How to Lower the Cost of an Out-of-State Job Interview

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Are you looking to relocate for a job? Maybe you’re tired of where you live, or you’re feeling a little adventurous and want a change of scenery.

Getting a job in another state can be a great way of getting to move around the country. Unfortunately, the process of securing that job can be expensive.

Out-of-state job interviews may be a costly flight away, not to mention you’ll have to pay for a hotel, food, and take time off from your current job.

The best way to make this a budget-friendly endeavor is to negotiate with the company to cover your travel expenses for the job interview. Even if the company agrees to only cover a portion of your costs (such as the flight, but not the hotel or meals), you'll still save a substantial amount of money.

Approaching the interview process with different companies around the country can be tricky, but here are a few helpful tips from experts you can use.

What Kind of Position Are You In?

First of all, what kind of job are you applying for? Are you considered an expert in your field, or are you trying to make a career switch along with your move? What’s the industry like – is it saturated, or are candidates being sought after?

These factors do play a part in whether or not a company is willing to foot the bill when it comes to your interview.

Alison Green, the well-known HR Expert over at Ask a Manager and U.S. News says, "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.”

This makes sense – the more valuable you are, the more a company will be interested in meeting with you. In this case, you have the upper-hand.

However, if you’re applying for jobs in different cities simply because you’re looking to move, you should probably consider shelling the money out yourself.

Dave Clemens of the HR Café blog states, "If they’re asking you to travel on your own nickel at this point in the process, you’d have to wonder how committed they really are to hiring you. And if they ask you to come in but don’t mention who’s paying for travel, it’s certainly appropriate to bring it up."

How exactly do you go about doing that?

It’s All About How You Ask

While it may seem scary to ask the company for favors before you’ve even met with them, it’s necessary if you can’t otherwise afford to go on the interview. The worst that can happen is you’re told “no.”

Considering you’re applying out-of-state, it’s not likely that asking politely will have severe repercussions on your job search.

Suzanne Lucas, otherwise known as The Evil HR Lady, says it’s all about how you phrase the request. If you think your chances of getting the job are fairly good, she offers this template to use: "I'd love to come out for an interview. What's the process for travel reimbursement?" According to Suzanne, this "makes it seem like it's obvious that you are a candidate that deserves to be reimbursed." It’s a very simple, yet powerful way of asking.

Don’t think you’re in that position of power? Marc DeBoer, a former corporate recruiter and founder of A Better Interview, offers similar simple advice.

Be "straightforward and polite" and ask, “Do you have a reimbursement policy for travel?”

There’s nothing wrong with asking as long as you’re polite about it. Never demand that a company cover your interview expenses, especially when they have plenty of other candidates to choose from. After all, you’re trying to stand out from the local competition in a good way.

Advice from an HR Expert

Sandy Smith, an HR Expert who blogs at Yes I Am Cheap, offers her advice on the subject:

Generally, if a potential employer has invited you to an in-person interview, and you don't reside in that state, it's not unusual to have a candidate ask if the company is willing to cover travel expenses, she says. 

(Keep in mind, this doesn't apply if you're in a major metropolitan area like the tri-state New York City area, where commuting from parts of New Jersey and Connecticut are usual and customary.

Your travel needs to cover a distance that's not a standard commute.)

Candidates are often afraid to ask because they think that they will be overlooked for the interview. Frankly, Smith says, if they want you to come for an in-person interview and know that you live a decent travel distance away from their location, the company is very interested in you.

She offers the following advice:

1. When asking to have travel costs paid, if speaking directly with a representative within the company and not a third party like a recruiter, be polite! Let the representative know that you are excited to attend an in-person interview, however, since you live some distance away and travel costs would be high, ask if the company would be willing to cover part or all of your travel costs. The worst they can say is no!

2. Be willing to travel using the method that the company chooses. This might mean a cheaper option than you'd like (think flying coach versus business class) but be open. Your trip might allow enough time for interviews and a return home without an extended period in the potential employer's city.

3. Don't treat this as a vacation or free trip. You're there for a specific reason. The interview should be your top priority.

4. If the company is not willing to cover your total travel expense, if offered a position, ask for a sign on bonus that would at least cover the cost of your travel. If the company asks why you are asking for a sign on bonus, be prepared to explain that this is the reason for your request.

5. If you are being recruited through a third party, they are sometimes reluctant to ask for travel expenses if the position is not for a senior level recruit. This is only because some agencies view this as risking their hefty commissions. Insist that the recruiter ask on your behalf. It's sort of like having an agent negotiate.

Some companies will reimburse the candidate up to a limit if receipts are provided (not usual). Others will simply book your travel for you and pay the costs directly. The more senior you are, the more of your travel costs will likely be covered, Smith says. For a very senior level recruit, it is not unusual for a company to pay not only round trip travel but also meals and a per diem (pocket money!) amount.

What if the Worst Does Happen?

What should you do if they say no?

Lucas recommends walking away if you’re confident about how much value you have to offer.

"If you're a really strong candidate, you can just walk away and sometimes [the company will] come back with funds," she says. "The higher the job you are applying for, the more likely this is to happen."

As with any negotiating, be sure you can afford to walk away and that it makes sense to do so. If this is your dream job, you might not be willing to take such bold chances. In that case, tone it down a little and make your case.

DeBoer also says to consider alternatives. "There are bigger negotiations you should want to have, such as bonuses, compensation and paid time off. "

DeBoer recommends negotiating around some of these other factors, as well – not just salary.

"Pick your battles based on what is important to you," DeBoer says. "You may get $500 back for travel, but if you negotiate a bonus, you may get $5,000."

In other words, have your eye on the prize. You don’t want to end up in a losing situation because you were afraid to ask, or because you failed to negotiate on the larger items that will have more of an impact in the long run.

If the company denies your request, you can always go back to them with an alternative. Suggest a video meeting via Skype or Google Hangouts – both are extremely common these days. If you can get them to agree to that, and “wow” them on the interview, they may be more inclined to fly you out for an actual in-person interview.

Conclusion

It never hurts to ask a company what its policy is on paying for out-of-state interviews. You don’t have much to lose unless you have a lot riding on this potential job. Remember to do your research beforehand as well – make sure the company is a good fit for you. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time or money when it comes to interviews, out-of-state or local.