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Context

I am a mid level software engineer in California. I was contacted by a recruiter at an East Coast branch of a nationwide recruiting agency (not going to be more specific than that). Just earlier this week, the recruiting agency let me know that the four companies with which I've had phone interviews would like me to visit their offices for onsite interviews this coming week. Since this recruiting agency is acting as the point of contact for all four of these companies, I have not had any direct communications with them and have therefore not been offered to be flown out by the companies directly.

Just yesterday I had a phone call with the agency to discuss which days next week I would be able to go out there. During the call, the recruiter casually asked if I would be willing to foot the bill of travel costs. It was asked in a way that assumed I would be doing it. It caught me off guard and wanting to seem cool about it I said yes. Based on what I've heard and read, I'm under the impression that generally speaking software companies in the US pay for travel costs and so I assumed either one of the four companies with which I'm interviewing or the recruiting agency would cover the cost.

What I would like

I would like the recruiting agency to cover the cost of the flight (or at least partially reimburse me). I don't need accommodation or local transportation to be covered.

What to do

I feel like I should email the recruiting agency asking if they could either fully cover the cost or partially reimburse me.

Reasons I think I should ask

  • Unless I'm mistaken, it's just how interviews work. Companies/recruiting agencies pay for these things—it's part of the cost of recruiting.

  • My expected salary will be over 100k and the recruiting agency gets a certain percentage of my first year salary (somewhere around 15% I believe). I have made it clear that I am only interviewing with these companies and I will accept an offer if I get one. I think from their point of view they would be willing to take the risk of covering my traveling costs. It's just that they tried to minimize costs by seeing if I would pay for it.

  • If I don't get any offers I will have paid a lot of money just to have to start the interviewing process again.

Reasons I'm hesitant to ask

  • The biggest reason I'm hesitant to ask is that if they book it for me, they will probably find the cheapest option and I would lose flexibility in when and where I arrive/depart. I imagine they would fly me back Friday evening, however I want to fly back Sunday evening so I can stay with my girlfriend for the weekend. In my opinion this is enough of a reason to just bite the bullet and book the flight myself.

  • I believe they usually only recruit locally, so covering this sort of travel cost is not something they usually do. I don't even know if recruiting agencies usually cover the cost themselves (this is the first time I've dealt with a recruiting agency). The counterpoint to this is that they contacted me knowing I'm in California and that I would most likely have to fly out for onsites. Furthermore, they're a well-established nationwide agency—I think they should have the budget for it.

  • I already said I'd be willing to cover the cost and I'm afraid to tell them that I've changed my mind. This shouldn't be a reason, but I have to admit that I am easily affected by what others think of me. Of course, if I were to ask I could phrase it in a way that I was caught off guard when asked during the phone call and that I didn't have a chance to think it through and check how much the flight would cost. I would also not demand them to pay for it; the email would just be checking out what's possible in the way of making this less of a financial burden on me.

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    Why ask the recruiter to pay, rather than ask them to ask the interviewing companies to pay? – Patricia Shanahan Aug 11 at 2:13
  • Sorry for the confusion—I understand I worded it in a way that suggests the recruiter should pay for it. I meant I would ask them to handle paying for it. Whether that means they pay for it or the company pays for it, I do not care and would let them figure that out. – John Doe Aug 11 at 15:55
  • Regarding caring what people think about you, keep in mind that the recruiter knows perfectly well that he's trying to get one over on you. If you politely say "It has come to my attention that the industry standard is...", you are stating the obvious, not committing a faux pas. – piojo Aug 13 at 4:10
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Covering a non-local candidate's cost to interview onsite for a full-time position is very common practice, especially in software engineering. Typically, the company you are interviewing for covers your air travel, rental car (gas) or taxi/uber, hotel stay and meals. You may need to pay everything upfront and submit receipts for reimbursement.

I already said I'd be willing to cover the cost and I'm afraid to tell them that I've changed my mind.

The question caught you a bit off guard and you agreed too quickly. Honestly, it could happen to anyone. Just tell the recruiting agency you looked into the cost of everything (i.e. flight, hotel, etc) and it's much higher than you anticipated. You would like to know if the prospective employers could cover your costs. It really doesn't hurt to ask and see what they can do for you.

On personal note, it feels like you're getting taken advantage of. My cents: If the company cannot afford to fly out non-local candidates maybe they should stick to local candidates. At the same time, if you're hurting for work, you may want to consider footing the bill. But I can tell you, in my decade plus career, I have never heard of any software engineer paying their own way to interview as a non-local candidate. Know your worth and don't settle for less.

  • Thank you for the advice. I have thought about it more and regarding my point about inflexibility of scheduling flights, I am thinking that I can request a flight back on Sunday evening because I have set up time to see apartments during the weekend. That has the added effect of showing that I am very serious about moving there. – John Doe Aug 11 at 15:58
  • I've been in this racket for over 35 years, and I have NEVER heard of a non-local engineering interviewee being asked to pay his own way to an onsite interview. I have done plenty of telephone screens, and contract gigs routinely hire based solely on telephone screens, but I've NEVER seen what you describe. – John R. Strohm Aug 11 at 20:29
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    If the company cannot afford to fly out non-local candidates maybe they should stick to local candidates its likely the case that the employer wanted to stick to local candidates, so they wouldn't have to pay for travel, but the recruiter talked them into interviewing a remote candidate under the excuse of "oh don't worry, you won't have to pay for interview travel." So, of course, the recruiter tried their best to coerce you in to paying for it. They're doing what recruiters often do, working both parties as hard as they can simply to get the sale. – dwizum Aug 12 at 13:13
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    And if they're not willing to pay for your interview travel costs then they likely not want to pay for your relocation costs either. – onnoweb Aug 12 at 18:05
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I have been on a number of job interviews in the North American continent, both US and Canada, over the past 18 years, and in all but one case the company (not the recruiter, and not me) paid for travel and hotel. I traveled to both East and West coast. In about 50% of the cases the company also paid for related expenses (taxi to/from airport etc).

In only one case I was invited to an interview but the company did not want to pay for the flight etc - and I simply refused.

If they don't want to pay for that, they're not serious enough for me to spend my time or money on it.

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