A Job You Can’t Take

by Evil HR Lady on October 27, 2009

Should I accept an interview for a position in a location to which I would never (could never) move? Or should I state it in the cover letter or phone interview and risk being passed over by someone willing to relocate? The position is primarily project management with few, if any, direct reports (other than coordinating tasks with other groups). My intention is to request to telecommute from several states away (as the company website cites flex-time and telecommuting as benefits).

I realize that the career benefits sections of corporate websites typically are lip service, but should I try anyway? Please note that I work in an incestuous industry and would worry about being branded later in my career as one who “wasted the company’s time and money” with potentially unethical intentions.

Yeah, some things are lip service. Some companies proclaim loudly about all the benefits you’ll get, only they don’t specify that the “you” means everyone who makes $300,000 or more.

But, some companies are honest. When you are applying, it’s best to assume they are being honest. When you are evaluating an offer, it’s best to verify and get everything in writing.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with applying for a job that you would only accept if you could telecommute. But, this is something that you should mention in your cover letter, or at the very latest at the phone screen.

Frequently, I tell people to wait until the negotiation phase to ask for special things. That works best for things like, “I’ve already scheduled a vacation next month” and “I will need to leave work by 4:00 on Thursdays, but can work normally every other day” not, “I want to live across the country.”

This is a situation where even if the company, as a whole, supports telecommuting, not all bosses do. The hiring manager may be someone who just can’t handle a telecommuter. Or the job description doesn’t accurately portray the job (not unusual!) and you don’t realize that it would be critical to be on site.

Since there are far more qualified candidates then there are jobs, I would bet that this would get you eliminated from consideration. But this, actually, is okay. Because you don’t want the job if you have to relocate.

I think telecommuting is fantastic. I’ve done it. I’ve had awesome, family friendly bosses in a family friendly company. But, in my experience, it works best when there is some regular face time as well. I’d be very hesitant to consider an external hire for 100% telecommuting. I think getting to know people is much easier in a face-to-face situation, and would like any new employee to be able to get to know their co-workers before going 100% off site.

But, others may disagree. Apply, but be honest. I can tell you right now that if you wait until they fly you out there to interview before you say, “I won’t relocate,” you are going to be on the bad list.

And keep in mind, if you are super fabulous (and you are!) they just may go for it.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ask a Manager October 27, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I agree. I'm very hesitant to hire someone external for a 100% telecommuting job; I'm much more open to it with someone who's already been working with us and knows our culture, etc.

However, sometimes there's a rock star exception — where is someone is such an amazing candidate, I might consider it. But not if they asked near the end stages — in that case, I'd feel misled and deceived.

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Anonymous October 27, 2009 at 6:19 pm

It's important to be up front about such a major condition for accepting the position. Why waste your time and theirs if it's not even a possibility?

You also run a risk of leaving a "bad taste" if you string it along and you could jeopordize future positions that might come open that better fit your situation.

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Anonymous October 27, 2009 at 6:54 pm

I agree with Anonymous 7:19pm. It is critical to be upfront and honest as soon as you can. I have had job candidates wait until late in the game to bring up a crucial request/demand, which may be an indication of how honest the individual will be in the position. Keep in mind you are representing yourself as what type of employee you can be, you do not want to be seen as sneaky and misleading.

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Anonymous October 27, 2009 at 7:29 pm

I am having a difficult time understanding why companies who tout telecommuting as a benefit, remain silent about it at the recruiting/final offer stage. Evil HR Lady says in her response that sometimes telecommuting is up to the hiring manager's level of comfort – agreed. But if this is the case, I feel that the company – overall – should not mislead candidates in highlighting telecommuting as a "universal" benefit that could be applied to all. In a day and age where work/life balance is a big priority for all generations, I just feel that companies not ready to commit wholeheartedly to telecommuting or flex work arrangements should not be advertising such unless they have the chops to put it into practice.

Just my personal beef (from the recruiting side, as well as the prospective hire side).

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Hank Hill October 27, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Telecommuting can work well, but can also fail spectacularly. As others have said, the risk of failure is higher with an external candidate who doesn't know the ropes yet.

However, I am bothered by the fact that many companies claim to embrace things like flex time and telecommuting only to refuse to allow them when the rubber hits the road.

It's fine to be against those things, but I wish more companies would be honest about it.

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