A few years ago, when asked “are you willing to travel?”, I would have said yes. 100%. Everyday. You just put me on a plane or in a car, and I’m there.
Anything to get this job.
Now I have a different perspective, and that’s what I would like to discuss with you. You see, for the interviewer/hiring manager, the travel question is pretty simple. Yes, you are willing to travel for the job, or no, you are not.
But before you give that answer, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions:
1. What percentage of the job will require travel?
25% doesn’t sound like a lot until you do the math. Depending on how your travel is scheduled, you might be gone a little over a day each week or one week each month or three months each year. Here are estimates of common travel percentages:
- 10% = 1 day every two weeks or 2-3 days every month or 1-2 months each year
- 25% = 1-2 days each week or 1 week every month or 3 months each year
- 50% = 2-3 days each week or 2 weeks every month or 6 months out of each year
- 75% = 3-4 days each week or 3 weeks each month or 9 months each year
- 100% = I hope you like the food in airports and drive-thrus
2. How is travel scheduled/broken up?
Not only does the amount of travel you will be doing matter, but the frequency of the travel also matters.
For example, when I saw jobs that said 25% travel, I always thought they meant a couple days each week, and I figured I could handle that. Then I discovered a job that was only 25% travel but that travel took place all at once—in a three-month block. I decided I couldn’t be gone from my family for that long and declined the job. Another position was 25% travel, but it was more like travel one day, office two days, travel one day, office two days. I didn’t like that one either.
3. Will I be home on weekends?
Just because the interviewer says you will only be travelling Monday through Friday, does not mean you will be have entire weekends to yourself.
One of my friends is a relationship manager for a large financial services company. She travels cross-country at least every month or two, but usually only for a week at a time. She was excited that she would travel during the week and be home on weekends, until she realized that she would have to leave for the airport mid-day Sunday in order to be ready for 8:00 Monday morning meetings and she would have to return early Saturday morning because clients wanted to take her out for dinner on Friday nights.
At least she can tuck her kids into bed one night a week.
4. Is travel consistent?
Even if you don’t like to plan everything, you’ll likely want to know whether you will have a set travel schedule, whether you will travel inconsistently but be given a few weeks notice, or whether you will be required to travel at a moment’s notice whenever your manager summons you.
5. Where will I be going?
Another important component of travel is where you will be going.
If you like to party, you may not enjoy Friday nights in Norwalk, Ohio.
If crowds freak you out, New York City will not be a comforting destination.
If you only speak English, regular trips to Rio de Janeiro might be intimidating.
And if you hate snow, Minnesota in February will not be your best choice.
6. Will my expenses be paid by the company, will I be reimbursed, or will I be an independent contractor?
This question is not usually something that is discussed during an interview, but it is a detail you will want to keep in mind. What’s the big deal? Well…
- If expenses are paid by the company… you may be required to obtain a company credit card (with a credit check), you may be required to wait for the company to issue paper checks to vendors, or you may be required to travel with someone else who pays for everything. Oh, and some companies only use American Express purchasing cards, which are not accepted by all merchants, so you may still end up paying for some food and supplies out-of-pocket.
- If you are reimbursed… you will be required to “front” the money for your purchases, which means you either must have enough cash in your checking account or enough available credit on your Mastercard. You will generally need to submit receipts and then wait for a paper check or direct deposit.
- If you are an independent contractor… most companies will not pay for anything, so you had better have deep pockets. The good news is your expenses may be tax-deductible at the end of the year. You will need to save receipts and document legitimate travel expenses.
7. Will I travel alone?
Will you be traveling with team members or by yourself? Will you be sharing hotel rooms or have a suite to yourself? Will you know people or will you need to make new friends at each stop? This is another question is not usually discussed during the interview, but it is something that you should keep in mind.
So what does the interviewer/hiring manager really want to hear?
Are you going to do the job well or not?
“Are you willing to travel?” is not a trick question, but it does require some pre-interview thinking (and sometimes during-interview thinking) before making a final decision. Are you ready to pack your bags, or are you going to put your suitcase back in the closet?
For after you get the job (or just for your personal enjoyment)…
Most large companies have a travel department who will either book travel arrangements for you or help you to purchase them through preferred vendors. If you are on your own or work for a small company, two travel sites that I love are kayak.com and hotwire.com.
Kayak searches multiple airlines, rental car agencies, hotels, etc. (and even some of the big travel aggregator sites!) and then returns the lowest price. The search options are pretty easy to customize. This has been my first stop for airline searches since 2006 or 2007. The first year I used the service for rental cars was 2010, and I found some great deals. Check it out at kayak.com.
I’ve only ever used Hotwire to book hotels, but I have stayed in some fantastic places for unbelievably low prices. The most recent was a 4-star hotel in Kensington, London, UK for almost half-price. You can choose the general location of the hotel and the quality category, but you won’t know exactly where you are staying until you pay for the trip. Check it out at hotwire.com.