In an era when Skype is available to interview job candidates, the need to meet in person remains. Shaking someone's hand and looking them in the eye can tell you a lot more about the person than talking on the phone or seeing them on Skype. If the company is serious about investing in a person, it will want that person to fly out.
But the economic impact of a 9.5 percent national unemployment rate, results in employers having their pick of the job pool, and even asking potential employees to pay their own airfare so they can press the flesh. Paying $500 for a flight, and possibly a hotel, can leave a large dent in your wallet, and a more painful one if you don't get the job.
Paying for a flight to interview is done at the job candidate's own risk. It could lead to a position of weakness in negotiating pay, but also could lead to a tryout job as a part-time contract employee, as it did for James Hills, who offered to pay his way to interview at a company in Maryland after several phone interviews.
Hills later ended up with a job doing social media for Sears Home Appliances, so he didn't mind having spent so much time and money chasing the other job.
A budget-savvy employer is a good sign, but asking a job candidate to pay for a flight can also be a tipoff that it's a cheap company to work for.
Thanks, but no thanks
Barry Maher wasn't looking for a job but got an unsolicited call on Easter Sunday from a human resources vice president at a Fortune 100 telecommunications company, asking Maher to fly across the country to interview for another vice president position. He asked if she wanted her travel department to book the trip or if she wanted him to book the flight and hotel and invoice her.
"'Oh no,' she said," Maher wrote to AOL Jobs in an e-mail exchange. "'We don't cover travel expenses.' She added, somewhat arrogantly I thought, 'That's an investment you'll need to make if you want a chance at the job.' 'Actually no,' I explained, 'that's an investment you'll have to make if you want a chance at me.'"
She called back later with an offer of a first-class ticket and travel expenses, explaining she'd "cleared it with the powers that be." Maher turned her down, having quickly decided he had no interest in a company where calling people about work on Easter Sunday seemed to be par for the course, and where a top executive couldn't authorize travel expenses for a single trip without getting clearance.
It's a gamble
For some people, such as media specialist Amanda Soule, paying high prices for a last-minute flight and hotel was worth it because she got the job. Soule flew from New York City to Columbus, Ohio, to spend a night in preparation for an 8AM interview the next day. She decided to take the chance after a good phone interview, when she was told the agency wouldn't pay her travel expenses but wanted to meet her in person soon.
Soule "decided it was worth the trip no matter the outcome," she told AOL Jobs in an e-mail, and bought a plane ticket for $650. The three-hour in-person interview went so well that she was offered a job two days later.
On the other side of the issue is Brittany Miller, who told AOL Jobs that she has only been out of school and in the work force for two years, and didn't realize that companies used to pay for a candidate's travel. The Florida resident paid her airfare for job interviews in New York and Washington, D.C., and didn't get either job. She flew a day ahead of each interview and stayed for free with friends.
"Of course it's disappointing to pay for a flight and end up not getting the job you interviewed for, but I think it makes sense to expect interested candidates to pay for their own travel," Miller said in an e-mail. "It's one of the first ways you can demonstrate how serious you are about working for a company. I also understand that it's an easy line item on a budget to eliminate."
Mark St Clair paid for a flight, and once for a hotel and train fare, for jobs he didn't get. He told AOL Jobs that he paid about $600 to fly for a job interview, and $150 for an Amtrak ticket and $75 for a hotel to interview with a consulting company in Jacksonville, Fla. The poor job market forced him to do it, he said.
"What convinced me to pay was the job market created by the economic conditions," he said in an e-mail. "Employers have us over a barrel; they can get away with it so they'll do it. I just could not see giving up the chance for a rare in-person interview, as it is SO HARD to get a face-to-face meeting; you often have to make it through three to four phone interviews to get an in-person interview. I hate it. But what are my choices? They have a long line of other candidates willing to do it if I don't."
Another job candidate, Kiana Jackson, had been trying for years to get a job in Los Angeles and felt "if I didn't take the chance and go for it" by paying $600 for a flight from Boston, she wouldn't get an opportunity like it again, she told AOL Jobs in an e-mail. Jackson also paid for cab rides to and from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where she was hired as an assistant manager of the front office.
Helen Phung also volunteered to pay for her flight for a job interview, but got off easy with a $150 flight from Los Angeles to San Franciso.
"Sure, the recession had much to do with my eagerness," Phung, whogot the job, said in an e-mail. "I also knew I would be interviewing with a 'scrappy' startup that wouldn't cover a flight. But also, finding an ideal fit and satisfaction had more to do with my decision to fly rather than the economy."
She went on a hunch and it paid off. In a recession, that's a good payoff for such a gamble.