To Go or Not to Go: First Things First

by Herzog, Barbara Monday, September 25, 2006
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Some of the most daunting tasks facing my clients are how – and whether - to find a job in another city.

Take John, for example. A photographer and technical writer, John yearned to spread his wings and try something new: “A cooler place, a saner pace, a more creative city. Maybe Seattle. I’m sick of DC,” he told me. “What else makes you want to move,” I asked. “Well, I guess it’s also that I’ve been mostly freelancing for 10 years, and I’m ready for a steady job with benefits. I can’t seem to find one in DC, though I’m making good money. And my long-time relationship just fell apart. I’ve got to change something, make a move.”

Before John and I worked on how to get an out-of-town job, there was the prior question of whether to exit DC, and where to go.

It’s not just John who should carefully consider his reasons before plunging into the search. It’s anyone who is thinking of moving. I’ve seen plenty of clients for whom it’s more of a push than a pull, more of an escape than a sound plan for a better job and life. Escape motives need to be challenged with some serious analysis. Would a new city really solve your problems – or do you need a new job, a new boss, or a new relationship?

John decided he’d do some pro-con lists for moving, looking at his best guesses for how things would play out in 2, 5 and 8 years. He would also make a list of other factors that were pushing or pulling him. He agreed to spend two full weeks on this, and consult with a couple of his closest friends.

A tough choice, when he got down to it. After some thought, he decided that it was Atlanta, not Seattle, that called to him most, despite the heat. Why? Because he had grown up in a nearby small town, his aging parents still lived there, and the energy and culture spoke to him. Meantime, his relationship had gotten partially back on the track. But a steady job was really high on his “must have” list as he approached the big 4-0. Then again, his significant other wasn’t ready to move, at least not yet.

He felt muddled.

John’s story underscores the point that there is hard thinking to be done before you decide to change cities. In the end, you may consult your soul or your gut to decide – but it’s good to give them the best information possible.

John decided that since it now was a toss-up, he’d take two weeks and “try out” Atlanta. So he loaded his laptop, his roller blades, and his dog (was Atlanta pet friendly?) into a rental SUV, and took off.

John was going a smart thing — double-checking his impressions of a city he’d not spent much time in. His list could work well for you:

  1. Find out about rental housing cost and availability (with pet), best bet locations, and commuting times.
  2. Explore the job market for full time jobs in his field.
  3. Check cost-of-living compared to average salaries.
  4. Note the social ambiance: how open to newcomers do people seem to be? How about the cultural and recreational scene?
  5. Explore the free-lance or contract market in case a full time job doesn’t work out at first.
Once you are getting serious about a move, plan a visit, and stay long enough (at least a week, and preferably two) to check things out. Do some networking before you go. Ideas include:

  • Contacting college classmates who live in your potential city.
    Contacting friends of friends through a social network like Friendster or LinkedIn.
  • Surfing the net for professional organizations in your field, and checking to see if you can attend a meeting or two as a guest.
  • Finding out about a religious or ethnic group’s social meeting time and place, and planning to attend, be friendly, and ask questions.
John did most of this, and came away feeling good about Atlanta. But his DC relationship was on again (life is complicated, right?) About a month after he returned, the two of them decided to:

  • Move to Atlanta as soon as one of them got a full-time job
  • Rent a furnished apartment and not feel bad – well, not too bad – if Atlanta didn’t work out, since John would rent out his small DC house and could claim it back after a year.
  • Be frugal in the short term, and build up an extra cash cushion.
  • Use good distance networking techniques to land a job as fast as possible.
John’s experience may give you some pointers. Another consideration: Don’t try to change careers AND change cities all at the same time. Doing both at once is tough. Save the career change for step two, perhaps a year later. You’ll start to network in your new field, maybe take a course or two, or do some volunteer work to make the transition easier.

Once you decide a move is for you, there are lots of good sources on how to seek an out-of-town job. But spend the time first to check out your motives, and your target city.