When That Offer Means a New City

By Susan Kreimer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 16, 2007

You've nailed an offer that requires relocating to another region, state or country. Now it's time to decide: Is this job worth moving for?

That all depends. While relocation may be a chancy proposition, a prudent person can mitigate the risk by carefully evaluating the organizational culture, the company's stability and other factors that foretell a lasting fit.

"If your intuition tells you something isn't quite right with the job, the manager or the company in general, be sure to listen to it," said Jeanne Knight, a career and job search coach in Boston. "There's nothing worse than packing up all your belongings and plopping them down elsewhere only to find you've made a terrible mistake. So research, research, research."

To spare yourself a heartache, Andrea Kay, a career consultant in Cincinnati, recommends learning as much about the employer as possible -- its finances, its record in the community and its leadership. This can easily be done by catching up on the local news and talking to people in the area to get a sense of the company's reputation.

It's also essential to clarify the job title, functions and who the supervisor will be. Beware if a company isn't willing to put all that in writing -- it's a big red flag. Surprises can spell disaster, cautioned Kay, who has written four books, including "Greener Pastures: How to Find a Job in Another Place."

"I had a client years ago who moved to Europe for a job, and it turned out to be a completely different role than he had expected," she said. "It was a terrible situation with a boss he had no relationship with, and it took him months to be able to get back to the U.S. and find a new position."

Luckily for Michael Cronin, relocating from Minnesota for a government job in 2005 ended up being a positive experience. Despite having lived in the Washington area previously to pursue a graduate degree in canon law at Catholic University, he couldn't resist feeling apprehensive about uprooting himself again.

"As I look back on it, it all went very smoothly, though I recall worrying a lot about the transition, moving, money, finding a place to live," said Cronin, 41, a former pastor who now manages the Office of the Historian for the House of Representatives. "I had help brushing up my r?sum?, and I visited several times with a career coach. Those things really helped my confidence."

Perception of risk varies depending on a job seeker's personality. One person may take a bad relocation in stride while another could be completely devastated, said Bill Kinser, who heads a r?sum? development service in Fairfax.

To ease those fears about a bad move and the possibility of disappointment, he said, "the most important thing for a candidate to do before relocating is to determine, to the extent possible, that their fit within the organizational culture will be comfortable."

The candidate should speak with the prospective supervisor or a few would-be peers to get their perspectives on the workplace. Most employers are glad to oblige such requests, Kinser said.

Also, he says it pays to observe the expressions and attitudes of anyone else a candidate meets during the visit. Then ask: "Do most of the employees seem to be happy to be there, or are they morose and complacent? Are they genuinely invested in their work and the organization, or are they just trying to get through the day?"

Another important aspect to factor into the decision -- to move or not to move -- is the stability of the company and its industry. "Is there identifiable potential for a downturn in the future?" Kinser said. "The adage 'last-hired, first-fired' is definitely worth considering, especially when relocation is involved."

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