Economy & Jobs

Who Pays for Interview Travel Expenses? Here’s How (and When) to Negotiate

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An out-of-state interview can be exciting—but costly. How do you ask the company to reimburse you for interview travel expenses without ruining your chances at the job?

Know Your Negotiating Power

There are no hard statistics on how many companies will reimburse travel expenses, because this practice often depends on how valuable you are to the business. “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 and specialized positions,” says Alison Green of Ask a Manager in an article for U.S. News and World Report.

You should also consider who initiated the interview request. If you’re relocating to another city or want to stand out with a face-to-face meeting, you should be willing to foot the bill for your travel, says Dave Clemens, who writes for the Rapid Learning Institute’s HR Cafe Daily Post. If, however, you’ve already gone through several phone interviews and the employer wants to meet in person, they should be willing to reimburse you.

“If they’re asking you to travel on your own nickel at this point in the process,” Clemens says, “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 to Broach the Question

Tailor your negotiation approach to your negotiating power. If the company approached you for a high-level position, for instance, it’s safe to be more bold than if you approached them. Suzanne Lucas, also known as Evil HR Lady, recommends saying, “I’d love to come out for an interview. What’s the process for travel reimbursement?” Phrasing the question this way, she says, “makes it seem like it’s obvious that you are a candidate who deserves to be reimbursed.”

If, however, you’re applying to a job posting for a midrange position and competing with in-state candidates, you should ask conservatively. Marc DeBoer, former corporate recruiter and headhunter and founder of A Better Interview, recommends striking a balance between “straightforward and polite” by asking, “Do you have a reimbursement policy for travel?” This phrasing makes you sound confident and to the point without coming across as entitled or greedy.

Not sure how much power you wield? Play it safe and stick to the conservative approach.

What if They Say No?

How you handle a negative response is also largely dependent on your negotiating power. “If you’re a really strong candidate, you can just walk away and sometimes [the company will] come back with funds,” Lucas says. “The higher the job you are applying for, the more likely this is to happen.”

Your response also depends on how much you want or need the job, and whether you’re willing to risk taking a hard line on this particular issue.

DeBoer advises against pushing the subject of interview travel expenses, and not just to avoid turning off a potential employer. “There are bigger negotiations you should want to have, such as bonuses, compensation, and paid time off,” he says. “Pick your battles based on what’s important to you. You may get $500 back for travel, but if you negotiate a bonus, you could get $5,000.”

Alternatives to Travel

Today’s technology provides myriad ways to interview for an out-of-state job besides showing up in person. It’s perfectly acceptable to suggest a phone screening or initial Skype interview to make sure you’ll be a good fit for the position before either you or the company goes to the expense of getting you into their offices.