and have never regretted it. That position led to an amazing experience in Washington, D.C. for three years, a higher paying job while I was there, and ultimately a job offer with a major technology company back on the West Coast, all based on connections I made in D.C.
That $800 has paid for itself multiple times over.
Have you ever paid to travel for an interview? Would you do it again? Let us know in the comments below!