CXO

Determine whether a relocation will benefit your long-term career goals

A member asks if he made the wrong decision when he turned down a position with his company in another state. Our Career Consultant, taking into account the new trends in corporate America, offers some valuable advice.


Question
I have worked for a major corporation for several years now doing various kinds of IT support. Now that I have a few network certifications, I mostly do senior level work, such as planning networks and doing serious troubleshooting. I would like to stay with this company for at least a few more years while I build up my experience level.

Recently, though, the company offered me basically my same job in another state where the company was opening a branch office. My salary would have stayed the same, but the costs of living in that state are much higher than where I live now. Plus, moving meant my wife and two young kids would have to leave her family far behind. I turned it down, but now I am wondering if I hurt my career.

Answer
It used to be in corporate America that no one dared turn down a job relocation offer. Doing so meant you were putting yourself (and your family) ahead of your job, and that was a sign that you were not corporate material. Those days are long gone for reasons such as the one you mentioned. You don’t intend to make one company the basis of your entire career. You intend to move on, and the company probably knows it.

If you had said you wanted to stay at the company until you retired, then you might have reason to be concerned, especially if the company asked a few more times and you kept saying no. You said you only plan to stay there a few years to gain more experience, so you won’t have a career there to damage.

You were wise in turning down a job that was more work (new offices always mean more work) for less money (given the increase in the cost of living). The company should not have been surprised that you turned it down, since they can do the math too. Your concerns about your family make good sense as well.

Put yourself first
I think that IT workers should evaluate all job relocations and job offers to see if such a move would benefit their own long-term career goals. Forget about helping out the company by making serious sacrifices for your family or your wallet. These days, every IT employee is one bad earnings period away from being laid off. You should be loyal and earn your pay, but you are your only chance for long-term career success.

If the new job opportunity doesn’t offer you a satisfactory balance of increased pay or increased learning opportunities, then you’re better off staying where you are. Beware of promises that are made in the heat of the moment, especially if the employer won’t put the promises in writing. I’ve heard horror stories from people who were promised all the free training they wanted, stock options, and so forth—only to have those promises evaporate after they took the job.

You should also make sure the new job is in an area of the country where you could readily find work if you were let go or laid off. The last thing you want to do when you’re minus a paycheck is to have to move to find work. Don’t depend on a new employer paying for your move; fewer and fewer corporations are willing to pay relocation costs for a new hire unless you’re at a very senior level.

Do your homework
To help you make a decision about relocating, it’s a good idea to know where to find information about the geographic area in which you'd be moving. You mentioned that the state they wanted you to move to has a higher cost of living. I'm not sure how you got that information, but make sure you look at the area you’d live in and not just the state as a whole.

You would also need to check out the economic prospects for IT workers at your current (and future) level in the area in which you might relocate. That’s a little harder to do because local economies don’t always rise and fall in keeping with the national economy. However, my rule of thumb is that where there are computers, there are IT jobs. Lots of computers mean lots of jobs. The best scenario is to live in an area where lots of different companies own lots of computers.

Here are some Web sites to help you learn about different areas of the country in economic and cost-of-living terms:

Just for fun: If you’re interested in what the best companies offer their employees, check out the Fortune list of the best 100 companies to work for.

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