Your Career Q&A: Expensive Interviews

By Martin Yate Dec 15, 2015
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This week’s Your Career Q&A column addresses how to ask for reimbursement for travel expenses for far-away interviews. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I’m a finalist for an HR director position at a small company (90 employees), and I’m very interested in the job. Their previous director retired and I’d be an HR department of one, which I’ve always wanted to try. However, I have to admit that I’m not happy with the owner’s unwillingness to cover any of my interviewing expenses. I’ll be moving if I get the job, but in the meantime, it takes me almost three hours each way to get to the company’s location.

They’ve just scheduled my third trip for next week, and I’ve calculated that with gas, tolls, meals and a hotel stay each time, my expenses will top $2,000. When I asked the owner about it on my last call with him, he said they hadn’t budgeted for those costs, but that he could schedule the next meeting at midday so I don’t have to stay overnight. I like the guy and everything else about the company, but this seems strange.

Should I push harder to be reimbursed? Is it a signal that the CEO won’t invest in the new programs we’ve discussed in my prior interviews?

Catherine, Nashua, N.H.

It seems obvious that the owner hadn’t thought about the expenses you were incurring because when you mentioned the issue, he immediately offered to accommodate you with interview timing to eliminate your overnight costs, which shows goodwill.

The first thing to do with a career opportunity that incurs considerable costs for attending interviews is to ask for interview times that will be easier on your budget. It’s also acceptable to ask upfront if significant out-of-pocket costs will be covered. If expenses are not covered for a first interview, you still gain valuable interviewing experience—something most professionals lack, so you can think of interview expenses as a skill-development investment. Check with your accountant, because these costs are usually tax deductible.

After a day spent travelling to and from a first interview, you can get an accurate idea of the expense. Then, if a second interview comes along, raise the issue of reimbursement again by saying, “I can understand why you wouldn’t want to cover interview expenses for first-round candidates. But if we are both interested and this may take one or two more meetings, would you be able to cover my out-of-pocket expenses?”

You might also be able to find out the name of the retired HR director and reach out to him or her to get a read on how you are likely to be treated financially, as well as the likelihood that the programs you’ve discussed in interviews would be funded adequately. If you have no other leads, you might try searching the LinkedIn database.

It might be worthwhile to research the realistic costs for implementation of your proposed projects (given proper execution and without throwing money around). You can then knowledgeably discuss these projects and their financial considerations during later interviews, thus demonstrating your competency and engagement.

Martin Yate is a New York Times best-selling author and has worked as a Silicon Valley headhunter, director of HR at a publicly traded technology company, and director of training and development at a multinational employment services franchisor. His company, Knock ’em Dead, delivers professional resume and coaching services.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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