Starting a new job is a nerve-wracking endeavor even under the best of circumstances. It's incredibly common to feel a flood of emotions, including excitement, nervousness, relief, regret and even panic. Adding a potential relocation to the mix only heightens these feelings.
Moving is universally cited as one of the most stressful experiences a person can face. It's right up there with divorce, loss of a job and death of a loved one. So, whether you are a seasoned professional considering a promotion or a recent college grad starting out in a new city, it's worth taking the time to determine if moving for a job is the best option for you.
Candidly asking yourself these key questions before taking the jump can give you some clarity about the value of a potential move.
1. Is this job and company a good fit?
As you should with any opportunity, thoroughly research your prospective employer. It would be devastating to uproot your life and 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. Before moving, take the time to look into the company's track record and investigate its potential for growth.
"Remember that what you see on its website and even in your interview may not be the entire truth," said Dr. Toni A. Haley, certified executive coach and CEO of Williams Wellness Group. "The company is trying to sell itself to you as much as you are trying to sell yourself as a candidate."
Glassdoor, Great Places to Work, Comparably and a host of other online resources can provide you with in-depth employer reviews, as well as compensation and company culture information. Haley advises digging even deeper by having dinner with your potential co-workers during the interview process.
"Be friendly in your conversation," she said, "but do not be afraid to ask pointed questions concerning work-life balance, job satisfaction, access to child care and healthcare, and general quality of life in your prospective city."
Even 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 where you have few to no friends, workplace culture becomes that much more important, said Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO and co-founder of SquareFoot.
"The people in the office are going to constitute a huge part of your social life," Wasserstrum said. "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."
2. Will the employer cover relocation expenses?
It's more important than ever to find out if your new employer will help you cover the cost of picking up and moving. Prior to 2018, you could deduct relocation expenses from your federal income tax. That deduction has now been eliminated for everyone except those in the armed forces. This means that whatever salary increase you scored with your new gig may very well be eaten up by the expense of resettling in a new city.
The level of relocation assistance varies widely – with smaller employers less likely to cover it at all – and can include moving expenses, temporary housing, help selling your current home, sponsored house-hunting trips or even a lump sum of cash to be used as needed.
Regardless of the offer, it's important to get it in writing and see if you can negotiate additional coverage, according to Jill Santopietro Panall, owner and chief consultant of 21Oak HR Consulting.
"Trips … to look at the new location can be costly," Panall said. "Employees should be sure that any partner/spouse and any family/kids are allowed to come on at least one of the trips while scouting out the new location."
Pay close attention to the fine print of your relocation contract. Some relocation agreements require you to repay expenses covered by the employer if you leave the company within a certain timeframe. You need to determine in advance if you are ready to reimburse your employer for the move if you decide to walk away from the job for any reason.
3. What's the job market like in the area?
When considering a move, many people don't think about what they will do if the job does not work out. Cheryl E. Palmer, founder of career coaching firm Call to Career, recommends finding out 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," Palmer said.
Familiarize yourself with the job market in your desired location by checking local job listings for your field, identifying companies that have their corporate or regional headquarters in your area, and visiting websites, such as City-Data.com, that offer detailed information on employers in specific areas.
4. What's the cost of living?
Before moving, compare the cost of living to your current situation and determine if your new salary will adequately cover your expenses.
Timothy Wiedman, 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," Wiedman said. "When those negotiations failed, I had to decline the promotion."
But even the promise of a higher salary shouldn't automatically sway you to move until you take stock of all of your expenses. If you are relocating to a more expensive area, your money – even if you have more of it – won't go as far. You may have to decide if you are willing to modify or sacrifice some aspects of your current lifestyle for the new job.
"Remember, $200,000 a year may equal comfortable living in one city but just barely getting by in another, especially when you account for family size or if you are the main breadwinner," Haley said.
While housing will take the biggest bite out of your budget, you will need to consider other expenses, such as groceries, utilities, transportation, healthcare and taxes. You can crunch the numbers with 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.
5. How will my quality of life be affected?
Identifying what you can and cannot tolerate is key to making a decision you will not regret.
"Evaluate your current lifestyle, and identify aspects you value most which may be affected by a move," said Lauren Herring, CEO of IMPACT Group.
For example, if you are a person who needs constant cultural stimulation, Herring suggests looking for a community with adequate access to concerts, sports, theater 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 and day cares in the area are priorities. Others may have to ask themselves if they will be happy living in an area prone to extreme weather conditions, such as long winters, tornadoes or hurricanes.
Always research and, if possible, visit the potential new city to see if it meets your needs and expectations, advises Wanda Gravett, academic program coordinator for Walden University's Master of Human Resource Management. "Consult people who have lived or are currently living there, and look at what else there is to do besides working.
6. How will this impact my family?
It's necessary to determine if your family is supportive and excited about the potential change or apprehensive about the move.
"The majority of failed moves that I have seen over the years happened because the spouse or family is unhappy in the new location and either don't fit in or can't find work and feel bored and alienated," Panall said.
Getting a move to work for everyone is messy and does not always leave all parties feeling like they are getting what they want. You will need to have candid conversations with your spouse or partner about how this change will impact their life, career and relationships. Together, you need to decide whether one of you is willing to deviate from your career trajectory for the other. If you have children, you will also need to consider if the move is in their best interests.
7. Will I have a social support system?
One aspect of relocation that is often overlooked is the role that social networks play in our lives and well-being. While moving closer to family and friends may be a motivating factor for someone looking to relocate, moving away from an existing support system may be a bigger price than some job seekers are willing to pay.
"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 evaluate if you see yourself thriving in a location without a built-in support system. If you generally have a hard time making new friends, you may feel untethered in a new environment and overwhelmed by homesickness and loneliness.
8. Am I ready for the unknown?
No matter how prepared you are to relocate, there is always a certain level of unpredictability, with 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 co-workers. 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," Merrill said. 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 Archer, CEO and founder of Essential Engagement Services. Many individuals are surprised at the emotional toll moving can take during those first 6-12 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 into a move," Archer said. You need to determine if you are the type of person who can navigate this upheaval and come out fine on the other side.
"Many folks stay in dead-end jobs that provide limited career opportunities – rather than face the (seemingly scary) idea of pulling up roots and moving to a distant city or state," Wiedman said. "But relocation doesn't have to be scary. In fact, it can become an adventure."
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.