On Tuesday, July 31st, the Wall Street Journal ran an article:
Advice on Landing a Job After Moving to a New Area (p. B6):
The Question: “John” (or “Jane”) recently moved from a high-cost to a low-cost area. He (or she) gets interviews but no offers. Interviewers say the newcomer lacks confidence and probably wouldn’t be happy with a lower salary.
To answer this question, WSJ columnist Perri Capell interviewed some career consultants. They emphasized the usual strategies. Show you’re eager to work for the company. Say you recognize salaries are lower here. Build networking contact.
But few consultants combine relocation and career expertise. When you combine a career and a move, you need to consider other factors. Moving to a small town raises all sorts of questions, even without the low-cost considerations.
(1) What is a low-cost area?
In my experience, you always have trade-offs. When I lived in Silver City, New Mexico, you could find lower-priced houses and rental units. But other costs were high. Residents had to travel to Albuquerque, Las Cruces, El Paso or Tucson for certain kinds of medical care. Traveling almost always required an extra night or two away from home.
And besides housing, costs were not especially low. We had no craigslist and no competitive services to drive down price.
After I moved to the big expensive city of Seattle, my health insurance and phone bill actually dropped, because I had more plans to choose from. Food costs were lower. Computer repair meant calling a local geek from craigslist – not sending the computer off and paying a big minimum charge. I no longer spent $200-$400 a month for a long weekend in a nearby big city. Many entertainment options were free or low costs. And, of course, I have more opportunities to earn serious money.
Often low-cost simply means you have fewer options and choices to spend the money you have. So you spend less.
(2) Why does your new area have a lower cost of living?
In the rust belt states, such as Michigan, the cost of living will be low because the region’s industries have slowed down. Therefore, few companies will be around, let alone hiring. In small towns, a lower cost of living means you don’t have big companies — just mom and pop shops and a few big box retailers. Either way, you can expect more competition for fewer openings.
(3) Who are the region’s main employers?
It’s unlikely you’ll find the same type of employers and even less likely you’ll find the same employment culture. Your local employers have the attitude of “We will take whoever we can get,” not, “We want the best.” So you are competing against workers who may be less qualified but who will be genuinely happier with fewer benefits and lower salaries.
(4) Does your new region have a hidden agenda?
In a small town (or even a medium-sized city), employers often hire friends of friends. You may need years to crack the code, no matter how much networking you do. You may be mistrusted because you are single, married, childless, old, young, educated, foreign, male, female, appearing to be gay…who knows?
You may be getting lots of interviews because you’re a good candidate — or because everybody wants to meet the new kid on the block. So you may be getting called for interviews where you don’t stand much chance of being hired anyway.
(3) Does your new region tend to have high turnover among newcomers?
Some employers have been burned. They see too many gung-ho newcomers get discouraged and leave because of the weather, the lack of access to a mall, the slower pace, or some other factor that made the region low-cost.
(4) What kind of pay cut are you taking?
Again, recognize that employers speak from experience. They’ve seen newcomers eager to work for lower salaries — at first. They know the cost of living can be deceptive: you’ll find yourself paying for travel and amenities from your former life. So they expect you to come, put in some time, and then walk.
(5) Do you fit the local culture?
According to linguist and best-selling author Deborah Tannen, speech patterns can be mis-interpreted as personality traits. New Yorkers (like me!) interrupt each other when speaking. To a southerner or midwesterner, we’re rude. A southerner who waits to speak at a New York meeting might be viewed as shy.
So if you keep hearing, “You need confidence” (or “You come on too strong”) you are probably a cultural misfit, especially if you’ve never experienced this feedback before.
I once knew a graduate student who grew up in the deep south. She spoke with a soft, honeyed accent and she looked like the stereotype southern belle. She even put “Magnolia Society” on her resume. Employers feared she wouldn’t be tough enough so she had trouble on the job market.
Actually, this woman was tough as nails and, when she landed a good job, became a strong competitor who left her more aggressive colleagues in the dust.
Bottom Line: We can’t answer this question until we know more about the specific situation and about you, too. Generic career advice can send you on expensive, time-consuming detours.
In general, I encourage my own clients to (a) consider starting their own businesses and (b) be prepared to work at a minimum wage, entry level job: barista in a coffee shop, retail store clerk, pet sitter…even house cleaner. And of course I encourage them to scout the scene beforehiring a moving company.
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And of course I am happy to coach and consult if your challenge includes careers, relocation or both.
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