Should You Move For a Job?
In today’s day and age, with virtual meetings the norm, and air travel (pre-virus) ubiquitous, very few of us have to move for a job. We can commute, either physically or virtually, or a combination of both. In fact, with many large companies spread over the globe where one lives often matters little.
In the old days, moving for a job was the norm, even expected. The man was often the family provider, so if the company wanted to move you, you moved. Packed up the family and off you went. My father spent 35 years at GE (also not unusual at the time). I remember when we moved from Boston to Cincinnati. He had an opportunity for advancement in a new role he really wanted. GE arranged for us to find a new house, even flying both of my parents for a few weekends of house hunting. GE helped arrange the purchase of our new home and the sale of the old one. Although these arrangements still exist today, they are far less frequent, replaced by companies that do this as part of a benefits or relocation package. Back then, companies also provided pensions.
The beginning of a new job is always an exciting time. You’ve found the perfect gig, negotiated a compensation package, and are ready to start. The only catch is, you need to move. Moving to a new city can open up great opportunities. It also presents some significant risks.
Sometimes a move for a job opens up new opportunities. Other times, it can leave one isolated. Here are a few stories.
A friend told me of a boss he once had at a bank in Cleveland. The boss had been recruited from Kansas City and the bank paid to relocate him and his family to Cleveland. After two years, the company decided to let him go. The boss objected to this arrangement and basically insisted that they put him back where they found him. Being at a fairly senior level, the bank acquiesced, and paid to relocate him and his family back to Kansas City. Most of us would not get such consideration.
Another friend, young, female, and single, was transferred by a small consulting company from Chicago to Dallas. 8 months later, they let her go, and basically abandoned her there. Aside from the cost associated with moving back to Chicago, which was now on her, there was the issue that her entire network was here, and interviewing (at least back then) required face-to-face meetings, which required flights and hotel rooms at her expense, until she could find an apartment and move back. Difficult to do without a job.
For many, moving for a job is not optional. If one is unemployed and a job is offered, sometimes that is the only option, so off we go. If moving is optional, consider a few things:
How distanced will you be from your network? Although a lot can be accomplished by Zoom, email and text, job-networking at some point requires face-to-face meetings, pandemics notwithstanding.
How quickly could you build up a network, both professional and social, in your new location? Some locations such as Chicago, New York and San Francisco, are regional hubs, have large, well-established networking groups, and one can build a network there quickly. Other, smaller cities, much less so.
If it doesn’t work out, how will you get back? Moving isn’t cheap, and while we all hope for the best when starting out a new adventure, it is important to plan for the worst. Do you have enough money to get back to where you were?
And of course, there are considerations such as family and kids, buy or rent, spouse’s career, etc.
A while back a recruiter reached out to me about a CIO role in Detroit. The role seemed interesting. As a practical matter, I could commute from Chicago to Detroit. There are cheap flights about every 30 minutes and the flight is only 45 minutes. At a previous employer, several people commuted from New York and Cleveland to Chicago weekly, so this was well within the realm of the possible. But the recruiter said that the CEO insisted that I move there, with my family, and “become involved with the community.” This really shocked me. Most companies don’t care where you live. If you have to go into an office every day, they just expect you to show up. If you choose to commute from the suburbs or from 300 miles away, that is your business (and expense). This was a new wrinkle, where the company was asking far more of me than I felt was reasonable. Was I supposed to coach a soccer team or something? This represented some old-world thinking, in my opinion, and indicated that that kind of thinking would likely permeate my official duties, which I wanted no part of.
Sometimes, however, moving to a new location is the start of one’s career. Quite a few people have been lucky enough to get that offer from Google, Amazon, Salesforce, Facebook, etc. and promptly move to the Bay area or wherever. If you are leaving nothing behind then a move is doorway into your future.
Having said that, a move to a new city can also open up a world of opportunities. But be prepared to move back in case things don’t work out. Always have a Plan B, and enough money saved up to execute it.