Some interview situations catch you off guard, even if you didn’t think they could possibly be all that tricky to navigate.
Take answering the question, “Are you willing to relocate for the job?” Sure, in theory it basically requires a straight yes-or-no response (“yes I will move” or “no I won’t”), but of course things aren’t always that cut-and-dried.
If you really want the job but struggle to commit to relocating, you have to figure out the best way to break that news to the interviewer without hurting your chances. And if you’re OK with moving under certain conditions, you’ll need to express those conditions clearly before signing up for something you can’t follow through on later.
Tackling this question also requires an understanding of why it’s asked—besides the obvious reason: The hiring manager wants someone who can work in a particular location full time, and needs to weed out anyone who can’t or won’t do so.
Sometimes, “they’re trying to get a sense of the candidate’s degree of interest and flexibility, especially when this detail is not even included in the job description they applied for,” explains Muse career coach and HR professional Alina Campos. It’s a way of gauging just how committed a candidate is to the role and the company. When someone’s willing to move for the job (whether immediately or down the road), that shows a passion and dedication that other candidates may not have. And it shows you’re in it for the long haul.
It’s also “a good way to see how much a candidate understands their brand or company if they are global,” according to Campos. The question, “Are you willing to relocate?” could be feeling out if you’d move now, but the interviewer may also be probing to see if you’d be willing to move in the future should another opportunity come up at another office or in another place. If you’re joining a company that values its national or international presence—and often promotes its employees through relocation—you have to be open to the possibility of jumping around.
Don’t sweat it if this question comes up—and definitely don’t lie or exaggerate your intentions. But as Campos emphasizes, “it is important to consider this question beforehand so you are prepared to either say ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘maybe,’ accompanied with solid reasons for each answer.”
Here’s how to craft a compelling and appropriate answer, depending on the circumstances.
If the Answer’s “Yes”
Maybe you just graduated and are open to living in multiple cities. Or don’t consider yourself particularly tied down to your location. Or are so eager to land this job you’d do anything to get it.
Congratulations, you’re in a great position to respond to this question with an enthusiastic “yes”!
Try one of these responses to emphasize your flexibility and passion. Remember, like any interview question, you want to make yourself stand out against other candidates who are just as excited about the role. By focusing on what makes this role special to you and your attachment to its location (if you have one), you convince the interviewer that you’d fit right in.
- “I’m really excited about this opportunity and feel I could provide great value in this role. I would definitely be open to relocation and look forward to learning more details around this.”
- “I’m more than happy to make the move for the right opportunity—and this job, with [why you like it so much], is definitely that.”
- “I actually have been looking to relocate to [location]/have family in [location]/am looking for a change of scenery, so this job would be the perfect opportunity to make a change and also do work I’m excited about.”
If the Answer’s “Yes, But I’d Rather Not Because [Reason]”
It’s understandable if you want a job but aren’t necessarily thrilled to pick up and leave your current life for it. Maybe you’re comfortable with remote work. Maybe you just got settled in a new home and don’t want to leave it so soon. Maybe all your friends and family live nearby and the company’s location promises less interaction with the people you love.
These are all valid reasons not to want to relocate. However, understand that being reluctant to do so could negatively affect how much further you move in the interview process—and whether you get the job in the end. After all, if a hiring manager has the choice between a great candidate who’s eager to move and a just-as-great one who’s not, and they initially went into hiring looking for an in-house employee, they’ll probably go with the former.
In many cases, this works out in the end—if you might be open to relocation but don’t love this job enough to move away for it, it’s probably best you don’t get it and keep your options open for better opportunities in your area.
But if you actually really like the job but want (or need) a little leeway, consider taking the approach of leaning yes, but with the caveat that if possible you’d like to stay where you are—or be compensated if you do move. This way, you set yourself up to discuss your options, should the hiring manager decide they like you enough to be flexible on relocation.
Another consideration for folks early in their careers: “When you’re just starting out, I think it’s important to at least state you’re open to relocation or would strongly consider it,” says Tara Goodfellow, a Muse career coach. “There are roles where you undergo a training program and then you’re expected to select from a few locations. You have to weigh if this risk or opportunity is best for you. It could be advantageous to your career trajectory to be willing to be flexible.” When you have little experience to make yourself stand out, it’s harder to make the case that you shouldn’t have to relocate. Realistically, that’s often something you earn later on in your career.
Use these examples in your approach:
- “I do love living in [current location] and would prefer to stay here. However, for the right opportunity I’d be willing to consider relocating if necessary.”
- “I just purchased a condo/just moved my family here/am currently tied down here due to my partner’s work/[another valid reason]. I’d be open to relocating, but would need to take into consideration moving costs/my children’s school schedules/my partner’s job prospects/[another factor you’d have to weigh].”
- “I’m happy to consider relocating if the job’s a good fit. If there’s also an opportunity to work remotely or out of the office in [current location] I’d love to discuss that as well, as that would work best for my current situation because [reason].”
If the Answer’s “No”
Sometimes, this question comes up unexpectedly and you weren’t prepared for relocation being a requirement. As a result, you’re at a loss for words, unsure how to say no without taking yourself out of the running.
Understand two things. One, that it’s completely acceptable to express your inability to compromise on certain life obligations for a job—whether you’re, say, taking care of a sick relative or simply happy in your current location. And two, that saying no doesn’t immediately turn a hiring manager off. A good recruiter knows that often things are out of your control, and that taking relocation out of the equation is worth it for the right hire.
And “if an employer is going to see it as a negative that I’m caring for an aging relative, it’s probably not a best fit company for me,” says Goodfellow.
So be honest, but don’t get too into the specifics of why you can’t or won’t relocate. The interviewer wants to know the reason so they can best tailor their response to you (and come up with a plan should they decide to move you forward), but doesn’t need every detail of your thought process or fears.
These sample answers might help:
- “I’m very excited about this opportunity, however, due to [obligation] I am unable to relocate at this time.”
- “I’m really passionate about this role, but am pretty content where I live now and can’t commit to relocating at this time. However, I’d be more than willing to make it work remotely/work out of [location] office if you see that as a possibility.”
- “Certainly relocating in the future is of interest to me, especially for this position, but in the meantime, travel/working remotely is an option I’m more drawn to.”
Moral of the story, if you want the job, either give a transparent and valid reason why you can’t or shouldn’t relocate, or express an openness to discussing it. That way, you ensure everyone’s on the same page before moving forward in the interview process—and impress the hiring manager with your positive and professional attitude.
Photo of person in interview courtesy of Blend Images - Erik Isakson/Getty Images.
As Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., Motto, CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author