Should I pay to fly to an interview?
March 8, 2006 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Should I pay to fly across the country for a job interview?

I am graduating in May with a Master's in library science, and I want to work in a public library. Preferably a public library not in the southeast; I like the immediate area, but the competition is very fierce, and I'm not so fond of most of the rest of the region. Most public libraries in the rest of the country can't afford to fly me out for an interview.

Now one wants me to fly out for an interview; it'll put me back $500, and I could swing it, barely. It seems like a lot to gamble--but it also seems like my one chance of finding a job in an area I really like. (Yeah, I do know that I can't be super picky when it comes to my first job). What to do?
posted by Jeanne to Work & Money (32 answers total)
I have a policy of never paying money to get an interview. If an employer is serious about their candidates, they'll fly them out. If they're that broke that they can't afford $500 (not even by lowering your potential salary that much), then I would be very concerned as far as my future financial dealings with them go.
posted by Jairus at 6:30 PM on March 8, 2006

Are there any other libraries that you might be able to get an interview at as well? If you're just graduating and can only barely swing $500 then I would suggest hedging your bets that way or waiting until it's less risky. I actually read yesterday that librarian will be one of the top 5 most in demand professions in the next few years, so worst case scenario, you should only have to wait a little while for your dream job.

By the way, librarians are hot.
posted by dobie at 6:31 PM on March 8, 2006

Public libraries probably aren't really well funded so they're more likely to ask you to pay for your flight than say Microsoft. Could you see about at least having them meet you half way? They pony up $250.00 and you pony up the other $250.00? It would show comittment on the part of both parties and neither of you would be out the entire sum if things don't work out.

The other option is to take Greyhound, I've friends who swore by flying the Greyhound skies for nationwide travel before they could afford flights.
posted by substrate at 6:38 PM on March 8, 2006

This is normal, and annoying for the profession, requiring people to pay the costs of their own interviews. Most public libraries do this for all but their top positions and it's lousy. I've known people who flew out thinking they were THE top candidate for the job, basically getting a second interview, and wound up not getting the job. I'm also not sold on the librarian shortage, for what it's worth.

That said, I don't have much advice. If you think you're a good fit for the job, I'd try to lump the interview in with some other travel, take Greyhound, stay with friends, or simply tell the school that you can't get away for the length of time possible to fly, stay, fly home, and see if they can give you a phone interview, at least at first. I know many studsents who have gotten hired primarily through phone interviews, or with phone interviews combined with a meeting at a conference. maybe you could see if they're going to ALA and offer to meet them there in June, or even PLA in a few weeks March (if you're going to that, look me up, I'll be there) and then you could at least combine conferencing and other job hunting with your interview. I know everyone isn't like me, but I would never fly across the country for an interview for any reason. I think the practice of expecting students to do that sucks.
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 PM on March 8, 2006

It has been my experience that if the employer is interested enough, they'll give you a phone interview - or series of phone interviews. If you find that you are then a finalist for your dream job, then consider flying across the country. Otherwise, it's not worth it. Make sure the interest is there before you make a move.
posted by meerkatty at 7:29 PM on March 8, 2006

Go for it. See if you can find a cheaper way to get there (bus? Amtrak? Different airline?) and go for it.

Otherwise you might sit around for the rest of your natural life and wonder "What if I just went for it..." and soon enough we'll all be watching a Lifetime movie about it.

Just do it!
posted by drstein at 7:36 PM on March 8, 2006

Talk to Joey Michaels about doing a webcam interview?

Working out that, or the phone thing, seems like your best bet. $500 is serious business, as you no doubt know. They probably do too.
posted by SuperNova at 7:39 PM on March 8, 2006

dobie: where did you read that stat about in-demand librarians?
posted by chudmonkey at 7:50 PM on March 8, 2006

I've also known people who have gotten job offers at library conferences, or who started off with a phone interview. I really do think it is a shame that public libraries are expecting people to pay for their own travel, even if the libraries don't have a whole bunch of money. I interviewed for academic library positions all over the place, and I never had to pay for my flights. In a couple cases, I bought the plane ticket but was reimbursed for the full amount.
posted by gnat at 7:53 PM on March 8, 2006

You just have to answer the question honestly: "is this job worth $500 to me?" I've often spent money on things like this and never regretted it. It is the cost of doing business.

If nothing else, your commitment in being prepared to spend the $$ to take the interview should impress them. As a hedge, it might be worth calling up the person who's in charge and having a chat along the lines of '$500 is a lot to me but if I'm seriously in with a chance here I'll be happy to come along'.

I also second the idea of Greyhounding it if necessary.
posted by unSane at 8:10 PM on March 8, 2006

It's tax deductible, for crying out loud (but talk to your tax guy, obviously). If you want the job, show them that you want it by flying there. I've done it, and got the job. Best $500 I spent that year.

Employers want to know not only if you've got the skills and talent necessary, but that you've got the commitment and enthusiasm for that particular job that will make you excellent when you're there doing it. If you're not willing to fly to them on your own dime, why should they believe that you'll be willing to put your all into the job?

Just do it.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:40 PM on March 8, 2006

I don't think that you'll get very far trying to get a library to change their hiring process, and just asking them if you're a serious contender has very little chance of getting an accurate answer, especially if the library actually has an HR person, who would be trained to tell you as little as possible.

I would make this decision based on the quality of the entire opportunity as you perceive it; since you are interested in the town, would you be able to have the quality of life you're looking for at the bottom end of the salary range they're offering?

You should also seriously consider what kind of a library it is that's got you contemplating a $500 wager. If they are already doing some things that are exciting or interesting to you, the potential payoff of getting to do cool stuff may be worth the risk. If they're just coasting down status quo lane (sporting a 1997-style website), the risk becomes less appealing.
posted by ulotrichous at 8:50 PM on March 8, 2006

In this day and age? Your first set of interviews should be by phone or (preferably) videoconference. If you can't drum up the equipment to do it on your own computer, go talk to Kinko's.

When and if you have assured yourself that you actually want to work for these people, then invest in a plane ticket for a final round of interviews.
posted by tkolar at 8:53 PM on March 8, 2006

Greyhound & Amtrack. Yecch. Is the money you save worth the days it will take to cross the country and back, as opposed to the hours it will take to fly? Even when I didn't have much money I would have paid $500 to avoid spending a week cooped up in a bus or train.

Maybe consider the interview part of a vacation, part of a way to explore the area you're thinking of moving to.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:15 PM on March 8, 2006

$500? Where are you flying from, and where are you going? I can't imagine any domestic flight costing that much if you just do a little price-hunting.

I agree with whoever said you should ask them to do a phone interview instead, or at least in addition to a normal interview. Be candid with them about the fact that a flight would be really, really expensive, and you want to be at least a finalist before you commit to travel.
posted by apple scruff at 9:30 PM on March 8, 2006

If you and the library are willing to have you fly out sometime that is not within the next 3 weeks, you should have no trouble finding a round trip fare for much less than $500 (though you need to also consider hotel stay)...

Where are you flying from/to? Do you have friends near the destination who you can stay with? Can your parents help you out a bit with the flight, perhaps?

I'd never pay to fly for a job interview - but I think you're in a unique situation here since it's with a public library... Question is - will you be able to live on whatever meager salary they'll pay you? Clearly it won't be a lot since they can't pay $500 to fly you out.
posted by twiggy at 11:20 PM on March 8, 2006

i applied for a job once and after a phone interview, they asked me to fly to the west coast for an in-person interview. this was just after graduating college and i was dirt-poor. (like, workin' for tips in a cafe so that i could scrounge up a free lunch from the leftovers poor.)

anyway no way from sunday did i have the $500 to fly out there.. i thought long and hard about it and then called the nice lady back and said that i really, really would like to interview but i couldn't find the cash, but if they could pay for the flight i'd be there in a heartbeat. she basically said 'don't hold your breath,' and i thought that was that.

unexpectedly, a few days later she called me up and said that she'd spoke to her boss and they'd reimburse me for the flight. so that was cool - and i went and interviewed and got the job and it all turned out great. this was a techy job in the bay area right as the dot-com bubble was bursting and everyone was getting laid off, and i found out after that they got something like 130 applications for the position.

so anyway the point is, even if the competition is fierce, all policies are flexible. if you had a good first interview (or you can do one over the phone before you have to fly there) they very well might be willing to bend the rules for you. so, ask them to. don't go sob-story but be straightforward and you might just get what you ask for!
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:58 AM on March 9, 2006

PLA is coming up. Any way you can convince them to meet you there? Multiple birds with one stone: interview with them, possibly interview with other libraries, check out the conference as a whole.
posted by Carol O at 4:19 AM on March 9, 2006

By the way, it might be normal for public libraries to require people to pay for the costs of their own interviews, but conventional wisdom says to stay away from academic (or special) libraries that do the same.
posted by Carol O at 4:23 AM on March 9, 2006

Or what jessamyn and gnat said above. Sigh.
posted by Carol O at 4:26 AM on March 9, 2006

You're going to pay $500 to get a first interview for a job that pays, what, $30K/year? Ouch.

Just FYI, you know that there are lots of corporations that want people with an MLS degree to manage their corporate "information" systems, right? And those corps pay a LOT more than public libraries, and they'll fly you out, business class. (This is what dobie means when s/he says top 5 in-demend professions.) But it's already happening, the jobs are listed. And since the minimum requirements for them all include a MLS degree, there isn't a huge supply of candidates. Screw public libraries (in a nice way, I love libraries).
posted by jellicle at 5:42 AM on March 9, 2006

Most city/state government jobs would not fly you in for an interview. Unless you are applying for an upper management job. I flew in from Spain twice for my current job with a municipality, once for the second interview and the second time for a drug test. Well 3 times if you consider actually returning to start work too. The minor investment of $1300 was worth it to be employed. But this was done with almost a 99% chance of getting the job. Plus I got the dubious benefit of lots of air miles!

As has been previously mentioned by meerkatty and gnat, try to get them to accept a phone interview. It would be unheard of them to not accept that. Especially if your qualifications are very good. Obviously a second or final interview should be done in person and you should be willing to bite the costs of that.
posted by JJ86 at 6:17 AM on March 9, 2006

Employers want to know not only if you've got the skills and talent necessary, but that you've got the commitment and enthusiasm for that particular job that will make you excellent when you're there doing it. If you're not willing to fly to them on your own dime, why should they believe that you'll be willing to put your all into the job?

Boy, what an annoying response. Here's how I translate it:

Employers want to know not only if you'll bend over once they've got you under their thumb, but that you've got the lack of self-respect to volunteer to get fucked even when you don't have to. If you're not willing to fly to them on your own dime, why should they believe that you'll be a completely subservient flunky once you get the job?

Listen to the people who actually have experience in this field, especially (as usual) jessamyn. Don't spend money you can't afford to lose, and don't work for anybody who doesn't treat you with respect from the start, because it will only get worse.
posted by languagehat at 6:41 AM on March 9, 2006

I have no advice about whether you should or shouldn't fly out to an interview on your own dime. For the record, I'd probably do it. But the PLA suggestion seems like the best one so far.

My only real suggestion is to download DING! from southwest and subscribe to other specials-by-email services from other airlines. DING usually offers sales for less than $100 each way. Sometimes as low as $39 each way.
posted by necessitas at 6:43 AM on March 9, 2006

chudmonkey: here.

Maybe 'in demand' isn't quite right, more like 'a shortage of'.
posted by dobie at 6:53 AM on March 9, 2006

I would say no, don't pay that much for a flight to interview. I have had a number of interviews out of state, and in each case, the prospective employer flew me out. Usually this was after a series of phone interviews where they built their confidence up that spending the money to fly me out was a good risk.

If you think you're torpedoed in saying that, consider the Greyhound route. $500 is a little steep, but if you're going hub-city to hub-city it can be that high. I have yet to find a fare on Amtrak that I couldn't beat with a plane ticket for a little more searching.

Oh, and yes, it *is* tax deductible, as JekPorkins said, but only if your total business expenses exceed 2% of your Adjusted Gross Income at the end of the year.
posted by TeamBilly at 7:25 AM on March 9, 2006

Since you're still in school, talk to both the career/guidance counselling office as well as the head of your degree department. Most universities want their graduates to be placed in good jobs (its an enormous advertisement), and therefore someone in there can usually be leaned upon to scrounge up at least a partial investment in this area; especially if your degree is smaller/more specialized.
posted by iurodivii at 8:29 AM on March 9, 2006

I wouldn't do it, not for a public library job. My experience (vicariously via friends from library school) is that the process takes forever and requires many, many visits to get things right. And once you're there, things are not coordinated well.

Imagine flying out only to have to deal with a bureaucratic hassle as people try to slam your interview together in the last minute. Ungh! Some of the horror stories I've heard make my academic librarian job seem streamlined by comparison.

N+1 on trying for PLA instead. You could make a lot of contacts and net a few quick interviews there if you plan ahead.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:31 AM on March 9, 2006

Thank you very much, you've been really helpful, all of you.

I'll probably go ahead and see if I can arrange a phone interview; PLA sounds like a good idea, but it's pretty last-minute and I feel anxious about taking that much time off of school/work. (This is also the reason Greyhound isn't an option--it would take a whole week to get me there and back). But there is ALA in June if I haven't found a job by then, and I'll be able to afford it if I don't spend the money on flying cross-country.

(Hi Jessamyn! We haven't met, but I saw you when you gave your talk at UNC last year!)
posted by Jeanne at 12:27 PM on March 9, 2006

Good luck, whatever you decide to do. If I were in your shoes, I would push as hard as I could for a phone interview. They should understand that someone just coming out of school doesn't have the cash to pay for such a huge expense/gamble. If your qualifications are good and they're seriously considering you, they should be willing to accomodate. If they're not willing to do that, you probably wouldn't have had a great shot to begin with. Do you mind telling us which city it was?
posted by booknerd at 2:12 PM on March 9, 2006

I am in the tech sector, but I don't work for a huge company, and no way would I pay to fly to an interview. I realize others have said this is normal for libraries, but I think it's a crappy precedence to set. Personally, I'd just have the guts to say this: How serious are you about hiring me? If I had had several phone interviews, and they were obviously very serious about ME PERSONALLY, I might consider it, but I doubt if, even then, I would want to work for an employer who didn't think enough of me to take care of me in this way... That's my opinion...
posted by jwhowa at 3:22 PM on March 9, 2006


After looking into flight+Amtrak combinations to make things a little bit cheaper, and getting a letter from the library saying I was in their top 5, and getting another letter from them that sounded like they really wanted to interview me, I decided to go for it. Hey, it's a California vacation after I finish my master's paper, and I can take a day off to work in something fun to do.

It's a small town somewhere in the central valley between Fresno and Bakersfield (don't want to get more specific than that), where the median income is quite low, and I can believe that they don't have a spare $500 anywhere in their budget.

And yes, I know it's likely to be, if anything, less exciting than the southeast. I'm actually fine with that.
posted by Jeanne at 12:21 PM on March 20, 2006

« Older Is it standard practice to interview local job...   |   How to talk about money with my spouse. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.