In the June 10, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t want to pay so an employer can interview him:

I applied for a sales job, but it’s in a distant city. I don’t think the company pays relocation costs. They insist that applicants pay a portion of the interview costs, including mileage, airfare, hotel, meals. (The job posting says interview expenses are “negotiable.”) I’ve never faced this before. I may be willing to pay my own relocation if I want the job, but I don’t want to get stuck paying interview costs. The airfare alone could be several hundred dollars. I’m thinking this puts them in the “no skin in the game position” and would allow them to interview as many people as they want, for as long as they want, at almost no cost to them. What is your feeling about this, and how would you negotiate the arrangement?

Nick’s Reply

We recently discussed Why employers should pay job applicants — but this is another subject. Some employers will pay for interview travel, others won’t. Usually the employer will just tell you they don’t interview out-of-towners mainly because, if they hire you, they don’t want to incur the relocation cost. This is really up to you. It depends on how much you want to work for this company.

airfare-costsIn any case, you can make some moves to protect yourself and to optimize your chances of getting a job offer.

Remember that everything is negotiable, even if they tell you it’s not. As long as you are really willing to pay your own relocation, you can take a position even on this.

Tip #1

I’d ask them (now, before you fly out there), “If I split the interview travel cost with you, and you hire me, will you cover my relocation costs up to some maximum amount?”

They will likely say no, but they might also compromise, saving you quite a bit of money when you move. It’s worth asking, especially if you’re interviewing for a sales job. Demonstrate your negotiating skills.

Now let’s make sure you’re protected from unexpected losses.

Sometimes a company will tell you to pay your expenses and submit receipts for reimbursement later (even if the reimbursement is only partial). I hate that. What if they don’t hire you and decide to ignore the reimbursement altogether? It’s rude, but it happens.

Tip #2

Split the costs into portions that each of you pay up front, and settle the rest later. For example, make them this offer: If they pre-pay the airline ticket, you will pay for the hotel and meals and then submit for reimbursement. That way you don’t get stuck holding the entire bag, even if they ignore your requests later. Of course, if they decline to front any costs for your trip, you must decide whether to gamble. My advice is: Don’t. A company that won’t pay to fly you out is trouble.

Overall, I think your analysis is correct. If you pay interview expenses, they will have no skin in the game, leaving you in a weak position. But two can play at this game. This is where you turn the tables a bit, capitalize on your trip, and optimize your chances of getting an offer — even if it’s from another company.

Tip #3

If you decide to make the trip, do some research and figure out who are the employer’s best and biggest competitors in the same city. Call them. Talk to the head of sales, not to HR. Be frank. “I’m going to be in town interviewing with company A — but I’ve heard great things about your company (B). If you’re available on such and such a date, I’d like to stop by at a time convenient to you to introduce myself. Can we schedule a cup of coffee?”

Do this with as many companies as you can. Even if you have to pay for another night’s stay, this may be an excellent investment because your trip will be more likely to pay off. It’s a funny kind of employer psychology that I’ve seen again and again. When company B hears that company A is interviewing you, B is suddenly motivated to get in on the action, especially because there’s no travel cost. Ordinarily, company B might not interview you, but when one company deems you attractive, you instantly become attractive to its competitors.

(In my opinion, even if company A is paying for your travel, you’re still free to conduct other meetings as long as they don’t interfere with A’s meetings. If your favorite aunt lived in town, you’d make time to see her, right? What you do in your spare time is your business.)

Decide whether you really want to work in the distant city, and negotiate your way out of financial costs as best you can. Then take advantage of a trip to meet as many employers as you can.

Have you ever had to travel for a job interview? Who paid for it? Did you ever get stuck for the costs of an interview trip? How did you optimize your experience?

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  1. Tip #3 is what I always try to do. Note that if you travel by train, the other interviews don’t have to be in the same city: the way train tickets work, a layover in any city on the path is fair game.

  2. The psychology behind tip 3 is an extension of the job seekers dilemma. If you already have a job, prospective employers see that as an advantage that the candidate is proactive and that their employer sees value in them. If you’re unemployed, you’re a grubby jobseeker that’s hardly worth the time. If you were so good you’d either still have a job or you’d have seen the writing on the wall & gotten out if you were smart.

    It’s the junior high school dating scene writ large.

  3. This is EXACTLY how I relocated to another state. Company A payed for me to fly out, plus hotel and car. (As an aside, I would never pay to interview a company: there are lots of companies and only one of me AND my time is payment enough).

    I also arranged interviews at other companies (different industries).

    Company A’s interview process was…weak. I met with 5 or 6 people seperately, all of whom asked the same questions from the Big Book Of Interview Questions (what are your greatest strengths, weaknesses; where do you see yourself in 5 years, etc)

    I next interviewed at Company B, who offered me a job 15 minutes after the interview concluded. I accepted.

    Company A (it was actually a better job on paper) finally offered me a job a week later.I politely declined.

    Several years later, Company A was bought out by an even worse company.

  4. Sorry for the double-dip. Nick’s suggestion of going to a competitor works even if one isn’t relocating.

  5. I think Nick’s advice is solid.

    If a company has to bring in non-local candidates, they have to be willing to foot the bill for some or all of the interview and relocation costs.

  6. This is what I do and make it clear is set up a series of telephone interviews and as they progress ask to talk with more people inside the organization to get the inside scoop. This gives me the understanding of where the problems lie in the organization which will bubble out. If it is a worthwhile organization, the travel will be a dot the I and cross the T of signing on (of which you have already seen copies) otherwise the process never will get that far as to travel.

  7. I recently went to interview with a company that a previous co-worker joined. He recommended me to the company and urged me to apply. It took over 9 weeks to get my expenses paid.

    The agreement up front was that I pay for everything and submit expenses. I finally had to pressure my friend to put pressure to get the expenses reimbursed.

    I found it disturbing that it took so long. I really believe that had I not insisted and pressured my friend, I would never have been paid. If a company is up front about not paying then it’s my choice to take the risk or not. But if you tell me that you’re paying, then that’s a different story.


  8. I think Nick’ s advice and all of the other commenter’s advice is spot on. Adding anything else at this point is probably filler as it seems all bases have been covered.

    The only thing I will mention is that it definitely does show the character of a company or at least the quality of people that work there if they don’t foot out of towner’s interview costs. I remember even a commenter on Nick’ s blog mentioned getting to interview for Amazon and it was like taking a mini vacation. He was put in the best hotel, had a business class flight and even a per diem stipend for food and other costs AND he didn’t get the job.

    However, what that did tell me was Amazon has class when pursuing the best talent. They treat the best as the best, as it should be. Goes back to if hiring managers have set the intention to have have the company’s best interest at heart – making sure to get the best talent even if it takes a few hundreds of dollars to do it- then they will.

    Good stuff Nick and others.

  9. @Eddie: I like your approach. You’re effectively declining to invest time in a trip until the employer can satisfy you that the potential match is worth investing in.

    @Rich N: Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve seen employers entirely ignore promised compensation. When I started headhunting, I used to accept a client’s request that the candidate pay for travel and submit for reimbursement. When one client totally dropped the ball and embarrassed me, I changed my policy. Client companies had to buy the ticket and pre-pay the hotel. I even insisted the client send a car to pick up the candidate from the hotel. I think sometimes HR laughs with glee when it ignores compensation to candidates the company doesn’t hire. It’s irresponsible, and a cheap way for a company to kill its reputation. My advice once again: Insist the employer pre-pay everything. Don’t convince yourself that “it’s going to cost you an opportunity.” Having your pocket picked is no opportunity.

  10. Oh, one thing I forgot to write in my last comment: Many people are currently employed. That means that they have to take vacation in order to travel and meet with you. This is to their own detriment. So, it is only fair that the company put some skin in the game as well.

    How many times do we hear of stories of companies not hiring anyone or hiring internally?

  11. @Gwen: This is where the rubber hits the road. Why is it that HR departments don’t treat job applicants the way sales departments treat prospective customers? What’s the difference, really? Both contribute to a company’s profits and are indispensable. Maybe HR needs to start attending sales training :-).

  12. How do you handle a company that reneges on reimbursement?

  13. Don’t spend a cent of your own money to pay to interview for a “maybe maybe” job! This is another applicant ripoff, maybe even a scam to keep the HR department looking busy. If we would all avoid such scams, a few more companies might post some legit jobs.

  14. I have interviewed with several out of state companies, and all have footed the bill. However, when I did not receive those offers and I was getting ancy to make things happen, so I called some key organizations and told them I would be town and would you like to meet about Position A I applied for…. I ended up having 3 interviews with the “Oh by the way, I will be in town on Friday”… and I footed that bill. It helped me speed things along at least and I felt in control of the interview process for a change. I am still looking for my ideal job in my target markets (out of state).

  15. I completely agree with @Eddie, @Gwen, @Dave and @Nick. A couple of other things to consider –

    1. Will the company tell you how many candidates are on the short list? This will help to advise what level of respect they have for a candidate when they are asking for both payment and vacation time. This will help to judge the culture of the company.

    2. Suggest that the costs be paid up front and can be deducted off of the first month’s salary. Chances are that the company wouldn’t actually deduct the monies from a new employee but it gives the impression that you are just as ‘invested’ as they are and that you are a negotiator.

    I can’t even begin to imagine what the thinking is in an organization that would even suggest a candidate pay upfront. There hasn’t to be some lack of seriousness in this job search. Why is the company conducting a search outside of their geographical area anyway? It has to be because there are no appropriate candidates where they are and it is a hard to fill position.

  16. @Nick truly something to ponder and a step in the right direction for HR to do the right thing for best practices.

    @Bryan @Survivor everyone needs to adopt these/this personal self respecting rule(s).

    @Janice what an even more clearer stated insight for realizing the elephant in the room.

  17. @janice: Your #2 suggestion reminded me that I once took a job that required a relocation. The company had never paid for a relo because it had never hired from so far away. They offered me this deal: We’ll pay your relo in advance, so you’re not out-of-pocket for the cash. Then you pay us back via payroll deduction starting three months after your start date. I took the deal. Here’s why.

    The job was sales management. Before I accepted it, I had to make two judgments.

    First, did I want a pure commission deal, or a small salary plus less attractive commission?

    Second, did I think I could blow the commission plan away and make loads of money? (Commission plans are usually designed to look phenomenally good by loading the big money at the very high end of sales performance. That is, if you sell a LOT, your percentage goes WAY up. Huge risk to the employee!)

    I knew I had to answer the second question first. My answer, after doing lots of research and soul searching, was yes. Thus it made sense to take the all-commission deal. Otherwise it wasn’t worth the move to begin with!

    So I wasn’t worried about what was essentially an advance to pay for my move. Two months into the new job, my commissions were already high because I was blowing away the sales plan. So I went to the CFO and said, “Take the full relo cost out of my next paycheck and let’s be done with it.” He loved me. I was paying him back early!

    One more note: When companies offer bold sales commission plans like the one I got, to attract top sales people, they don’t mind paying big commissions because they realize they’re getting big revenues. That is, until they actually find they’re paying big commissions. Then they HATE it. This happens every time. After a few short years, they changed the plan. (They all do, so you’ve got to rack up those fat commissions early!) I quickly moved out of sales, and then soon moved out of the company.

    I didn’t mind paying for relo.

  18. Excellent, solid advice Nick.

    @janice: sometimes it isn’t that there are no appropriate local candidates but that the employer doesn’t want to limit himself to locals. There might be excellent candidates across the state, in the next state, or across the country. Many of the upper level state university jobs get posted nationally, and sometimes the best candidate is a local, sometimes the best candidate is currently employed across the country. People move all the time for better opportunities (more money, higher status/rank in the company, etc.). Sometimes the jobs are hard to fill, so you have to expand your search when you post the job.

    But I agree with you re not understanding the thinking is in an organization that asks the candidate to pay upfront. Most businesses budget for this kind of thing, unless they have decided to be cheap and shift the burden of flying out or driving a long way, plus hotel, meals, parking, etc. to the candidates. In 2001 I worked for a publishing company. Not long after I started, all staff received an email announcing that Tom Ridge’s wife would be joining the company as a very senior (read “paid big bucks, much more than the others) account manager. She wasn’t required to move to the local area (where the company was located like all of the other account managers) but would be allowed to work from DC. I remember hearing that she’d been wined and dined and courted and feted and petted, and when we had our twice-yearly staff meeting, they flew her out (first class), put her up in a hotel (executive suite), paid for a limo (that is how she traveled when in DC), paid for all of her meals, and more. The other account managers had responsibility for other geographic areas but weren’t permitted to live there. They had to work out of the company’s office. There was some grumbling, but Mrs Ridge was special because of who she was (and who she was married to), so exceptions and concessions were made for her. Scuttlebutt had it that she didn’t come to the company for the first interview–she did that by phone, and insisted that the company pay for her travel expenses for the follow up interview, and they did. My dept. head commented to us that the company regularly budgets for that–this way, if there is a promising candidate who isn’t “local”, s/he doesn’t bear the cost of coming to be interviewed. Since most people would have to relocate to work there, going out for the interview is important because you not only want to see the place where you’ll be spending more than 8 hours per day but you’ll meet your boss, you’ll get a chance to suss out the location (what is the area like? how expensive or cheap is housing? is there good public transportation? if you have kids, then are there good public or private schools? how close are you to good doctors/hospitals?) Interviewing is a two-way street, and while it can be expensive to go out for an interview, you can learn more than only doing phone or skype interviews.

    In 1991, I was working at a town library (municipal/government). My dept. head had retired, so there was an open job search for her replacement. The job was posted in a national library journal as well as locally. Most of the candidates were local as in local area or nearby states (easy driving distance and not far enough to require a hotel room overnight), but one applicant was from Wisconsin. She made the first cut, and when she was contacted about scheduling an interview, she refused to fly out to Massachusetts for it. She explained that she was employed, that the airfare, hotel, rental car, etc. would be too expensive for her, and she offered a solution–she would do a phone interview for the first interview. Then, IF she made it to the second round of interviews, she would fly out here for it because she wanted to see the library, the town, meet the staff, get a sense of the community where she might be moving and living. But she couldn’t justify the expense for the first interview. The committee agreed with her; the town didn’t budget for this kind of expense (paying for out of town candidates to come in for interviews), so those costs were borne by the candidates. And yes, she was asked to interview a second time, and she was the candidate the director and other dept. heads chose for the job.

    If you can’t afford it, and if the company is interested in you, then I think they should be willing to compromise–phone or skype interviews (though there are drawbacks to these) or just start budgeting for these expenses.

    @Dave: you are correct. If you’re already employed, then getting time off to travel out of state or across the country for an interview is difficult. Not all companies give employees vacation time, which means that you’d have to use your sick time (if you have it) and the cost of flying out for an interview, plus hotel, etc. hurts. If you’re unemployed or underemployed, it isn’t so much the time but the cost–you may not have the money for it and can’t afford to dip further into your savings.

  19. @MaryBeth obviously the company never took into consideration their existing employees and the damage to morale in the Mrs. Ridge senario. My gut tells me you were not the only employee ticked off! That says a lot about a company right there – pretty superficial.

    Your second example is a good one. Since the company hired the candidate, I am surprised they didn’t reimburse her. Government offices ALWAYS have contingencies funds…. I’ve always thought that once a company is in love with a candidate, the costs associated with the interview are negligible – the best candidate isn’t always the freebie!

    @Nick – when I was a regional sales manager and needed to hire in another market I did all first interviews by phone, short listed 4 candidates and then I flew out to do the face to face. My first choice to hire was the one that the company PAID to bring in for the final interview.

  20. I just love the latest trendy term of “Global Talent Acquisition.”

    Because worldwide travel can be expensive, more companies are opting to do Skype interviews. Now some do them even if you’re only 1 to 2 time zones away. Or even a 2-hour drive!

    So it’s becoming expected that serious job candidates have webcams, especially those who want to be seen as tech savvy. I’ve heard some say that just like applicants buy suits and dresses specifically for interviewing purposes, a webcam is a must-have for 21st Century job hunting apparel.

    Still, I’m not quite ready to call it an “investment.”

  21. I was flown down in February 2014 to interview with a large company in San Francisco. They paid for airfare, rental car, gas and some of my expenses. It was a long, drawn out day and I knew by the end of it that there was no way in hell I wanted to work for them. I switched my returning flight to the next day and drove to a ‘dinner party’ where I then met the senior internal recruiter of one of the top 10 best companies to work for (according to Fortune Magazine).
    That is how I got my current job.
    I paid for relocation.
    Networking is crucial and it is my firm belief that if a company wants to ‘meet’ you, they have an obligation to incur that cost. I got very lucky it all worked out in the end.

  22. I definitely agree with Nick’s advice also. But I agree with @Glenn – the writer should pre-interview.
    If I was going to be asked to pay for an interview trip, I’d try to set up phone or Skype interviews with the people I’d be talking to. We wouldn’t be able to draw on the white board, or have lunch, but we’d be able to do almost everything else one does on an interview. After that I’d know if I were interested, and if they were interested they’d be much more likely to pay for the actual trip.
    My future son-in-law in Germany had all his first interviews on Skype, by the way.
    But treating you well doesn’t mean good job. One place flew me out first class coast to coast. I was expecting to be offered a VP slot at least. Not hardly – responsibility with no authority. The company spun off from a defense contractor and had a culture of over-spending. They were nice flights, though.

  23. @Lisa, Scott: I don’t think employers realize that when they pay for interview travel, their own behavior can still backfire on them, and they’ve wasted money on the trip. You’d think they’d carefully consider how to attract the candidate in the meetings. In the two stories you’ve recounted, there was no hire. At least, not at the company that paid the fares!

  24. If a company doesn’t pay the airfare, it might be a sign that they’re are just shopping around, not hiring. A while ago after a phone interview where it was clear that I was a good match, the company invited me onsite. I offered to fly out early in the morning, interview in their office for a day and go back the same night, no hotel needed. They said they didn’t have the budget to pay for my ticket (we’re talking about a low 6 figure job). And I decided it was too risky to pay my own money for the luxury of seeing their office.

  25. If a company is so cheapskate that they do not pay for travel in interviews they have themselves called for, imagine how cheap they may be on salary and working conditions. It would regard that as a “canary in the coal mine” to run away.

    It is different if the candidate “pops by”, though (#3)

  26. @janice:

    I don’t remember feeling ticked off re the Mrs. Tom Ridge scenario. I wasn’t an account manager, although if I were, I might have felt slighted given the royal treatment she received compared to the other account managers, even if the latter were all local. Businesses are not required to treat everyone equally, and if they get someone they consider very important, even if some of that importance is due to her husband, they are fully within their rights to roll out the red carpet and do whatever they want. They should be cognizant of the risks they take re alienating others who are doing the same job she is, though, and the effect their lavish treatment of her will have on the morale of other account managers who lacked famous and/or politically and/or socially well-connected husbands. Eventually that kind of disparate treatment will come back to bite them, maybe not today or tomorrow or next week or even next month, but when people perceive that they are not valued as much, they’ll eventually leave, or they’ll stay and not work as hard, which in the long run, has an impact on a company’s bottom line.

    RE the second situation I described with government, I respectfully disagree. Perhaps at the federal level and for certain high-ranking and high-salaried jobs at the state level, there are funds for relocation of a “star” new hire. The government entity I worked for was a small town government, and they didn’t have the funds to pay for her relocation from Wisconsin. Nor was her job a high-ranking (just a dept. head job in the town library, not the library director and certainly not the mayor or town manager) one. So relocation was on her. The town was upfront with her about it, and had she insisted on the town paying for her relocation costs (as it was one of the librarians searched for a house for her to rent, so she’d have a place to move into when she got there), I remember the director and other dept. heads discussing moving on to the runner-up for the job. She was told “there are no funds to pay for your relocation expenses; that’s on you. Do you still want the job?” She said yes, and that was the end of the matter. I’m sure that big municipalities like the city of Boston, city of New York, etc. have set aside funds for this very thing, but I’m going to hazard a guess that they won’t pay the relocation costs for someone who takes a job as a city clerk in any number of depts. For school superintendant or police chief, yes.

  27. I’m going to amend and clarify my statement re businesses not having to treat employees equally. They do have to treat employees equally when thinking about “protected classes” (think race), but if everyone/everything is equal and a company chooses to grant special treatment to a star employee or a “famous” employee, the others can gripe, complain, and even talk to a lawyer, but what the employer did isn’t against the law. Had the employer done it because he favored white men over black men, then that is different (and the employer is wrong).

    I apologize for any confusion.

  28. I had to write in since this article is relevant to me. I applied on a company’s website for a VP job. I was called from the HR VP and had an hour interview with her by phone. I then spoke over an hour to the hiring manager. I then had another phone interview with another senior executive. Now they want to meet me in person for an onsite interview in 2 weeks. I was emailed by the HR VP that I am to prepay my own airline flight and pay for all expenses and that I would be reimbursed. This isn’t going to fly with me. This sends a red flag to me.

    I wrote back that since I am taking a day off from work, that I insist they pay for my plane ticket and I would then submit other expenses after my onsite interview. She agreed to pay the plane ticket in advance. I wouldn’t have gone if they declined my request.

  29. Update: I didn’t hear back yesterday about my plane ticket for the interview so I assumed this company isn’t serious about the job, me or they don’t have the funds financially to lay out. All red flags to me.

    Today, just now I received an email from the HR VP stating they decided to pursue other candidates. I am glad I listened to what my gut was telling me and took care of myself. This is just yet another company that just plays games. Not one I would want to work for. Like Nick says in his articles, I am going to network the right way to get my next job.

  30. @Donna: Feels good to call the shots, doesn’t it? I think your request was more than reasonable. When they failed to even answer you candidly and forthrightly, it brought you to a reasonable conclusion about this employer.

    But I love their reply: “We’re looking at other people.” Gimme a break. What they mean is, “We’re looking for other people who will pay to interview with us.” Double gimme a break!

    I think you made a sound decision. On to the next!

  31. Thanks Nick for validating what I went through was a huge red flag. I didn’t even respond back to her email.

    I decided I need to learn all I can on how to protect myself and get my dream job. I keep hitting walls. So Yesterday I bought your complete collection of fearless job hunting. I started reading it today and boy it is an eye opener. So many experiences I recognize that has happened to other candidates, has happened to me. Now I can be better prepared when I approach a company I want to work for, with the right tools and the right relationships. I have alot of work to do but it will all be worth it.

    Thanks for having a weekly newsletter as I look forward to reading what you will write about next.

  32. @Donna: Glad you’re finding Fearless Job Hunting so eye-opening and helpful. As questions arise, you can post them here on the blog and you’ll get responses not just from me but from the rest of the savvy crew here!

  33. Thanks Nick. I am sure I will have some questions and will post them.

  34. Nothing new about this. In 35 years of job hunting, more often than not companies did not reimburse travel expenses. (I naively assumed reimbursement would be offered, so didn’t ask beforehand, and too chicken to ask afterwards.) Sure enough, usually got impression company was just fishing. As most were generally prosperous tech companies, I was quite put out by this cheap behavior.

    Turns out companies that made offers paid for the interview and relocation. With the hit rate on interviews lower than ever nowadays, would be exceedingly reluctant to travel at my own expense again, given this dismal experience.

  35. Stevie, I’d agree with you. As a rule I will never pay for interview travel costs. Meals and so forth are fine, but never the airline or hotel. If they aren’t willing to pony up for that, they aren’t really interested and they aren’t worth my time.

    I made the mistake of paying a huge sum of money right at the end of law school to fly out of state for an interview. The flight was last minute so it cost what was for me a ton of money. I did it because I was so desperate for my first career job. I didn’t get it and in fact they never did end up hiring anyone. They were just fishing, looking around, not really committed to filling a need.

    I will never make that mistake again. I don’t care how good the job looks if they aren’t willing to pay at the very least they are cheap and that is a bad sign for things to come. Most likely they aren’t really interested. Either way I have walked away every time since that a company has said no and I have never regretted it.