I’m not a Jimmy Buffet fan, but that old song “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” has been running through my head lately.  It was a summer of significant experiences for my family – a long sleep-away camp in Maine for my boys and a splendid trek through Spain for me and my husband.   I thrive on the new places and unexpected adventures; I’ve also moved and lived in five different cities since graduating from Darden in 1996.  Thinking back on my own changes I understand why relocation considerations are a large part my career discussions with Darden alumni.  Geographic constraints are part of most job changes and potential moves can be triggered in many ways – promotions, a desire to return to a familiar home base, reaction to shifting family dynamics, or as a response to job loss.  Of course each situation is highly unique, but the themes inherent in the intersection of geography and job search have crystallized in my years as a career coach.

There are two obvious components that factor into career progression and job search:  job function and industry.  Answering the basic question “what do I want to do and where do I want to do it” are fundamental to career management.  “Where” can represent industry, sector, company, and even division or department.  There is also a third component – geographic location – that has the potential for the biggest impact on personal happiness.  Gaining momentum in a career can sometimes lead to geographic change and many alumni confront the choice between where they want to live versus where they are willing to live in order to enhance their career.

An unexpected job loss will often feel like a trigger for geographic change.  Many people think they will “have” to relocate in order to find a commensurate job, or that being completely “open” to job location will increase their chances of finding a new job fast.  I’ve found that the reality is often counter-intuitive.  While some industries have definite geographic concentration, most industries, or related sectors, have wide representation around the US. So there are usually more opportunities for job change in one’s own “backyard” than at first meets the eye.  Likewise, being “open” to a geographic move won’t make finding a job search easier; it actually can make the search a bit harder since there is no focus to the “place”.  Job seekers must remember that the competition for an opening is often a company’s own internal aspirants as well as equally qualified local candidates, making the prospects for recruitment even more challenging for the long-distance contender.

Alumni must think through a series of decision points when considering a potential job switch and relocation. First and foremost you must ponder whether a different location is what you really want or need.  If moving is a necessity for personal reasons, consider every alternative to make the move with your current employer; it’s often easier to get established in a new area when already employed.  On the other hand, if you’re unemployed and you’re certain about moving to a specific locale, consider moving in advance of conducting the job search in order to immerse yourself in the local market.  If you’re searching for new work and willing to move, but unsure about the destination, thoughtful assessment of your industry/function/geography objective is essential.  I share these tips with anyone thinking about a move:

  • Focus on a specific place or a limited number of cities/regions and research the target market carefully, finding companies that meet your objective (industry and function) and overlap with your target geography.
  • Travel to the target geography and make the most of your trip by doing the pre-work, setting up as many “informational” meetings as you can;  primary research will help you understand the local market better and also might uncover some ‘hidden gem’ jobs  in your target sector.  Read the local business journals regularly.  Internet-based research can also help give you a sense of companies, salaries and cost of living.  Glassdoor.com is a useful tool for researching companies and cities, and they now publish a report card “Employment Satisfaction by City”.   CNNMoney also has a handy cost of living calculator.
  • Engage your network, reconnect with old friends, former colleagues, classmates from Darden and alumni, and let everyone know your intention to relocate; your “pitch” needs to incorporate your reasoning for a move.
  • Know that you must have rock-solid credentials and skills for the long-distance job opportunity in order to gain an edge over the local competition.
  • Don’t make assumptions about relocation expense assistance, ask about company policy early in the interview process and be flexible when negotiating a comp package.

Making job-related move, whether you expressly seek the change or it finds you, can be exciting, inspiring and rewarding.  If you find yourself considering a big move, contact Darden’s Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services for free career assistance.  Happy Travels! 

Marty Speight (Darden MBA 96), Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services