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Build Your Career Get Ahead

Before You Relocate for Work, Ask Yourself These Questions

Before You Relocate for Work, Ask Yourself These Questions
Credit: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Would you move for a job? Whether you are a seasoned professional considering a promotion or a recent college graduate starting out in a new city, the thought of relocating can be simultaneously appealing and terrifying.

To determine if relocation is right for you, take the time to seek the advice of experts, learn from people who have been there before you and ask yourself these key questions.

As with any opportunity, thoroughly research your prospective employer. It would be devastating to pack up your life, move to a new city only to find on your first day on the job that your boss is a tyrant and the company is on its last leg. Look into the company's track record, investigate its potential for growth and closely examine its relocation benefits.

"Using websites, like Glassdoor, company reviews and other resources that can be found via social media that give an idea about company culture can be a good thing to do before taking on a position," said Valerie Streif, senior advisor with the career service Mentat.   

If you are staying with your current employer but transferring to a new location, make sure the local company culture is a good fit. In a new city with few to no friends, workplace culture becomes that much more important, said Jonathan Wasserstrum, co-founder of the commercial real estate firm SquareFoot.

"The people in the office are going to constitute a huge part of your social life. If you feel at home in the culture and genuinely like the people you work with, that's going to help your quality of life substantially," added Wasserstrum. [Want to relocate? Follow these tips to help you land an out-of-state job.]

When considering a move, many people don't consider what they will do if the job does not work out. Career coach Cheryl E. Palmer recommends examining if your line of work is in high demand in the new area.  

"You should know ahead of time what the job market looks like for people in your field so that you have a reasonable assurance that you can find another job if you ... have to look for new employment in a new geographic location," said Palmer.

When Andy Shearer left his job with a New York City public relations firm to become a director of publicity for a college in Savannah, Georgia, he never imagined that in a few years his employer would eliminate his department.

"I found myself in a city with family and [a] mortgage that had no need [or] place for my particular skills," recalled Shearer. "Had I been more thorough prior to my move, I would have researched the economy of the city I was moving to."

Ultimately, Shearer started his own business but advises those considering a big move to "hope for the best, but know that things never go according to plan, so plan on that!"

Planning involves familiarizing yourself with the job market in your desired location by checking local job listings for opportunities in your field, identifying companies that have their corporate or regional headquarters in your area and visiting websites, such as City-Data.com, which offer detailed information on employers in specific areas.

Before moving, compare the cost of living between your current and your desired destination to determine if your new salary will adequately cover your expenses.

"If you aren't willing to sacrifice your current lifestyle for a new job, and if the new job wouldn't afford you to live like you currently do, it may be a sign that you shouldn't make the move," said Streif.

Timothy G. Wiedman, a retired associate professor of management and human resources at Doane University, has made five job-related relocations over a 41-year career. Wiedman once turned down a promotion because his employer wanted to relocate him from a low-cost location in the Midwest to Washington D.C. without any allowance for the cost-of-living difference.

"I did enough research to realize that my standard of living would drop quite a bit, unless I could negotiate a raise," explained Wiedman. "When those negotiations failed, I had to decline the promotion." 

While housing will take the biggest bite out of your budget, you will need to consider other expenses, such as groceries, utilities, transportation, health care and taxes. You can crunch the numbers by using free online tools like BestPlaces, which lets you compare the cost of living between locations, and PayScale, which provides salary profiles for positions around the country.

Identifying what you can and cannot tolerate is key to making a decision you will not regret in the long haul.

"Evaluate your current lifestyle and identify aspects you value most which may be affected by a move," said Lauren Herring, CEO of IMPACT Group and the author of "This Side Up! A Simple Guide to Your Successful Relocation" (BookBaby, 2016). For example, if you are a person who needs constant cultural stimulation, Herring suggests looking for a community with adequate access to concerts, sports, plays and shopping options.

For people concerned with high gas prices or the length of their commute, a deciding factor may be easy access to public transportation. For a parent, the safety of a neighborhood and the quality of schools in the area are a priority. Others may have to ask themselves if they really will be happy living in an area prone to extreme weather conditions, such as very long winters, tornadoes or hurricanes.

This was the case for Alice Williams, a communications specialist with Frontier Communications.

"When I moved from California to Utah, [I took] multiple trips throughout the year to make my decision. I was nervous about living through a 'proper' winter," said Williams. "When I visited during winter, I found that it wasn't actually that bad at all and [was] quite tolerable."  

It's necessary to determine if your family is supportive and excited about the potential change or apprehensive about the move.

"Be honest with yourself and your family about the hurdles you will face," said Peg Newman, partner in the executive search firm Sanford Rose Associates - Newman Group. "I've seen moves fail miserably because when the rubber hit the road, [family members] really weren't ready for the [change]."

The business of getting a move to work for everyone is messy and does not always leave all parties feeling like they are getting what they what. You will need to have candid conversations with your spouse or partner about how this change will impact his or her life, career and relationships.

Together, you need to decide whether one of you is willing to deviate from your career trajectory for the other. Additionally, if you have children, you will need to consider how well they will adjust as well as the quality of the schools in your new location. 

Consider how important the social aspect of relocation is to you so you can make the best choice, said Palmer.

"Some people enjoy moving to an area where they don't have established ties because they enjoy making new friends," Palmer said. "Other people prefer to start with a network of people that they know and branch out from there."

If you are in the latter group and the job is taking you away from friends and family, you need to examine if you see yourself thriving in a location without a built-in support system. If you are a person who has a hard time making new friends or relies on family for childcare, for example, you may feel untethered in a new environment.

Moving away from an existing support system may come with a bigger price than some job seekers are willing to pay. In fact, a survey by the moving referral service moveBuddha found that respondents who returned home after a relocation cited loneliness as the main reason their moves were unsuccessful. Similarly, a recent corporate relocation survey by Atlas Van Lines reported that of respondents who declined relocation offers, 69 percent did so because of family issues and ties.

No matter how prepared you are, there is always a certain level of unpredictability and unknown factors that you cannot control or even anticipate. Marcia Merrill, a career coach who has served as an assistant director of a college career center, recounted the story of an alumna who, upon deciding to move her family, took the time to research the schools, find the perfect neighborhood, figure out the ideal commuting route and get doctor recommendations from her new coworkers. What she didn't anticipate was the reaction of the family dog.

"A never-misbehaved dog reacted to this move by chewing up the couch, going to the bathroom in the middle of the bed … and growling and barking wildly at all her neighbors," explained Merrill. "The kids were fine. She found doctors and dentists, but the dog was not happy and everyone knew it."

Relocating is a "complete life disruption," said Sara Boehm, CEO of Essential Engagement Services and author of "The Essential Moving Guide for Families" (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014). Many individuals are surprised at the emotional toll moving can take during those first six to 12 months of settling in, she said.

"It isn't permanent and most will go on to create a great new life for themselves, but it is still something to know going in to a move," Boehm added.

The moral here – when moving, you can do all the planning in the world, and the unexpected may still happen. You need to determine if you are the type of person who can navigate through the upheaval moving brings and come out on the other side.

Paula Fernandes

Paula is a New Jersey-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Education. She spent nearly a decade working in education, primarily as the director of a college's service-learning and community outreach center. Her prior experience includes stints in corporate communications, publishing, and public relations for non-profits. Reach her by email.