The Senior Series: Interviews. Out of Town and Out of Pocket.

Today’s Senior Series post was written Rob Pitingolo, one of the 5 amazing college seniors picked to be mentored and prepped by me for their first job and life after college.

Around this time last year, my peers often reminded me how lucky I was not to be graduating into a harsh employment environment with them. The unemployment rate was about 7.7% at the time. Now, it stands at 9.7%. Maybe I wasn’t so lucky after all? It doesn’t help that I’m a college senior in a city and state where the employment market is even bleaker than the national numbers suggest.

I’ve read my share of “tips” for college seniors looking for an entry-level career. One piece of advice that seems to make every list is: “be willing to relocate”. This certainly isn’t a problem for me. My career search is focused in a few specific cities, but I’m willing to give any city a shot if the right opportunity presents itself.

Willingness alone might not be enough, as I’ve discovered. I was thrilled when I was recently called to interview with an organization I greatly admire for a position that seemed like it would be a great mutual fit. Unfortunately, the interview was 350 miles away, and my heart sunk when I learned that the organization doesn’t reimburse for travel expenses.

It was a dilemma. I would have to spend about $200 to attend the interview. Nicole has written some outstanding posts here at Ms. Career Girl about budgeting and being financially responsible. I like to think I’m financially prudent; but the interview would be an expenditure I hadn’t budgeted for, so I needed to seriously weigh the likelihood of receiving an offer against the cost of travel. With encouragement from friends and colleagues, I booked a flight.

I never go into an interview unprepared; but given the circumstances, I wanted to guarantee I did everything right for this one. I composed a writing sample specifically for the interview to highlight the exact skills the organization was looking for. I practiced answering mock interview questions that I expected to hear. I prepared to relate my work and school experience to the projects I would probably be working on.

The day of the interview I skipped all of my classes and traveled the 700 round-trip miles. I left the interview feeling good, albeit exhausted. I hadn’t been stumped by any of the questions. I felt calm and confident. I had no reason to think I’d blown my chance for the position.

They hired someone else.

In the job hunt, it’s certainly true that you need to “spend money to make money”. I don’t know of any professionals who wouldn’t advise a college senior to go into an interview with a good suit, for example. But a good suit is an investment. Once you own a suit, and you take care of it, it becomes a valuable piece of your identity as a professional. If you ever decide to take on the life of a nomad and wander the globe, you can always give it to someone else in need.

Travel is different. It’s expensive and it’s a one-time deal. If you travel for an interview but don’t receive an offer, you really can’t recover what you spent.

The experience concerns me as an out-of-town applicant because many of the entry-level opportunities I’ve found intriguing are in another part of the country. Between a market flooded with young talent and many firms cautious about hiring, let alone spending on entry-level recruiting, I fear it could put out-of-town applicants at a disadvantage. Here’s hoping that I’m wrong, and my experience is the exception rather than the norm. Whatever the case, it’s a lesson I hope my fellow college seniors can take something from.

Rob Pitingolo

Rob Pitingolo is a college senior at John Carroll University finishing his degree in economics. He is the author of the blog Extraordinary Observations, a journal of politics and urbanism written from a Gen-Y perspective.

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