Wednesday, June 11, 2008

 

Ask the Administrator: Self-Paid Interview Travel?

A new correspondent writes:

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?

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


Comments:
I'm not in an academic field.

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?
 
I'm not in an academic field (lawyer in a jurisdictin where the lawyers aren't as highly priced in the states)

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?
 
My old CC in Iowa didn't pay any travel. Heck, for a few years we didn't even give people a meal while they were there.**

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.
 
Any university or college that won't reimburse candidates for all reasonable interview costs (i.e. flight, hotel, and meals) is simply not serious about their search.

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.
 
I was on the CC job market two years ago. I was a post-doc at Iowa State and I wanted to move to the East Coast. I applied to every CC with an opening outside of Philly, Boston, NY state, and Northern NJ. Only the one school in NY state offered any kind of travel. They paid for my flight and that was it. Every other school who got in touch with me (about 6) made it very clear that there was no money at all for travel. In fact one school would not interview me because I was not local. In fact that's the school in my home county now that we've moved here.

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.
 
Whoa! You've got to be kidding me. Schools don't pay for the costs associated with interview travel? I've never heard of such a thing. Maybe I'm just lucky, but every job interview I've had has been paid for. The ones that I flew to bought my tickets up front; the ones that I drove to sent me a mileage check.

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.
 
Hmmm. It strikes me that maybe what's going on here is that the CC's interview practices reflect a history in which they haven't really interviewed long-distance candidates. I think that RJ's suggestion about posing reimbursement as a question is a good first step - which will then allow them to clarify whether reimbursement is really on the table. If they say no dice, you might ask whether there is a further step in the process that would require you to make a second trip out for a day-long campus visit. If so, you might emphasize your interest in the position, and suggest that this hour-long interview be taken care of by phone, as you wouldn't have the money to make two such trips. You'll have an even stronger case if you're currently teaching, as you could argue something like, "I'd hate to cancel class at the last minute and have this affect my current students," or something. It strikes me that a phone interview would be a reasonable substitute for a screening interview, and that it would be outrageous for you to drop $500 at this initial stage for one interview at one school, if indeed it is an initial stage. It seems like an awfully big chunk of change to drop for a job that you may not even really be in the running for (inside candidate or local candidate who all but has it in the bag, etc.).
 
I'm an academic librarian, who has interviewed at large state universities and at community colleges. I interviewed at one school that did not cover travel costs, because it gave me an excuse to take a brief vacation to visit a city where I had friends. I didn't hold out much hope for the interview and I was right. It's not that they weren't taking the interview seriously, but that the school was impoverished, and yet the staff did not seem to recognize just how awful their fiscal situation was. It was a sad, miserable little school in a sad, miserable part of town. I knew before I left the interview that I could never accept the job, and was relieved when they did not make me an offer.

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.
 
If they are going to make you pay for your own travel - you should check; it may be assumed that you will be reimbursed - then do not go. At least in my field, it is customary for the institution to pay for the cost of recruiting visits even for grad students (and postdocs). Interviewing has inevitable costs - professional attire, preparation time, and the inevitable unreimbursable financials (some meals, often gas) - but they should not include airfare.

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?
 
My favorite was this. I was offered an interview at a school in Seattle. The deal was they'd pay travel if they offered and I accepted or if they didn't make an offer. I got to pay if they offered and I declined. Since I had just received a (barely acceptable) offer, I said no, thanks.

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.
 
The fact that this is even a question is evidence of what an employment-ghetto academia is. Corporate and goverment hiring practices both assume that if they want to interview you in person, they will cover the costs of getting you there (including hotel and meals).

Just another "minor fiduciary inconvenience" academics are supposed to not mind due to their love of their field, their students, and their academic freedom?
 
If they won't pay, don't go.

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.
 
In a perfect world, all would receive reimbursement offers and timely responses to position applications. But this is not a perfect world. Travel reimbursement is the exception in my part of nation, not the standard. It it fair? No. Should you inquire anyway? Yes, in the professional ways outlined by the above previous respondents. If no money is forthcoming, should you bow out? Only your conscious and good sense can determine that answer. I have been in the two year college game for a long time and this is one of our shared unpleasant shortcomings.

An anguished Mighty Favog
kskkioy
 
I don't agree with the suggestion that a college that will not reimburse for interview travel expenses must be having hard financial times. At my CC, this reimbursement only began a few years ago, and is still only available for certain positions, but it's not because of hard financial times. It's a policy decision that I think has more to do with our general hiring practices than with finances. That's not to say that our hiring practices shouldn't give a candidate pause--maybe they should, maybe they shouldn't--but I don't think that financial trouble is a safe assumption to make based on a lack of travel reimbursement.
 
CCs that cannot cover reasonable interview related expenses due to "fiscal difficulties" should not be hiring in the first place. Others should change their policy.
 
Back in the mid 90s when I made the on-campus interview stage for two California community college jobs it seemed to be policy not to pay any interview travel expenses. I was local, so it was not a huge deal, but I remember talking about it with friends at the institutions, and they all said that was normal. It seemed that doing national searches was new to these institutions. Now I work at an independent high school. We try to do as many Skype interviews as possible, but when we do finally invite candidates to campus we pay for it.
 
The harsh criticism of CCs that don't offer reimbursement is really surprising to me. I come from such a place, and it has been an issue only once or twice in all the years I've served on hiring committees. The other CCs in the area don't reimburse, either, so we aren't an isolated case. I think several posters have nailed it when they say that most of our candidates are local (within 150 miles). Occasionally, someone from out of state will decline an interview because of the expense, but not often. Anyone who would blanket refuse to pay their own expenses is making a short-sighted decision, I think--if you really are interested in that particular job, especially in fields where jobs are hard to come by, it's worth the expense. For a job that you're less enthralled with--sure, take a pass. We don't ask candidates to interview unless they are strong to start with, and we make sure to schedule second interviews the day after the first so that no matter what, there's only one trip. And I can assure those posters who seem to think that colleges that don't pay "aren't serious," I can assure you that we take our process very seriously and typically make really fantastic hires. So I guess you're right, DD, emotions do run high on either side of this issue!
 
I'm hearing an awful lot of absolute statements about colleges that people have never been to: ("if college X won't pay for travel they're going down fiscally and/or are not serious about their hiring"). I interviewed at two schools before I was offered a job. The first paid for my travel. They were terrible, and are now in deep fiscal trouble. The second didn't pay for travel but did start things out with a phone interview so that by the time I was paying for travel I was at least on the short list. I was offered the job, I took the job and we're doing just fine fiscally.
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.
 
Definitely in the 'clarify, but don't go on your own money.' Unless you *really* want this particular job for some reason. But universally, places I went that had oddities with reimbursement - one even denied train fare! - were either not serious, or very messed-up, or both.

[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!)]
 
When I was a starving adjunct in the Pacific Northwest, I was asked to interview at a CC in California and pay my own way for a three-part interview -- on three separate trips. There were nine candidates. My dean said they weren't serious about me and I'd waste my money to pay for more than one flight. HR wouldn't budge, saying most of their candidates were local and hadn't complained. When I declined, they called back a week later saying they'd compressed the interviews to two trips. I'd already gotten an offer from elsewhere.
 
I've ended up paying for more interview trips than were reimbursed or paid for up front; a couple of the latter were only supplied because I asked the department secretaries--VERY nicely--if, maybe, I'd missed some mention of reimbursement.

So, ask--remember, the odds are long, even after the best of interviews.
 
Market forces should rule.

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
 
Is everyone here still talking about CCs? In my experience, the majority of CCs do not pay for travel expenses. I have seen a few, but not many. When I applied, I did apply to CCs where I would have to fly, and knew going in that if I got an interview, I would be willing to pay my own way (I didn't get the interview, so it's moot). In fact, many job announcements specifically state that they do not reimburse travel.

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).
 
A 300 mile round trip isn't quite as cheap as it used to be!

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'm intrigued by the comments that CCs which don't pay for travel are operating under an older model of hiring, where candidates were expected to be local. All well and good, but what is it saying about a school's commitment to diversity if it is still assuming that candidates will either be local, or will have the financial wherewithal to fund their own travel? A candidate who could be a great contribution to the school could be washed out of the process. Just because it's always been done this way doesn't mean it's right.
 
I've been there and worse.

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.
 
As an educator, I'm currently searching for a job in the K-12 bracket and I'm strongly considering higher ed after I obtain some experience at this level.

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.
 
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?