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Paying for an Interview

Q. I have not looked for a job for many years. I have been happy where I am. I now have an opportunity to interview with a company which involves travel. For the first on-site interview, the company wants me to pay for the flights while they cover hotel and ground transportation. Is this normal? Should I simply oblige or try to negotiate?

A. “Many years” in one job may mean that you have not been open to interview for other opportunities, or even engaged in conversations with organizations, or entertained meetings with search firms. For some reason, this time is different, and you are interested in an on-site meeting with a potential new employer.

Why? That is most likely the question the company representatives are asking themselves. Is the destination somewhere spectacular? It seems the company may be trying to gauge your sincere interest in the opportunity as opposed to the idea of a free airplane ticket.

Many companies and recruiters are carefully watching their recruitment travel spend, and are choosing to use video conferencing for initial screening interviews, in addition to a phone screen. Many organizations set a level of employee beneath which they will not pay for travel, and may say "no relocation" in an ad or posting which conveys a similar message.

I have seen this recruiting and cost containment strategy used in higher education when interviewing graduate students leaving graduate programs. In the early stages of a career, everywhere can be considered a reasonable location, and lots of roles look interesting – especially when there is no financial or vacation time restriction to travel to interview. Colleges and universities developed an interesting way of assessing potential commitment by asking candidates to pay for travel expenses. If they were not asked back for a second interview, they split the cost. If they were asked back and chose not to have a second interview, they split the cost. If they were asked back, received an offer which they declined, they split the cost. If they were asked back, received an offer, and accepted, all costs were reimbursed.

So, how serious are you? If this situation turned into an offer could you see yourself accepting? If you are seriously interested in exploring this opportunity, you can ask why they have that type of policy, and then decide to try to negotiate, to ask to video conference first to see how interested you really are, or move ahead.

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