Looking for and starting your new job can be hard enough. Add relocation to the mix, and you have a recipe for sleepless nights filled with worry and dread. But fluff up that bed pillow. Strategies exist to help you learn all you need to know about the area you're interested in so you can be well-rested and able to make the best decisions for your career - and life.
Know thyself. No one else knows better why you are considering this relocation for work. Maybe you are leaving your nursing job at a hospital because you want better work-life balance. Maybe you seek higher pay as a physical therapist or a more supportive work environment as an X-ray technician.
"Why are you moving?" Phyllis Stein of Phyllis R. Stein: Career Counseling and Coaching, said to ask yourself. "Are you moving away from where you are? Are you moving toward something? What is the attraction? Is it the weather? Is it you've got friends or family there?"
Presumably, answering why you are moving will help you prioritize your values so you can make sure the area you are researching offers you the opportunity to satisfy your needs. If, for example, you are looking for better quality of life, make sure your off-hour pursuits will be available with the newfound time you gain; if you have higher income requirements, investigate if the larger community you are moving to also won't gouge you in the cost-of-living department; and if you seek a radiology department or laboratory with more state-of-the-art equipment, don't consider a small-town facility with limited resources.
Embark on a research project. No, you haven't had this kind of assignment since you were in high school or college, but uprooting your whole life is a big deal, so don't leave the decision to chance.
First, you can turn to the experts - find a relocation expert or read books about relocation. Assuming you know what you're doing if you've never been in this situation before, Stein says, is like letting fate send you into the kitchen to make a soufflé with the instructions: "Here's a couple of dozen eggs. You figure it out."
Then formulate a list of questions you want to learn about an area, and don't stop researching until you have literally exhausted yourself, said Joyce K. Reynolds, an expert business coach.
"People don't think whole life; they think about the job, they think about an apartment or a house or whatever those small circles of interest might be, and they forget about the big picture," she said. "So it's a really important thing people don't stop at the first five questions. Go to 10. Go to 15. Go to 20 really important questions you need to ask about that place and that company before you go there. If you're single, what's the single's community like there? What's the social environment there? What's the mix of people? If you're a global person, and you like to have all different types of personalities around you, you better make sure the makeup of that community is pretty broad."
Be an investigative reporter. You have to find out what you're getting into before you move and not after, so this means finding out the undesirable attributes of a place as well as the attractive information touted on the slick visitor's brochure. Here is where you need to get out of your comfort zone if you tend to be shy or hesitant to talk to unfamiliar people because you should plan to interview a lot of strangers.
Start with your immediate circle of family, friends and acquaintances and move outward to former work colleagues, college alumni associations, professional organizations and beyond to find anyone who has lived in that community so you can talk to them. Carol Martin, a career services consultant with Ricklin Echikson Associates, had a 20-something client who was able to land about 10 informational interviews with college alumni of all ages who answered many of his questions about Philadelphia.
If you are negotiating a job at a hospital or private practice, ask to talk to some staff members about the area they are living in. And don't be shy about asking a potential employer about services/support they offer for transplanted new employees, Reynolds said. "You need to understand what they are going to do to make you the most comfortable person in their town, in their organization," she added.
Then move on to strangers. Call local businesses you plan to frequent (e.g., coffee shops, banks, fitness centers, etc.), local clerical leaders, and realtors in the area and start asking the questions you need to know. Reynolds suggests asking people what they would change about or add to the community they reside in, if your specific interests are represented in this area and how expensive a city is in unanticipated ways.
"Find the real heart of the truth for you - like how are you going to be treated," Reynolds said. "What's the climate there? And it's not going to be coming from a website that's published to attract new residents or businesses. It's going to come from actual people."
This sometimes means you discover the area you are investigating would not be a good match for you. One of Stein's clients, a single, gay woman from Boston, turned down a premier job in East Texas after thoroughly interviewing a number of local residents because she concluded she would be socially isolated.
The devil is in the details. Google is still your friend for basic searches on demographics, housing, cost of living, schools, politics, weather, crime, recreation, leisure activities, etc. And reading the local newspaper online or websites dedicated to a community (e.g., Boston.com, Philly.com) as well as citydata.com can give you a flavor of the area, said Martin. But be mindful that much of the data on these sites is raw and may not get down to the level of detail you need.
Stein had a client who moved from Boston to an expensive community in California, who did her homework on cost of living, but still got caught by surprise after she moved. Though the woman factored in higher housing and other expenses with the help of cost-of-living calculators, she came to find that she was actually earning less money with a $20,000 raise because the price of food was so inflated.
So if you've done your homework and like most of what you found and can live with what you don't, your new community sounds like it will fit your life like a well-worn pair of nursing clogs. But the biggest mistake some people make when considering relocating is not doing enough research, or getting the data and then ignoring the red flags, Reynolds said.
"You cannot afford to do that," she said. "It's just too important. Even if you think you definitely need to have a job, and it's in a place you already know you don't like, don't take it. People get scared, and they do that kind of thing, and then they're in the chair that belongs to somebody else and then somebody else is in yours. Don't contribute to that."
Jill Hoffman is a former staff member at ADVANCE.