Why You Should Pay Candidates for Interviews

A new suit. An airplane ticket to another interview. An Uber. Two days of meals. A skills test. A babysitter.

Job candidates’ credit cards might be getting more action than they should, all while they are between employment opportunities. But as all eyes are on mental health and wellness improvements in the workplace, employers are facing a new ethical dilemma: Should they pay candidates who interview? The future of work might involve more respect and compensation for future employees, and give them a taste of how they will or won’t be treated in their new position. Experts, candidates and employers weigh in on whether businesses should pay their interviewees.

The movement to pay candidates for interviews

On March 7, 2022, Paul Taylor, the former executive director at FoodShare Toronto, tweeted: “Preparing for an [sic] job interview is labour, and candidates may even have to take time off work to attend an interview. I’m pleased to share that @FoodShareTO will now be compensating folks ($75) for their interviews (approx. 1 hr) to join our team.” He adds that, if the interview includes an assignment, the candidate will be compensated hourly, at the rate associated with the position they are applying for.

If this sounds like the kind of place you want to work, you aren’t alone. William Stonehouse III, president and co-founder of Crawford Thomas Recruiting, has an eye on the trend of paying for interviewing expenses. “Asking candidates to come out of pocket for expenses should always be a red flag, and [providing compensation] is a great way for the company to project its values and how they treat [their] employees,” he says.

It’s not just the time itself candidates lose. Stonehouse explains it’s also costs associated with flights, transportation, meals, parking, interview wardrobe, devices on which to conduct a remote interview and more. In a 2021 LinkedIn article, author Sue Ellson writes, “the interview preparation, selection criteria answers, mini-project or portfolio requests, travel, attendance, self-reflection, rumination and chats with friends, family, mentor or coach—that could be anywhere from two hours to 20-plus hours. Multiply that by their hourly rate and as an agency or employer, you want job applicants to sacrifice that investment for free?”

Samantha Slaven-Bick, founder of an LA County-based public relations agency, has jumped on the bandwagon of paying candidates for their time at what she calls the “quiz stage” of the interview process, which takes two to four hours. “The intention is to make them feel that their time is valued and respected and to show them we’re serious about both our hiring process and their candidacy,” she says. “To date, they’ve all been pleasantly surprised and appreciative.”

Paying for interviews gives an edge over competing companies

By proving company culture before they’ve even offered a contract, companies could be edging out competitors. Former journalist and television reporter Carson Quinn, in Austin, Texas, remembers how potential employers would sometimes cover her flights and hotels and occasionally provide a stipend for food—“but not always, and that subconsciously affected my decision on a role,” she says.

One offering company she turned down had required her to fly at her own expense, which she says felt “a bit crummy.” Although the company’s lack of compensation wasn’t the main reason, Quinn says it certainly did “play a role in my decision to not sign.” She saw it as imperative that a company asking her to move across the country to an in-person position should pay for her to visit the workplace being considered.

In 2012, the American Psychological Association identified “feeling valued at work” as a top indicator of well-being and performance, with half of the employees who say they don’t feel valued intending to look for a new job. As companies continue to strive to stand out in the aftermath of the “great resignation” (nearly 4.1 million left their jobs in September 2022 alone), this trend could be worth noting.

What companies should pay for in the interview process

If companies are considering adding candidate compensation to their practices, or if candidates are wondering which items are reasonable to expect or request reimbursement for, Stonehouse has some answers. Here’s how to identify and determine which costs are reasonable requests.

1. Airfare

There is no situation in which a candidate should be paying for a flight to come interview in person, Stonehouse says. In fact, candidates paying for that on their own is a “huge red flag,” he warns. “Also, if candidates are expected to travel more than an hour by car or train to an office that is not the office they would report to, we would expect to see the company offer some form of reimbursement.”

2. Transportation

So a company has flown a candidate to their destination. Now what? Are they to cover parking, transportation, meals and hotels? Stonehouse says, ideally, free parking should be available, but if it’s not, employers should validate it for them. Employers might catch a break covering rides, as ride-sharing providers such as Lyft have programs offering transportation to those heading to job interviews and training.

3. Interview clothing

Probably the least likely to be covered by an employer, this expense can run from around $50 for a Walmart clearance rack ensemble to thousands of dollars for a new tailored suit for a formal business interview. “Candidates still have to refresh their wardrobe and present, at a minimum, business casual dress, which could be $100-$500, depending on the job, season and location,” Stonehouse says. Although employers aren’t likely to offer to buy you new clothes, they might be open to a video interview rather than in person, which means your slippers will suffice.

4. Tests and trials

If you are taking time from your day to complete work for the company, it’s absolutely reasonable to expect to be paid for your test, trial task or assignment. Stonehouse has seen companies “exploit” candidates for free labor through those trial tasks. “There is a big difference [between] a job shadow and getting free work out of candidates,” he says.

Diana Kelly Levey, a New York-based freelance editor and writer, knows this all too well, as she’s spent hours and even days working on ideas, “only to hear I wasn’t selected as the best editor for the job.” Now, to stop that cycle, she offers paid edit tests when hiring.

Although it’s valid to ask for payment for these tasks, Stonehouse acknowledges that it can be awkward to do so in the moment. Instead, it would be ideal for the companies to offer it instead, with a clear understanding of the task and rate presented upfront. Stonehouse says he’s even seen this happen in the form of gift cards.

Regardless of the expense, it’s important for candidates to advocate for themselves and create the expectation that specific items are covered. If not, and the company requires those out-of-pocket asks, you have your answer on just what the company culture will be if you do accept that job.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock

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