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Preparing for an Interview - Travel Etiquette

In preparing for an interview to a distant location, carefully consider your travel habits. Your travel etiquette--or lack of it--will be noticed by employers.

Seriously?

Trust me. Companies notice things like seeing on the motel bill you ordered late night movies, a vodka and tonic at 1:23AM, or a $53 lunch.

It doesn't matter whether you personally paid for them or not.

No one knows or trusts you yet. So hiring authorities prejudge you based on everything you say and do.

If you will be traveling by air and spending the night at your interview location, ask the company or your executive recruiter the following questions in preparing for an interview:

Will the prospective employer pay for your travel expenses?

Don't assume the company is picking up your travel tab; however, most companies will pay for all of your travel expenses to and from the interview...especially if you're interviewing for a manager or executive position.

If they won't...or they are incredibly cheap by booking you at an off-the-wall motel...you need to ask yourself how badly you really want to work for this company.

Companies typically handle the payment of your travel expenses in one of two ways:

  • About 75% of companies will minimize your financial burden by prepaying your airline ticket and arranging a direct bill for your motel. This means you'll need to be reimbursed for your car rental, meals, and incidentals (parking, tolls, tips).

    So, you're out of pocket costs will be about $125. This is normal and should be no big deal as it's impossible for the company to prepay all travel costs.

  • The other 25% of companies out there will expect you to make all of your travel plans, pay for everything, and then they will reimburse you.

In my 19 years in the employment business I've never had one candidate get burned doing it this way. So, don't make an issue out of it in preparing for an interview...unless, of course, you've been unemployed for months and simply can't afford it.

If this is the case, politely request if someone can help you make your airline reservations so they can bill the company direct for the tickets. This has happened to me more than a few times, and employers always go along with it.

In most case they will also direct bill the hotel.

The reason managers sometimes ask you to schedule your own travel plans is because whoever does it in Human Resources is buried in work or unorganized, and they just don't want to delay setting up your interview.

So, to expedite the logistics in preparing for an interview, they just ask you to handle it.

About half the companies will reimburse you in 2 weeks. If not, call the HR manager at the 3 week mark to make sure your expense reimbursement request is in their system and approved for payment.

If you're working with an executive recruiter, ask them to follow up for you rather than you calling the company direct...unless the recruiter ignores your calls or simply leaves you in the dark.

If you don't follow up, it could take up to 60 days to be reimbursed. Not good if you've been eating Raman Noodles every day trying to survive on your generous unemployment compensation.

What are the ground transportation arrangements? What travel expenses will they reimburse you for? What airports should you fly in and out of?

Is it OK to rent a car...or does this employer expect you to take the airport shuttle to your hotel? Will someone pick you up in the morning, or will you need to take a cab or public transportation?

These are important questions in preparing for an interview.

Most companies will want you to rent a car. But make sure you know their ground transportation policy.

Also, if you get stuck making your own travel plans, consider the least expensive flight but also compare it to other flight options.

You don't have to take the cheapest flight.

Just make sure if you buy a ticket in the middle price range, you have a darn good reason.

Example: The cheapest flight is the last flight and arrives at 11:45PM. Not only will you be exhausted when you arrive at the hotel, but what if they lose your luggage? They won't be able to find it and deliver it to you until the next day.

Nothing like going to your interview in blue jeans and a Cubs t-shirt.

Also, the last flight of the day is risky as it could be canceled with no other flight options until the next morning. Now you'll be late for your interview, or worse yet, it will have to be rescheduled.

What a disaster that would be.

All the company expects is common sense in preparing for an interview.

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When should you arrive? When will the interview conclude?

Try to arrive mid-to-late afternoon. This way you can enjoy a nice relaxing dinner, look over your interview preparation, and take a practice drive to the interview location.

Use this time to decompress and focus on your interview.

Get a good night's sleep and give yourself plenty of time to get to your interview without being rushed or frazzled because you cut things too close.

Same thing goes for the return trip. Try not to schedule your return flight too close to the end of your interview to allow for flexibility in your schedule and any last minute surprises.

I know job seekers who did so well in their job interview that their future boss introduced them to their boss. This was completely unexpected, but make no mistake about it, this impromptu interview was extremely important.

Talk about a buying signal.

If this executive were to ask you, how much time do we have before you have to leave to catch your flight?, just collapse and say, we have plenty of time.

If you miss your flight...you miss your flight.

This impromptu meeting could save you a trip back for a 2nd interview, so who cares?

Where will you be meeting? Where should you send your expense report to be reimbursed?

Two good questions in preparing for an interview.

Some employers have 2-3 buildings, or they want to meet with you off-site if you will be replacing someone.

Find out their expense report procedure. Most employers have an expense report they want you to fill out and mail back to them. Make sure you fill it out as neatly as possible. Sending it to the wrong person or department could delay payment.

How should I coordinate my travel plans?

In preparing for an interview, most employers will prefer you work through someone in their HR department or their travel agency.

See if you can speak directly to them as sometimes an over-exuberant manager will say:

Don't worry about it, I'll take care of all your travel arrangements and email to you your itinerary. This is a bad idea because heaven only knows what kind of screwy flight schedule they'll throw together for you.

I've seen some doozies over the years.

The idea is for you to make gentle suggestions and have some control over which airports you fly in and out of.

If a new intern in HR sets everything up, and they've been told to do it as cheaply as possible, you could arrive at the airport and be handed goggles and a scarf for your midnight bi-plane flight.

Most interns and HR people I've worked with are flexible in preparing for an interview. Simply explain to them that Chicago has 2 airports. Flying out of Midway for this particular trip, is not the best option for you.

However, you don't want to be too controlling or demanding either. If you sense things are getting tense, go with the flow and get through your 4 connections as best you can. Take a good book along to read.

I hear Dan Brown has a new book out.

Travel checklist in preparing for an interview

  1. Wear your interview clothes on the flight and pack so you don't have to check your luggage through.
  2. Don't nit pick the company for every single little expense. When in doubt, just eat the cost.
  3. Make sure your mileage for reimbursement is accurate. Write down odometer readings vs just guessing with MapQuest.
  4. If given the flexibility to book your own motel, select mid price range accommodations.
  5. Forget about airline frequent flyer awards or hotel points. I love Marriott hotels, but they might be on the pricey side for some companies.
  6. Don't ever, ever, ever book 2 interviews in one city on the same day, but company A picks up the travel tab. Schedule your interview on 2 separate days.
  7. Don't ever schedule personal side trips around your interview, regardless of the cost savings, without consulting with the company.

    There are only a couple of situations in preparing for an interview where this is even worth the risk of bringing it up.

    1. Acceptable: You have a family member who lives in your destination city. Your interview is scheduled for Friday morning, but you want to stay the weekend with family and fly back on Sunday.

      Usually a Saturday night stay over will reduce the ticket price 30-40%. But just because you've saved the company big bucks on air fare and motel, don't assume you can keep the car rental for the weekend and rack up meal expenses.

      Just tell them you'll drop the car off at the airport after your interview and have one of your relatives pick you up. Many times they will tell you to just keep the car.

    2. Unacceptable: You have an interview in Dallas, but a close friend lives in Houston. Instead of a round trip ticket from Dallas to home, you book the extra leg to Houston and tell the company you'll pay for the extra $125.

      You might reason you're in the area, you have the weekend free, and a $125 is one-third the fare it normally would cost you if you flew from your home town.

      NO...never do this in preparing for an interview.

      Companies get very annoyed with these kinds of requests because someone higher has to approve it and make special notes to sort it all out.

      It's a hassle and it casts you in a negative light. Not good.

True Story

In my role as an executive recruiter, one of my candidates was interviewing with a very prestigious company in Alabama. The candidate was employed in Michigan, but his family was residing in Miami.

Every other weekend, he flew from Michigan to Miami to be with his family for the weekend.

As luck would have it, his interview in Alabama was on Friday, the day before his normal weekend at home.

This company's travel policy in preparing for an interview was for candidates to book their own travel arrangements, and then submit an expense report to be reimbursed.

This job seeker checked air fares and discovered that a round trip fare from Michigan to Alabama to Miami and back was actually cheaper than if he flew round trip from Michigan to Alabama.

Perfect, he reasoned!

Makes sense.

Well, the company found out about this side trip and went into orbit.

As a matter of fact, it took 6 months for the teeth marks to heal on my hind quarters and for my normal hearing to recover.

You see, they had no idea he had a family in Miami. They had no idea his ticket actually cost less for the extra leg over to Miami.

Everyone at the company got all worked up into a huge lather over this and I was the lightening rod.

This job seeker was rejected and no amount of talking I did could smooth things over.

This had nothing to do with the money. In preparing for an interview, the job seeker simpley did not consult with the company. So everyone assumed he went on a joy ride to Miami for the weekend.

After all the huffing and puffing do you think my client could be reasoned with?

Nope.

Why?! We had such a reasonable explanation. I mean, we could even toss in that he was a true family man.

Everybody loves family values.

It was simply too hard for the person who delivered the message to me to go back up the mountain and challenge their leader...who an hour earlier had a major melt down over this and had thrown this guy's resume in the trash can from 10 feet across the room.

So even though the explanation made perfect sense, the toothpaste was out of the tube and it was too difficult to get it back in the tube again.

Moral of the story: In preparing for an interview, make your travel arrangements as simple as possible for everyone and don't assume anything when you're on the company dime.

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