Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Ask the Administrator: Self-Paid Interview Travel?
I've found myself in a little conundrum lately. I was contacted last week that I got an interview for a community college job I applied to in the Spring. I'm assuming this job starts in September, since that's when their school year starts. Today, I got an email with interview times, which were all next week... My problem is that this interview is across the country, and flights at this time are $500. I assume I'll be paying that since there was no mention of reimbursement. That's quite an investment for a 1-hour interview! I'm very nervous about this, since the only possibilities are that this would be the first in a string of interviews (so more $500 flights) or they're basing their whole decision on just 1 hour! This is a full time tenure track position, so that seems unlikely. I very interested in this job, since it would involve some awesome teaching possibilities. But I'm not quite sure how to proceed and be professional about this. I'm willing to pay for travel, but only if I stand a chance.
Ugh. I know budgets are tight – believe me, I live it every single day – but paying reasonable airfare (by which I mean 'coach') for tenure-track candidates just strikes me as a basic, minimal professional courtesy. Hiring (potentially) permanent employees is a high-risk proposition, since a good hire pays you back for a long time and a lousy hire can be an organizational migraine. Laying out a couple thousand upfront in travel reimbursements – and thereby vastly broadening your applicant pool – is money very well spent, if you have any ability at all as a talent scout. You'll get it back, and so much more, in a stronger faculty, over time.
My first thought is that just because they didn't mention reimbursement doesn't mean they won't do it. Call the HR department there and ask specifically about it. Sometimes they'll reimburse up to a certain amount, sometimes they'll reimburse entire costs, and sometimes they won't pay you anything but they might arrange for someone to pick you up at the airport (if that needs to be done). I've heard of colleges (cough) that won't volunteer the fact that they reimburse, but that will reimburse if asked directly. It strikes me as weaselly, but there it is.
It's not unheard of for colleges to conduct 'airport interviews' for the first round. Typically, they'll get some space either in or very close to an airport, and interview 6-8 candidates for maybe an hour each, intending to call back two or three for full-day, on-campus interview gauntlets. It's a relatively time-efficient way to do a first in-person screen, even if there's something vaguely surreal about it. (Full disclosure: back when I was trying to escape Proprietary U, I had an airport interview for a gig at a quirky college in a quirky and distant place. Flying out and back on the same day is a weird experience. As it happened, I made it to the next round but didn't get the job.) As technologies like Skype become more refined and more common, and airfare more expensive, I wouldn't be surprised to see airport interviews give way to video interviews, although I don't think we're there yet.
If the HR department responds that yes, they'll pay you back, then congratulations. If they decline, then you have a decision to make. It's typically not the case that a college will pay for some applicants and not others; usually, they either pay or they don't. So don't take it as a personal affront. But five hundred bucks is five hundred bucks, especially if you're living on grad student money.
At Proprietary U, I saw a candidate hired who had to pay his own airfare for the interview. So it has happened, though it was certainly a gamble on his part.
I suspect emotions run high on this one, so I'll throw it open to my wise and worldly readers. Voices of the blogosphere, what do you think?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
But I once made the mistake of paying my airfare to a job, and I'll never ever do it again.
If they're were seriously interested in me and my skills, they would have paid the airfare. I managed to negotiate part payment.
Otherways, they're wasting your time and money for their benefit.
(This was as a lawyer though)
I would suggest posing it as a question: How do I arrange my airfare reimbursement?
But I once made the mistake of paying my airfare to a job, and I'll never ever do it again.
If they're were seriously interested in me and my skills, they would have paid the airfare. I managed to negotiate part payment but ended up cursing my stupidity.
They wasted my time and money for their benefit.
As for a strategy - I would suggest posing it as a question: How do I arrange my airfare reimbursement?
It sucked and meant that we NEVER (in my time there) attracted candidates from outside of a driving distance of about 3 hours.
That said, I drove 5 hours each way to interview and got the job. But, it was for the full-day treatment.
**I made them change this policy when hiring to replace me. All candidates were taken to either lunch or dinner.
Four years ago, when I was finishing graduate school, I got an interview from a college in the Northeast that essentially said "Hi, we're very impressed by your application and would like to invite you to the campus for an interview. The available dates for an interview are [insert dates here]. We'll also be glad to reimburse up to $400 for travel and hotel expenses."
The cheapest flight that I could find was about $450 (and that wasn't a flight out of Grad School City. Oh no, no, no...that was out of the Major International Airport which was a 4.5 hour drive away!). Living on grad school money, there was simply no way that I could spend that kind of money without being fully reimbursed. After asking my department chair for funding to defray the remainder of the costs (that request was denied, which was the right thing for the department to do), I replied to the e-mail saying that I simply can't fly out and stay at a hotel for under $400, and that money was extremely tight, so I'm afraid I'll have to decline the interview.
About 40 minutes later, I got a reply, essentially saying "Good news! We can fund up to $800 of your travel expenses!" My gut instinct told me that this college was an absolute joke, and my gut was proved right during the interview. I got turned down, but I wouldn't have taken the job, anyway.
By the way, I have recently interviewed for a government position. All of my costs were paid upfront: flight, hotel (a Mariott!!) and meals (in the form of vouchers that easily covered over 90% of the actual meal cost). Academia could learn a thing or two from Uncle Sam about how to treat applicants.
The school who did eventually hire me allowed me to do my teaching presentation over the phone. Nerve wracking, but more conversational than a typical teaching demo. I was able to arrange my second interview with the trip paid for by NY. Then my final interview I did with video conferencing (or ITV at my campus). I had to pay 150 bucks out of pocket for that. Another person at my institution drove half way across the country for his interview on his own dime. I think that it's standard that community colleges do not help pay for travel. And honestly, I think that my students benefit from hearing a different perspective. Most of our American-born faculty come from about 3 different colleges, and 2 of those are where most of our students go after their time with us.
I would never take a job at a school that did not pay for these costs. Why? Because you know they are already in fiscally hard times.
Of course, I speak from the seat of already having a TT job. But even in grad school, I never would have done it. I would have found a job outside of academia first.
Whatever the reason behind a school not covering travel expenses, it can't bode well. I would not cover my own costs again unless it was just for the hell of it, out of morbid curiosity or the desire to just get out of town for a few days.
What's the best case scenario here? You pay hundreds of dollars and get offered a job at an institution that has already demonstrated they are incredibly tightfisted (or underfunded) even when they are trying to impress you. Do you think if they can't give you $500 for travel they are going to pony up a decent salary, appropriate raises, and the funding you need to teach well?
I strongly believe that reimbursing candidates for travel is the only acceptable way to do things. Anything else is unfair, especially to candidates for whom the travel is more expensive because they have longer trips. And I believe that the "We'll pay if you ask, but we won't offer" is worse than weaselly; it raises the possibility that, if you ask for reimbursement, they will reduce their interest in you.
Just another "minor fiduciary inconvenience" academics are supposed to not mind due to their love of their field, their students, and their academic freedom?
They may not have mentioned it b/c an earlier model of CC teaching was largely local.
If they're imagining investing in you as a salaried employee for many years, they should take the risk up front to pay $1000 to check you out.
Or find a place where you can videoconference.
But, again, as others have said, do NOT go on your own dime.
An anguished Mighty Favog
I'm not saying that we're doing fine because they didn't pay for travel I'm saying that there are lots of reasons schools won't pay for travel. Lack of money or lack of seriousness in hiring are only a couple.
[I have one colleague who was interviewing from Australia for US jobs; he did offer to pay for a trip, but organised all interviews to occur during one trip. Conversely, though, I got one interview offer in Australia and they did not quibble about paying travel (sadly, I then got an R01 and decided I was not leaving the US, and couldn't bring myself to take the trip on their dime without the chance of accepting!)]
So, ask--remember, the odds are long, even after the best of interviews.
If there are plenty of applicants, why pay to exapnd the pool?
If there are few jobs, why not pay your own way?
I have made choices to always be in a short-supply career field.
So no, I never pay.
But if I were majoring in some long-supply field, yep, I would expect to have to pay out of pocket 100%.
NOBODY OWES YOU A JOB
should've studied something that would make a contribution to the quality of life of your fellow cognating mammalian biped
So, to answer the original question, I would only pay my own way if I really wanted the job for some reason. I would definitely ask just in case they do, too. Good luck!
Honestly, I'd be more annoyed by the really late interviews given that the new semester starts in just 2 months (but that's just a general gripe about interviewing season).
I'm astounded that any place would need 3 separate visits as part of their search. That suggests a lack of administrative organization. I wonder how well run that place is by other measures.
I actually had two invitations to interview - with 1 week's notice - only on 1 day, that happened to be a day that I was going to be in Japan. They would not reschedule. They wouldn't have reimbursed anyway. I decided that they were probably not good employers and were unlikely to have hired top quality candidates in the past.
You need to find out more. Calling HR is good advice, because they are (probably) not connected to people who's opinions you need to sway.
One: if they won't reimburse, what makes you think they'll cover moving expenses. Some CCs will not as policy. Would you foot that bill for this job?
Two: EVERY position has adjuncts at that school applying to it. The dept. may or may not want to hire them full time. But even if they do, they will be required to interview other candidates.
Anecdote: I recently flew from my coast to the other one for an all-day+ on-campus at a private 4-year. Unfortunately, the school already had someone in the position who's contract mandated he re-apply to continue his own job. I.e. the job was not really open. Fortunately, that school had a large budget and footed all the costs plus 4 meals.
It's usually impossible to know those things. But, if there's any way you can glean information about the possibility that they are honestly considering you as a candidate, it might affect your decision to spend your own money. It's just an unfortunate reality of higher ed being unsure how to respond to regulations meant to encourage fair hiring.
That being said, I recently visited with two older relatives (both retired professors from prestigious universities). They were quite shocked when I told them I'd paid for all of my interview expenses thus far out of my own pocket (with no income since my fellowship ended upon graduation). One trip alone cost me $250, which included room, meals, and fuel.
I wish I were fortunate enough to be reimbursed for my rapidly accumulating expenses as I try to find a job, but that's simply not a possibility at my level.
A close friend of mine, who is studying for an undergraduate business degree, was wined and dined as part of the interview process for summer internships. This summer alone, she's making more money through this internship than I made in one year as a GA. I won't even talk about the additional "training" she received at a great tourist location several thousand miles away. Obviously, many of us in education (and higher ed) chose the wrong field.