Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Relocation, relocation, relocation.

Once, a long time ago, I had a job that I really liked, but it was in a place that I didn't like so much. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the folks with whom I worked. I really, really liked the job that I had. I really, really, really did not like mosquitos, black flies, 112% humidity, moss, fungus, lightning and other stuff that fell out of the sky. I landed there because I could not find the kind of job I wanted in Southern California.

In fact, the year that I applied for the best-job-I-ever-had-in-the-worst-place-I-ever-lived, I sent out about 40 applications to positions in California and an equal number to the Midwest and Southeast. I was offered exactly two interviews in the Golden State and got... well, zero offers. At the same time, I was constantly flying back to Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama (among other places) to interview with prospective colleagues and employers and I got multiple offers before settling on the best-job-I-ever-had-in-the-worst-place-I-ever-lived.

The California the job market in higher education had been incredibly crowded and I had been consistently beaten out of jobs by more experienced candidates. Initially, I wanted something near my Orange County home. After a few months, I decided that I could commute 40 or 45 minutes for the right job, but that quickly gave way to 90 minutes. Eventually, I came to the realization that I was not going to be gainfully employed anywhere west of the Colorado River. I started to look over the horizon. The cool thing is that even though I left the best-job-I-ever-had-in-the-worst-place-I-ever-lived after only two years, I was interviewing in California again and I ended up 45 minutes away from my OC address.

This time I was the candidate with the experience and a new crop of recently graduated schmoes were getting the letters that told them how tough a decision it was not to hire them. So, since I am obviously in California at this time, did it do any good to leave? It turns out that one of the best ways to get a job where you are is to take one a long way away from where you are, but there are some provisos.
1. You have to accept the fact that you may not get back quickly. I was lucky. My wife had both a good job and a good deal of patience. When I moved 2500 miles away to the South, she stayed and maintained our homestead. When I returned, her income helped stabilize my readjustment and made it possible for me to be a bit "pickier" about a new job. Had I not had that cushion, it probably would have taken a bit longer to get back to where I wanted.

2. You have to really settle in. If you take the approach that you are just being there in order to get somewhere else, you will not connect with your colleagues, bosses, or job. Remember, I was actually sad to leave the best-job-I-ever-had-in-the-worst-place-I-ever-lived, and I think my friends were sad to see me go. I got sterling recommendations from them and still speak to them from time to time after being gone for many years. Find a permanent place to live, join a gym, connect with people in whatever way you can... church, community college, outdoors clubs, etc.

3. Don't look for another job. At least not right away. There will be plenty of time for that later and you need to be learning your craft now. I worked with a graduate six years ago who finally, reluctantly accepted a position in Maryland. About a year later, she called to say that she had been unexpectedly offered a position in Texas because her boss was so pleased with her work. Last year, she took me to lunch after being transferred to the Bay Area. The irony is that during the five years that she was out of California, her parents had moved to Northern California and because she moved to Maryland, she is now closer to her family than she would have been if she had stayed in Southern California. She is clear that this was possible because she sunk herself into her job and excelled at it.

4. Be adventurous. More than anything, this is about taking risks and taking risks is about leveraging the opportunity for success by creating the possibility for failure. In this day and age of cell phones, instant messages, and the internet, working 500 or 1000 miles away is really no big deal. Southwest will get you home in less than 2 hours for $59... and since you will have a good job, you'll be able to afford it.
That's it. All the stuff  you should know about relocating to enhance your career prospects.

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