In the August 21, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants to know whether it’s okay to interview with a company, when another company paid the airfare:

When a company flies me in to interview, is it okay to interview with other employers? Here’s the situation. A person is interested in two or more companies in the same industry and in the same locale. Obviously, the most efficient way to interview at these companies would be to fly out for a stretch of time (say a day or two), and interview at all of the companies over that time. My question is, should I let all the companies know that I will be talking to other companies on that trip? Or am I cheating on the company that pays my airfare?

My Advice

When a company pays to fly you out for an interview, you owe them two things: serious interest in the job, and the time required to interview you. They own your schedule for the time they want to meet with you. If they expect to see you for more than one day while you’re there, you must live by their schedule. They paid for the trip.

What you do the rest of the time is your own business. Do you need to tell them you’re going to the movies in the evening? Having dinner with an old friend, or with a manager from another company? I don’t think so — as long as it doesn’t interfere with the time they need with you. If you call the airline and arrange to extend your stay so you can meet with other companies (or to vacation) at your own expense, that’s up to you.

One thing you should not do is ask another company to split the cost of your trip with the company that’s flying you out anyway. (I have seen this done, but I think it complicates matters. Suddenly, you have two competitors trying to cooperate for your benefit.) You may, however, ask the second company to cover the cost of your hotel for the extra day you’re staying over to meet with them.

Keep the arrangements separate, and keep each company’s activity with you confidential. Make sure you’re giving the company that’s footing the bill all the access they need while you’re in town. But by all means, interview with as many companies as you’re interested in while you’re there. I see nothing unbusinesslike or unethical about it.

There is no need to tell any of the companies what you’re doing, unless you think it will aid you in getting offers. Personally, I think flaunting one company’s interest to another can backfire — and it’s inappropriate. But that’s your judgment call.

When’s the last time a company flew you out for an interview? It doesn’t happen often nowadays! When it does, be ready to capitalize on a visit to your target city. How do you optimize out-of-town interview trips?

Bonus Question: If you’ve got one interview out of town, how do you get more while you’re there?

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  1. Hi Nick.

    I have a travel story that is partially relevant.

    A client of mine asked to interview a candidate in several different locations around the world: From Tokyo to London, NY, Chicago, Utah and L.A.

    There was a fair amount of urgency to set up the meetings, and in the rush, the candidate picked up the fare for the flights himself, with the clear promise from the client that the costs would be reimbursed upon his arrival at the first destination. (You can see where this is going…)

    The candidate flew to all the different locations, met with senior executives at each place, and the discussions went very well.
    Upon his return to Tokyo, he inquired about being reimbursed for the flights.

    Imagine his surprise when the client balked, and demanded that he prepare a formal plan for the business as a condition of being repaid for the flights to the interviews!

    He rightly told them to stuff it.

    I urged the client to act professionally, and stand by their word to reimburse the candidate’s travel expenses, but they would not.

    So, to maintain the relationship with the candidate – who is a top level executive – I paid half his expenses, and together we sued the company for the balance. (Not the kind of client I will ever have anything to do with ever again.)

    A good lesson here.

  2. I am at a level where flying you out to interviews is the norm, once you pass the initial firewalls. There are MANY more preliminary telephone interviews nowadays (I once had SIX telecons before the face to face) and once all are satisfied, THEN you get the interview request. They all pick up the tab for the airfare, either through a dedicated travel department booking your travel, or in a written email that they will reimburse you. (But you may need to keep after them sometimes or they “forget” to cut the check due to some technicality.)

    As to multiple interviews in the same city/trip, as Nick states, as long as you are not short-changing the guys paying for the airfare, and this includes before/after interview dinner invites, there is no issue with changing or delaying return flights if there is no cost increase. If the second company inquires how you “happen” to already be in town, merely state you are “consulting for a client in the area” and are available for their time frame.

    I recently had a coincident situation where I had an initial interview with company A, followed by an initial interview with company B, followed by an urgent second round interview with company A, all in the same week. No one was the wiser and no one was short changed – in fact both companies were appreciative that they did not have to pay for additional airfare.

  3. @Eric: My compliments for doing the right thing for the candidate, and for suing the client. Did you win? What people who get into headhunting don’t realize is that it’s a reputation business. The good news is, there are so many slime balls that even a modicum of civility makes one stand out. Being really honest like you are, that makes you a saint.

    @Hank: Another way to explain why you’re in town is simpler: “I’m here on business and I’d be glad to to meet with you, schedule permitting.” This is also a way to justify interviews that you have to pay to fly to. It may not be worth the airfare to chance it on just one company. But if you can get two or three to meet with you, the explanation to each is that you’re “going to be in town on business” and would like to meet with them. If you can nail just one of these, it may not be worth the trip (“Sorry, my plans changed.”) But if you can get one interview, add one a couple more with that explanation. It’s true.

  4. Great info as always, Nick. Thanks to Eric and Hank for adding to it.

    What is the general expectation these days for when/at what level a candidate should expect an interested company to pay for travel expenses for interviews?

    Speaking for myself, I am not interviewing for CEO level positions, at which I would expect a company would foot the bill for travel. I realize there are a lot of variables here (company size, cost of travel, level of open position, industry, etc.), but wonder if there are any broad guidlines for what job seekers should expect or realistically request.


  5. @Kevin: I’d love to hear from others on your question. I think if an out-of-town company wants to interview you, it means two things: (1) They’re willing and able to pay to relocate you if they hire you, and (2) they will cover the costs of bringing you to an interview. No matter what level the job is. It’s part of the cost of doing business.

    That said, if the company and the candidate agree there will be no reimbursements, because the company can’t afford it or doesn’t normally hire distant people, then the candidate needs to decide whether the cost is a reasonable investment. But this is where I’d insist on a hard schedule for the interview, follow-up, and decision deadline about the hire. No waffling about when YES or NO decision is made by the employer and the candidate. Otherwise, you’re wasting your money.

    What do others think? I remember a time when companies paid for travel to interview for the lowliest positions. It’s all a cost-benefit calculation, even today. If a company won’t pay for interview travel, what’s going to happen if they hire you, and you need to move your household? Are you willing to start the process without knowing whether you have to foot that bill? Settle these questions in advance.

    Side note: I’m not a fan of “reimbursements” for travel. The company should pre-pay airfares and hotel, and possibly meals. If the company is smart, it will take you out to meals and maximize its time with you! As someone else has pointed out, those reimbursement checks have a way of getting lost in the company mill. It’s frankly very embarrassing to have to keep calling to get your money – then someone at the company decides you’re being petty because they flubbed it!

  6. Thanks for the reply, Nick. It gives me a clearer outlook on what I should request (I’m reluctant to say “expect”) for any out of town opportunities.

    I also like the thought on reimbursement.

  7. Oh Nick,
    I rarely disagree with you. This is NOT kosher at all. Your wife or your girlfriend may not ask you what you are doing while your on your own time either but disloyalty is not okay in my book at any time.

  8. Great article Nick. I’m not in the position of interviewing for jobs where the employer would be flying me out for interviews, but it is good info to have re approximately where in the hierarchy this happens and what I could do to avoid having to make multiple time-consuming and costly trips. Good idea to try to schedule more than one interview by extending your trip (and paying for the extra day(s) yourself) and I agree with you that there’s no need to be that honest with the prospective employer.

    Sorry Lynda, I’m with Nick on this one. So long as there are no conflicts with interviews and I’m not short-changing the first one, what I do on my own time is my own business. If that means I try to kill two birds with one stone by scheduling an interview with prospective employer #2 and do so in a way that doesn’t take away anytime from prospective employer #1, I think that’s kosher.

    And just because a prospective employer flies you out for an interview or even offers to pay your re-lo expenses doesn’t he’s going to follow through. A cousin lost his job 2 years ago, and he found a job out of state in PA. The employer paid for his trip out there for the interview, and offered to pay his re-lo costs. My cousin is married with 3 kids. They sold their house, bought another house in PA, and moved. Cousin’s wife wasn’t able to get a job in PA, so they relied solely on his salary. Got the kids settled in new house and new school. Then, 6 months after he started his job, there’s a change in management. One of the new managers knew his boss from a previous job, and when new manager got there, he promptly fired my cousin’s boss and all of the people (6) my cousin’s boss had hired, as well as cousin’s boss’secretary and all of his support staff, including college-age interns (working for free). My cousin is an engineer, and has since moved back to MA, had to move in with his folks, and hasn’t been able to sell the house in PA due to the housing market. He figures if he can sell it (and it is a big if) it will be for less than what he paid for it. My cousin said that if he had known that the PA company was planning to bring in new management and if he’d known the history between the new manager and his boss, he would have never taken the job, despite being unemployed here. His wife had a job here (she couldn’t get it back because the company filled it by the time they came back) so now both of them are unemployed. And he said they’re poorer because the company refused to honor their promise to pay his re-lo expenses.

    I think that’s a horror story, but I’m sure it isn’t uncommon. My cousin thought the job would be secure, and who would know or how would he even think to ask about what would happen if new management arrived (particularly because one of the new managers hated his former boss like nothing on earth).

  9. What does any of that have to do with the price of eggs? If you are on your own dime…do as you please…if you are on a companies dime….totally different. I have no clients that would even ask a candidate to use their own money to interview or not pay relocation expenses, or even cover their mortgage while selling their home ( for a given period of time)put them up in a hotel until they found a rental. If they did they would know it up front and I would not advocate the move. Very risky business. Guess my candidates and I are just playing in a different ballpark…

  10. Lynda: I appreciate your point and your policy. But while the candidate is on the employer’s “dime” travel-wise, the employer enjoys the candidate’s professional and personal “time” at no cost otherwise. The candidate is making a significant investment making the trip. I just don’t think flying someone out for a meeting means the employer owns the rest of the person’s time while they’re “out there.” Not any more than a guy “owns” a woman while they’re on a date because he’s paying for dinner (or flip the sexes – same point).

    A company that pays for a trip is owed prime time for meetings, and any amount of time during the trip that the company requires. (E.g., if the candidate has another interview scheduled, she may have to cancel it if the company that paid for the trip needs another meeting.) But I just don’t think “loyalty” even comes into play. Respect does. No one buys loyalty for the price of a trip. If the candidate has free time, I think it’s his or hers to do with as they please.

    We’ve been on the same page since we’ve known one another. It’s kinda nice to disagree on something! Your point is well taken, but I think there are other ways to look at this.

  11. Thank you for your feedback Nick. Of course there are other ways to look at it. I do see and understand your take on it. That is what makes the world go round. Guess for some reason it just would not sit right with me even if no one knew , I would know. Just me :) Perhaps, we shall agree to disagree on this issue. Always a pleasure to read your forum. So until next time….happy writing mon amie!

  12. Lynda: I think you set a high standard. We need more of those. As you point out, this is a matter for every headhunter (and every job hunter) to work out for themselves.

  13. It’s always nice to see disagreement without acrimony. You’d think there would be a lot more adults in the world then there apparently are. Kudos to you guys.

    My two cents as someone who has been and would be a candidate (and not a headhunter or the, usually, the interviewer), is that “loyalty” is a misplaced word at the interviews stage of the relationship.

    The company is not at all “loyal” to a candidate at this stage. It is in its best interest (and hopefully both parties’ mutual interest) to find out if it wants to hire the candidate. However, it is very possible a candidate returns home to find out that the company has “chosen a candidate who’s experience more closely matches the requirements of this position.”

    So, yes, I agree fully that we owe each other a certain degree of transparancy. What it comes down to, though, is this: would you tell your current or a potential employer at home that you are also interviewing elsewhere in town? Most people would not. I would not. I find nothing at all dishonest about that. As Nick says, getting me from here to there is part of the cost of doing business. As long as I am available to the potantial employer who foot the bill as needed, the rest of my time is my own.

    Remember, they haven’t hired me yet.

  14. We have flown a person in and had an agenda that covered 2.5 full days of his time in town, including breakfast & dinner meetings. The person wished to extend his stay through the weekend for fishing and we had no problem. He paid the extra hotel time (or stayed with family/friends)and any additional cost. Also it is not unheard of that if this is a brand new location for a person that they might extend time to see potential housing, etc, but it is at their own cost.

    If the person chooses to interview with another company during the timeframe, I agreed with Nick. It needs to remain confidential, but why not utilize those resources put before you to better yourself.

    By the way…the above scenario, the person chose not to relocate, but through our interviews with him we revamped our whole thinking of the position and created one that fits our office better…we also found a person that has been a perfect match.

  15. @Shirl

    Outstanding! I’ve always considered any interview to be an opportunity to learn for both sides. What an incredibly fantastic return on your investment!

  16. recently I attended an interview just about 150 km away from where I live. after knowing they offered me to reimburse my expenses although I thanked them and replied that it would not be necessary.
    the next day HR manager emailed me to email her the receipt so that she can reimburse the travel cost ( apprx $50) instead of letting me know whether they will hire me or going to ask me to attend second interview.

    does that mean I wont get hired ?