Is it ok to ask for a phone interview rather than face to face if you have a legit reason?
May 23, 2009 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Is it alright to ask for a phone interview instead of face to face because of the large distance between where I live and a possible job?

I applied for a paid internship that's in San Francisco; I'm in San Diego. Here's the link to the job: (it may be expiring soon). I put myself down for the Reporting Internship.

If I get called to schedule an interview, do recruiters seriously those who want to do their job interview over the phone seriously?

Last time I did this (I've been trying to get a job and move to SF), I had to book a last minute plane ticket for $220, round trip. I didn't get the job obviously and that impacted my wallet a little harder than I would have liked. I drive a gas guzzler, so I'd save only about $50 if I drive, but I'd have to reschedule/cancel some of my current jobs (free-lance journalism, web copyediting) in order to set aside time for the 8 hour drive.

This company had a call for interns for these exact positions last December. It's a 6 month cycle. I applied then, and when I did a follow-up email just to get an interview, they said that they were busy going through the 300 applications at the time.

I want to beat out those 1 in 75 odds, but I also don't want to drop work and another $160-220 for a long shot. For those of you who have gone through this sort of thing on the other side- collecting applications, sorting through them, making choices on who gets interview and hired, is it in my best interest to just suck it up and go to SF if I get an interview?
posted by Jason Land to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Two sides to the coin. If you shell-out the cash and time to go see them, and they're aware of this, it should show that you're seriously interested and not just someone dropping resumes everywhere. It may be worth it to inquire if they'll pick up the tab, which would show that they're serious about bringing you on board. That said, I see no reason why either side would object to a quick phone interview before incurring any expense, especially now.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:14 AM on May 23, 2009

I'm no expert, but I think you'd be okay if you just told them this:

This company had a call for interns for these exact positions last December. It's a 6 month cycle. I applied then, and when I did a follow-up email just to get an interview, they said that they were busy going through the 300 applications at the time.

I want to beat out those 1 in 75 odds, but I also don't want to drop work and another $160-220 for a long shot.

If you get the phone call asking you to come in, that's what you tell them. If they're any kind of firm you want to work for, they'll take you seriously. It also shows you've got your stick on the ice, a good sign for any potential employee. Offer a phone interview, an online interview with webcam, or to head out there when you're not bogged down in urgent projects so that you have food on your plate. You're offering a mutually satisfactory solution, and a decent employer both appreciates that and will meet you halfway.
posted by saysthis at 10:16 AM on May 23, 2009

The "organization" and the people/person with influence as far as recruiting are different entities, in most cases. That is, I recruit for our clinic, but my criteria for who we look at are never addressed by phone. In most cases, if the CV passes muster, the phone call will to. BUT, in person I have seen marginal candidates become stars and people who looked good on paper and sounded good on the phone become radioactive after a 30 minute interview. I can't imagine finding out anything over the phone that a CV wouldn't tell me. Face to face evals are far too critical and I would suspect if there's any competition at all you'll be dismissed from consideration unless your resume somehow makes you look like a real catch.
posted by docpops at 10:29 AM on May 23, 2009

looks like a bus fare is about 150 RT on Greyhound, as miserable as that may sound.
posted by docpops at 10:32 AM on May 23, 2009

Having just gone through this on the employer side, I know that we had to turn down such a phone interview request because we had not offered that option to the other finalists. I have no idea if your potential employer has any such policies in place, however.

Also, we didn't think any less of that applicant. We understood that they would have to spend a significant amount of money with no guarantee of any benefit. We were just sorry that we couldn't consider them for the job.
posted by bibliowench at 10:35 AM on May 23, 2009

A face to face is always better but if you explain your situation, that may be taken into account. Let them know you are serious and willing to relocate if you were to get the job, but the distance and expense of an interview is only possible with a reasonable chance of getting the job. If you have a webcam and the recruiter/interviewer does also, you can set up a remote "face to face".
posted by vitallywell at 10:40 AM on May 23, 2009

Turn it around. if they have 75 applicants for every 1 opening, they're looking for a reason to eliminate 74 applicants for each job. If I have two equally good candidates on my desk, and I can meet one of them and I can't meet the other, you've just given me a reason to eliminate you. Now I just need to find a way to eliminate 73 more.
posted by willnot at 10:45 AM on May 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Push for a webcam interview via iChat, skype, etc. Recently landed me a job on the other side of the country. It does not make up for an the intimacy of an in-person interview, but a good happy medium, and will probably be a standard hiring practice soon enough. If you do do this, be sure to position the camera slightly higher than your face, not too close, and make sure the lighting, background, and audio quality are good (as well as obviously the internet connection).
posted by martini at 11:00 AM on May 23, 2009

As others have said, showing up shows that you're seriously interested. I would try to make it out there if possible.
posted by ishotjr at 11:01 AM on May 23, 2009

If you get the phone call asking you to come in, that's what you tell them. If they're any kind of firm you want to work for, they'll take you seriously.

I would "take this seriously" and consciously try not to penalize the applicant.... but I would also add a mental point to all those who did take the chance and expense of coming in person. I want someone who wants this job, not someone who wants it as long as it's not too much work or too inconvenient.

I'm sorry if it seems cruel, but being more difficult than other applicants, even slightly or for good reasons (missed an interview sick, whatever) is always going to count against you, even if the employers say otherwise.

Go to San Francisco. Make a weekend of it, have fun. It's a great city.
posted by rokusan at 11:07 AM on May 23, 2009

We just did some hiring and had two candidates that lived some distance away. We offered (and conducted) phone interviews for them, and it went ok, but I really believe the phone interviewees were at a disadvantage, even though we all tried to be fair.

For one thing, the phone candidates were unable to see our body language. One candidate, for example, was going on and on in her answer to a question. If she had been at the table, she would have seen us shuffling and looking at our watches. As it was, we were rolling our eyes at each other, and one of us finally had to interrupt her. One phone candidate wouldn't have gotten the job anyway (unqualified), but I think the other one was qualified and may have had a better shot at the position had he come in.

It works the other way, too. The fact that the interviewers can't see the candidate also places them at a disadvantage. As "Blink" reminds us, first impressions are made pretty quickly and they're difficult to counter. If a first impression is that this guy doesn't want the position badly enough to come up and interview for it, that's going to be a strike against you. Also, the interviewers' impressions of you are going to be based on your voice alone - they won't be able to see how you dressed, etc. I'm not saying that's necessary, but it just creates a less memorable impression when they're comparing candidates.

I appreciate the logistic complications in coming up to SF. But remember, it's an employer's market - lots of amazingly qualified candidates are looking for positions now, and there will be other candidates who *will* be at the interview in person, and that will give them a competitive advantage over you. Coming to SF isn't a guarantee, of course, but it does even the playing field.

Knowing that the phone puts me at a disadvantage compared to others who'll be there in person, I personally would not do a phone interview unless I was sure that I had AMAZING qualifications (and maybe even knew some of the interviewers).
posted by jasper411 at 11:50 AM on May 23, 2009

Check out video-conferencing. I'd be impressed with a candidate who said, "Much as I want to interview with your company, the travel time will affect my current freelance work schedule. I can use the video-conferencing at Kinkos. It's IP-based. The number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. " or a similar approach using a web camera or web conference. Test it out beforehand so you really, really know how it works.
posted by theora55 at 12:40 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Every job interview I've had has offered reasonable travel expenses. Will do no harm to ask.
posted by scruss at 3:00 PM on May 23, 2009

As someone who has been on both sides of the table I can say a phone interview can be helpful as an interim step to gauge interest, but it will not replace a face to face interview. For a position like this where there is only one round of interviews I suggest you let them know your concerns, ask how many applicants they are interviewing and assess your strengths and potential to get the job. Then you can make the decision whether to shell out for the trip. There is nothing wrong with asking if they can help with travel costs, but I wouldn't expect it.
posted by meinvt at 6:20 PM on May 23, 2009

Would suggest that you ask for an initial phone interview, so that you and they can suss out if you're going to be a passable fit for each other before you travel up to meet them and they pay for you to travel up to meet them. If they balk at the idea of paying travel expenses for the interview, I'd think that they're either not particularly serious about you, don't have much of a budget to work with, or think making people pay their own traveling expenses is a good way to weed out the wheat from the chaff -- any of which would be a red flag for me.

By way of comparison, when I was moving from Chicago to Los Angeles and set up a job interview with a company (not a hoity-toity one, but a good full-time one at a web consultancy) they flew me out to Los Angeles and paid one night's hotel bill for the second interview after a successful phone interview -- and did so without me having to suggest it. That's reasonable and appropriate, and mirrors your relationship with them (in that you do the work, they pay the cash, whether it's the interview process or actual employment.)
posted by davejay at 8:26 PM on May 23, 2009

Oh, and: it's possible they're not serious about you, don't have much of a budget AND think making you travel on your own dime is a good way to separate (shouldn't have said "weed out" earlier) the wheat from the chaff -- but you want to work there anyway. if so, you're already willing to work for a place like that, so what's an extra couple of hundred dollars traveling expense for you to suck up? (I'm being serious, not snarky; if you get something out of it that makes the other stuff worthwhile, go for the longshot approach.)
posted by davejay at 8:28 PM on May 23, 2009

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