I spent my first summer after college rigorously searching for a full-time job. Having graduated with a fair amount of student loan debt, I knew I needed to find work right away. That, plus the numerous costs associated with the job search process were going to eat into my savings quickly. I had to build a solid job resume, stock a business wardrobe, and support myself through unemployment until I landed that coveted first job.
Whether you got laid off from a previous position or are embarking on your first post-college job search, those costs can put a tremendous financial strain on you. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to reduce those expenses along the way.
Transportation costs depend a great deal on where you live, how you plan to get to and from job interviews, and the number of interviews you ultimately end up going on. If you live in a city and are mostly interviewing for jobs accessible by public transportation, you may wind up faring better than someone who needs a vehicle to get to and from interviews.
In New York City, the cost of a single subway ride is $3, while a 30-day unlimited pass runs $116.50. If, on the other hand, you need a vehicle to get to your interviews – but you don’t own one already – you may have no choice but to rent a car.
A single day economy car may rent for as little as $20 to $30 if you book in advance through a budget travel site like Expedia. However, prices can reach above $100 daily if you’re not careful. In this case, a car service like Uber or Lyft may be a better bet. If these services operate in your city, do your best to plan around surge pricing – higher costs during periods of high demand – and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to account for traffic or delays finding a driver.
If you own a vehicle, you may need to factor in the cost of parking. In cities where street parking is tough to come by, such as New York, garage parking can cost anywhere from $25 to $40 for just a few hours. If you can snag a street spot in New York, metered parking costs $1 to $3.50 per hour, which, for a three-hour interview, is significantly cheaper than paying for a garage. Just be sure to give yourself ample time to search for a spot.
Out-of-area interviews can be expensive. In addition to train, bus, or airfare, you’re likely responsible for travel into the city center. If so, renting a car once you reach your destination city may be a necessity. You can try relying on taxis – which are potentially pricey too – or public transportation or shuttles to save money. If your interview schedule requires you to book an overnight stay, you’ve got to account for the cost of lodging as well. For lower-cost lodging options try Airbnb instead of a hotel.
To save money on job search-related travel, try asking for phone or remote interviews in lieu of face-to-face meetings. This is a perfectly valid request early on in the process. While some companies may be willing to conduct a first or second interview via phone, once you’re further along a face-to-face meeting may be necessary.
If you’re truly strapped for cash, suggest doing your interview via video conference or Skype. It’s not the same as an in-person meeting, but it’s more personal than a phone call.
Dressing professionally can help you make a good first impression when it comes to interviews. In most situations, this means wearing a business suit. It’s common for women to wear collared shirts under their suit jackets, and for men to wear collared shirts and ties.
If you don’t already own professional attire, be sure to budget accordingly for the following items:
- Business Suits. These typically cost between $100 and $200, though it’s possible to spend much more, as designer suits retail for well over $1,000.
- Collared Shirts. Collared shirts for both men and women can cost anywhere from $30 to over $100.
- Ties. A tie typically costs $15 to $50 or more.
You can easily get away with buying one or two business suits and rotating different shirts or ties underneath. However, keep in mind that many business suits require dry cleaning, which can add to your expenses – typically $25 to $50 depending on the clothing material and where you live. You don’t necessarily need to dry clean a suit each time you wear it, but expect to have yours cleaned after four or five wears.
Outlet centers and malls present opportunities to cut costs, as do consignment or secondhand stores where you may luck out and find a used business suit in good condition for very little money. Check sites like eBay and Craigslist too, but be careful – signs of wear and tear, such as rips, holes, or frayed hems, are not always visible in photos.
If you have a friend willing to lend you a suit while you’re in the process of interviewing, accept graciously. Just remember, if the job requires professional dress, it might pay to buy your own clothing from the start.
Mobile Phone and Data
These days, recruiters and hiring managers expect candidates to be available all the time. If you don’t yet own a smartphone, now is the time to make the purchase. If your current phone is old or unreliable (older phones can have extremely limited battery life, rendering them nearly useless) you may need to upgrade for a more efficient job search.
The cost of a mobile phone depends on whether or not you’re a current plan subscriber eligible for an upgrade. If you’re due for a new phone under your plan, you could spend as little as $100 on an updated model. You may even be able to snag an older but functional model for free depending on the terms of your contract.
On the other hand, if you’re buying a new, unlocked phone (one that’s compatible on a number of networks) without a contract, you could spend $700 or more. You can save money on your mobile phone by buying it used. Sites such as Craigslist, eBay, and Amazon Marketplace typically list used electronics at prices far lower than retail.
Just as being available to take calls when you’re out and about can make for a more successful job search, so can the ability to check and respond to email on the go. If you don’t currently have a sufficient data plan, get one. Depending on your current plan and provider, you may be able to pay as little as $20 per month if you don’t expect to use the Internet frequently while you’re on the go.
It’s also worth investigating a service like FreedomPop, which offers free data by partnering with broadband networks. However, it only offers a limited amount of data for free, and once you go over your allotment, you’re charged per megabyte. Depending on your usage, the overage cost per megabyte could wind up exceeding the amount you’d pay on a more traditional plan.
For example, Verizon charges $15 per gigabyte when you exceed your plan limit, whereas FreedomPop charges $20 per gigabyte when you exceed your free share. Furthermore, you need to have a compatible device in order to take advantage of this service, and you could face location-based restrictions.
If you’re having trouble getting a job, it might pay to take a class to further your skills. One of the most cost-effective ways to obtain additional training is to take classes online. These can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the coursework in question and the website offering the course.
For example, a friend of mine spent $100 on an online Excel class, which she feels helped her land a better-paying executive assistant job at a financial firm. You can find courses at this price point on sites like GoSkills.com.
Another friend spent more than $2,000 taking various web design classes, including some offered by the School of Visual Arts, that ultimately helped him get his foot in the door at an online marketing company. In addition to paid online programs, you may be able to find some free courses online as well – for example, Codecademy offers web coding classes at no charge. If the type of course you need isn’t available online, the next most cost-effective option is generally to take it at a community college, where you might pay $1,000 or less per course.
Keep in mind that if your profession has ongoing education or certification requirements, you may need to foot those costs while you look for work. A friend of mine who’s a respiratory therapist is required to obtain a set number of continuing education credits per year. Her old company used to pay for those credits, but when she found herself out of work for six months last year, she had no choice but to pay herself in order to maintain her license.
Computer Equipment and Internet Service
These days, a large percentage of applicants use the Internet to search for jobs. Sites like Indeed, Monster, and CareerBuilder can all be extremely useful in helping applicants find relevant work in their respective fields and geographic areas. However, if you’re using an outdated computer that’s slow or prone to crashes – or if you don’t have a working computer in the first place – you’re going to face serious challenges.
The good news is technology keeps getting more affordable. For as little as $300 to $500, you can purchase a new laptop to create resumes and cover letters and search for jobs online, provided you have an Internet connection. If you don’t, expect to pay anywhere from $15 to $40 per month depending on your carrier.
You may be able to save money by bundling your phone and cable package – my cable company is currently offering phone, Internet, and cable to new customers for just $85 per month. Additionally, some providers offer discounts for renewing a contract or tacking on an extra service to your current roster. You may be able to find promotions, too – for example, as of December 2015, Optimum Online is charging $39.95 per month for the first year of service.
Additionally, a printer and scanner or fax machine may be a wise investment, as some companies may require you to sign and return documents via email or fax during the interview process. A few years ago when I was interviewing for a new job, I found myself needing to sign several confidentiality agreements before meeting with company executives. Had I not owned a printer and scanner, it would’ve slowed down the process significantly.
You can purchase a new printer-scanner-fax machine combination for as little as $100. However, used computer equipment can be significantly lower in price. Check sites like eBay or Craigslist, or see if anyone is holding a garage sale in your area. You can also save money by printing and faxing documents at your local Staples or FedEx Office, where you can pay just a few dollars to deal with the occasional contract.
Maybe you’re not a great writer, have never constructed a resume before, or need help showing your work history in a positive light. That’s where resume services like ResumeEdge come in. A professional resume writer can tell you what needs to be on your resume and what you’re better off leaving out. A resume writer can also help describe your experience in a compact, professional manner. You can find additional resume services by searching online or asking a recruiter for a recommendation.
The only downside to a resume service is the cost. Whether you find a writer who charges per hour or per job, you’re probably looking at spending $100 to $500 for a revised, completed resume. On the plus side, a polished, professional resume could help you find a job more quickly, thus cutting your job search short and saving you money.
If you can’t afford a resume service, try asking a friend who’s a writer to help with your resume as a favor – just offer to provide a service in return. If you’re a college graduate having trouble finding work, it pays to reach out to your school’s career center for resume help – it may extend its services at no charge.
Career counselors or coaches work with all types of job seekers, from those straight out of college to seasoned professionals looking for guidance. If you’re having trouble getting interviews or you find yourself consistently interviewing for jobs that just aren’t right for you, it might pay to seek outside help. A career coach can help you identify your talents, market yourself to employers, and establish a career path that aligns with your strengths and goals.
While career counseling can be extremely effective in helping you find a job, it can also be pricey. Many career counselors or coaches charge $100 to $300 or more per hour. The number of hours you need ultimately depends on your specific circumstances, but it’s best to assume that two to three hours are required to make any real progress. If a career counselor helps you land the right job, you save money by wrapping up your job search sooner than you would have on your own.
You may be able to find a career counselor who charges a flat fee, as opposed to an hourly rate. For example, some career coaches charge $500 for an all-day session, which may be all you need. This is a far cheaper option than paying $200 per hour for four to five hours’ worth of time. Also keep in mind that some career coaches offer reduced or sliding scale fees to clients based on income or need. This means that while an established professional might be subject to the going rate, you could snag a discount as a recent college graduate or former stay-at-home parent looking to return to the workforce.
There are some instances in which working with a career counselor does not make financial sense. If you already know the industry in which you’d like to work, are already certified in a specific field that you’d like to stay in, or aren’t particular about the type of job you get as long as it meets your salary requirements, it’s best to keep your money in your pocket.
If you have children who aren’t old enough to be in school or you’re asked to attend interviews when school isn’t in session, you need to arrange for childcare. Babysitters typically charge $8 to $15 per hour depending on the number of children you have and the demands of the job. If your kids are school-aged, a before- or after-school care program may be offered through the school itself. These typically cost anywhere from $100 to $500 per month.
If you’re searching for a job aggressively and want to free up most of your daytime hours to look for work, consider enrolling your children in daycare if they’re too young to attend school. This is also a good way to prepare them if that’s the childcare route you plan to take once you find a job. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, U.S. daycare centers average $972 per month for infant and toddler care. Home daycare is typically cheaper, averaging $646 per month.
Another option for childcare is hiring a nanny which, according to BabyCenter, costs an average of $500 to $700 per week. While this may make sense once you’re employed, it might not be the most cost-effective or practical option for your job search. Finding a nanny takes time, and unlike babysitters, most vetted, qualified nannies want a commitment rather than month-to-month work.
By contrast, daycare centers typically charge tuition on a weekly or monthly basis but don’t make you sign a long-term contract. If your intention is to use a nanny once you find a full-time job, you could always put your children in daycare while you look for work and then pull them out once hired.
Writing Off Your Job Search Costs
While looking for work can be a huge financial undertaking, the good news is that you may be able to score a tax break in the process. Depending on your income and filing circumstances, you may be eligible to write off certain items related to your job search:
- Resume Services. You may be able to deduct the cost of hiring a professional for help with your resume.
- Travel Expenses. Any driving you do to and from a job interview counts as mileage eligible for a deduction. For 2015, the IRS‘s standard rate is 57.5 cents per mile. All you need to do is keep a detailed mileage log and calculate the total number of miles you drive for job search purposes, then multiply that number by the standard mileage rate. Similarly, if you take a train, bus, or airplane ride to attend an interview, you can claim that cost as a deduction. The same goes for overnight lodging.
- Education. You may be able to deduct the cost of any courses you take to make yourself more employable provided you’re looking for work within your field. If you’re a web designer who learns a new programming language, that class is most likely deductible if you meet income and other eligibility requirements. However, if you’re an accountant looking to branch out into something more creative, you can’t write off a course on graphic design.
Keep in mind that you can only deduct job search costs if they, either on their own or combined with other eligible miscellaneous expenses, exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income. If your adjusted gross income is $50,000 and you have $1,200 in eligible job search expenses for the year, you can deduct that amount because it exceeds the 2% threshold; however, if your job search costs only total $600 and you don’t have any additional miscellaneous deductions with which to combine them, then you can’t deduct that $600.
Additionally, you can only deduct job search expenses if you’re looking for work in your current field or occupation. Recent college graduates looking to join the workforce cannot deduct their job search costs.
They say you need to spend money to make money, and when it comes to your job search, that definitely holds true. While you may rack up certain expenses en route to your next job, the good news is that you could wind up lowering your tax bill in the process. Plus, if you do end up needing to buy new things (such as clothing or computer equipment) in order to find a job, you get to keep those items to use as you please once you’re gainfully employed.
How much money did you spend on your last job search? How long did it take you to find work?