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Reimbursing Expenses

Q: Last week I saw a classified ad describing a job opportunity in Los Angeles. Since it asked for qualifications and a background very similar to mine, I sent a resume to the specified P.O. Box.

Yesterday I received a letter from the company's personnel manager requesting that I call him to schedule an· interview trip to the corporate office in L.A. There was no mention of travel arrangements from my home In Dallas or reimbursement in the communiqué. How do I find out if he plans to pay for my trip? When is the best time to ask? If he offers me the job, what is the best way to ascertain if the firm will cover my moving expenses?

A: Generally, you can assume the firm will pick up the tab for your trip. Consequently your questions on the subject should be something like, "What would be the most convenient way to handle my travel arrangements. Would you (personnel manager) prefer that your secretary or travel plan­ ner select the flights, hotel, rental car, etc. and notify me by phone or letter? Or would you rather I do it and provide you with an itemized list for reimbursement when I arrive in L.A.?" The best time to ask the above is during your initial phone call when you discuss a date for getting together.

In the unlikely event that the personnel manager indicates that you are expecte4 to pay your own way, you have several options. You might:

  • ·Express your surprise and reply that you assumed the company would foot the bill. If he and his colleagues are really interested in you, they may pick up the tab in lieu of losing the opportunity to interview you.

  • ·Suggest that you split the cost. You may want to visit Aunt Molly in San Diego or spend a few extra days in the nearby mountains. If the company covers the air fare, you can use the money you've saved to augment an impromptu vacation.

  • ·Cover the entire expense and reserve judgment on the corporation's policies until you've had the chance to confirm or deny your suspicions in person.

  • ·Decline the invitation, stating that it is your policy to accept distant interviews only from firms who think talking face to face is worth the price of your hotel room and plane ticket.

The best time to discuss moving expenses is after you have been offered the job. At that point you are its number one candidate, which gives you substantial negotiating leverage. Tell the personnel manager that, as part of your compensation package, you would appreciate the company's covering the costs of your move. Be specific in your request, as your interpretation of moving costs may differ from your prospective employer's. In a large company, the personnel department probably will have a carefully considered policy with little flexibility. Smaller firms may choose to deal with new hires on an individual basis.

Whether you're discussing travel or moving expenses, if the firm doesn't state its intentions, you must take the initiative to clarify responsibilities. Clear communication averts nasty surprises for everyone.

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