Monday, March 2, 2009

Is a Relocation Worth the Risk to Get a Job?

Recently on Twitter I told Ari Herzog that the photo he posted of a recent job fair reminded me of a herd of wildebeests looking for the last watering hole.

I've seen quite a few similar photos: Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people lined up for a limited number of jobs. From the slouching teen with multiple body piercings talking on a cell phone to the over 45 job seeker clad in a Burberry trench coat, tapping away on a Blackberry, they all stand in line trying not to appear desperate that they need a job.

Looking at these photos, I wondered if any of these people thought about trying to get a job in a market that wasn't so saturated with job seekers. But after talking with several people looking for work, I came to understand that many of them simply didn't want to move away from friends and family, and were hopeful the job market would turn around. Still others couldn't move because a spouse still had a job in that city, or because they knew they couldn't sell their home in this crappy housing market.

And then I spoke with Jenny Brooks, 32, who made the decision in June 2008 to move her family to Birmingham, Ala. from Coos Bay, Ore. to launch a public relations campaign for a new client of her Northern California employer. With her employer offering a $6,000 moving allowance and a promise of six months rent paid in the new location while she tried to sell her Coos Bay home, Brooks, her husband and two young daughters made the move to what they hoped was a great career opportunity in a bigger city with more to offer.

Unfortunately, that dream has come crashing down. A couple of weeks ago, Brooks lost her job when her new client filed for bankruptcy. She can’t get her old job back with her Northern California employer, because the economic downturn has also hit that company.

“It was sort of a perfect storm,” she says. “It just all happened so fast.”

While Brooks’ husband was able to transfer within his company to Birmingham, she is now doing freelance public relations work. She says that the home in Coos Bay is “way underwater” – worth less than what the couple paid for it. And, the renters who were occupying a home the couple owns in Phoenix has moved out.

“We took a big risk moving to Birmingham. We gambled and bet this would work out. But it didn’t,” she says.

Cheryl Palmer, a certified executive career coach and founder of Call to Career in Silver Spring, Md., says that in this rough housing and job market, “there’s no straight answer on what to do” when it comes to relocation for a job.

“There are more variables with dire consequences now,” Palmer says. “With the economy shrinking, the potential fallout (from relocation) is that much greater. You’ve really got to weigh some of the factors very carefully.”

According to a survey, people continue to relocate in the U.S., with the South and West attracting the most people. And while there are jobs in those areas of the country, it doesn’t guarantee such a move is right for you and your family, Palmer says.

She recommends anyone considering a relocation should:

· Do your due diligence. Make sure you research the financial health of the company and that it appears to be growing and doing well in spite of the recession.

· Scout the new location. “There is always the possibility that the job may not work out after you take it, so have a backup plan,” Palmer says. “You should know ahead of time what the job market looks like for people in your field so that you have a reasonable assurance that you can find another job.”
Brooks says she and her husband may end up moving to Phoenix, since that’s where they not only own a home, but where they have the most professional and personal contacts.

“You still get jobs based on who you know. Anyone can get a job at a fast-food restaurant. But can that really support a family? You’ve got to think long term,” Brooks says. “We really don’t have any contacts in Birmingham.”

· Get as much financial assistance as possible. Palmer says that some companies will help you sell your home as part of a relocation package, which is usually a positive sign that the company would be worth relocating for. In Brooks’ case, she says that the move actually cost about $2,000 more than she was given, and that doesn’t include the $1,000 it cost the family to set up a household and pay for things like utility deposits. “My advice would be to ask for everything (in relocation reimbursement). It’s your future and your family’s future,” Brooks says.

At the same time, you may have to consider footing the bill yourself if you want the job badly enough, Palmer says.

“The industries that really need people – such as nursing, or the employers in states like Wisconsin that are really looking for workers – they may offer assistance,” Palmer says. “But I’ve also advised some of my clients that if you want the job, you may be able to sway them to hire you by saying you’ll pay for relocation yourself.”

Despite losing her job and now being saddled with two mortgages, Brooks remains positive about the changes facing her.

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve come into contact with amazing people. This move was something we needed to do. So I’d tell people not to let fear tell you what to do,” Brooks says.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

How to Survive When Your Company's Ship Sinks

Is there any more disturbing site than watching employees cart their belongings in a cardboard box out of a failed company?

As I watched Lehman Brothers' employees leave the building over the weekend, it reminded me of that awful scene of stunned workers leaving Enron after it went belly up.

One of the most difficult aspects of a large employer failing is that you suddenly have thousands of people in the same boat -- and not everyone will do as well as others. Some will never regain their earning power, some will fall into depressions so deep it will take them years to re-enter the job market with any real enthusiasm and others will simply drift away to less-than-desirable careers.

The key for any employee who is suddenly out of a job with hundreds of co-workers is speed. At this point, you can't afford to sit back and bitch about how unfair the world is and the employer misled you about how serious were the problems. Because while you're moaning and groaning, others are scrapping for available jobs.

You need to:

* Make a game plan. Write down what are your absolutes -- the things you must have in a job. If it's health insurance, living in a certain city, specific hours, etc., then you know not to waste time looking at jobs that don't meet those criteria.
* Rally the troops. Get together with family and friends and let them know the situation. Brainstorm about people they know who might be able to help you submit a resume or get an interview. Remember: Most people still get jobs based on who they know.
* Contact a career coach or alumni association. Many universities are already geared up to help those who have been hard hit on Wall Street. If you don't think you can afford a career coach, consider giving up some of the extras in your life (a gym membership, eating out, cable television, etc.) which can can help you pay for a coach.
* Don't immediately think "entrepreneur": Times are tough right now, for everyone. Starting a business may be a dream, but it may be wiser to put it on hold until they economy brightens.
* Pride goeth before the fall: Keep in mind that there are going to be potentially thousands of people looking for a job as this financial debacle unfolds, so you can't afford to let your ego get in the way of a potential job. Be realistic about what you can accept as a salary, and don't get caught up in a job title. Keep in mind that if you get a job offer, you can usually negotiate a bit on the salary and benefits.
* Be ready to get the hell out of Dodge. I know people who live in New York City are passionate about the place. They can't -- and don't -- want to imagine living anywhere else. But the truth is that you may have to consider other cities if you want to land another job. And, even if you have kids, they can adapt to a relocation easier than they can to losing their home if you don't have a job.

And finally, if you find yourself out of work, remember to be good to yourself. Surround yourself with positive thinkers, take care of your body with proper nourishment and rest, and do whatever sustains your soul, whether it's yoga, gardening or attending religious services. Do not hesitate to ask for help from friends, family and colleagues. Most have been in -- or will someday be in -- your situation.

What other steps should someone take who has lost a job?


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