Relocating can be a promising idea when the area you are in is stagnant or a job offer’s salary looks as golden as the state from which it comes. But you need to be wary of moving without first examining the myriad of issues that relocation creates.
For example, when Ted Schleich relocated from Phoenix to California for a job in the early 1990s, the former technology manager thought he'd landed a dream job. So he jumped at the opportunity with little forethought.
But he quickly grew dissatisfied with his new situation. His salary, while good by Phoenix standards, didn't stretch as far in California, nor did his employer have the laid-back California attitude that Schleich, who grew up in California, was accustomed to. With reduced buying power as an IT leader and a company culture more combative than he'd expected or wanted, Schleich eventually resigned from his position and moved back to Arizona, this time to Tucson, where the software engineer now works at Universal Avionics Systems.
That initial relocation experience taught Schleich the importance of researching a prospective employer’s location and the area’s cost of living before calling the movers.
"I could easily double my salary by going to the Bay Area,” noted Schleich, "but my quality of living would go way down."
Schleich now investigates the educational level of the community, the quality of the school districts, the technology base, and the climate.
Investigate cost of living
Even before interviewing for jobs in a different location, it pays to research the cost of living in the area, advises Schleich. The salary may look handsome but may dwindle more quickly when factoring in expenses such as a higher local tax rate, housing, and energy costs, he explained.
Kevin Davey, a director of quality assurance at Argo-Tech in Cleveland, OH, has moved twice for new jobs and learned similar lessons after moving from Michigan to California. "You get out there and you think you'd have gobs of money, and you don't, which is kind of depressing," he said.
Web sites such as Homefair.com and Monster offer cost of living calculators that can provide insight and side-by-side comparisons of your current city and proposed destination.
Along with cost of living information, IT professionals considering relocating for a new job have to do their homework on a number of other fronts.
Get salary info early
The salary question should come up early in an interview process when relocation is involved, as well as cost of living information, so that you can determine further consideration of the opportunity.
Once those figures are in hand, Schleich suggests checking out Salary.com to see if the salary your potential employer is offering is on par with the area. That site, along with Dice.com, can be handy in determining where to relocate, as these sites provide annual salary information specific to regions. The 2002 Dice IT salary survey noted, for instance, that Atlanta and Denver had joined the list of the top-paying metro areas in the nation.
Investigate family concerns
Earning power and cost of living expenses shouldn’t be the sum total of your research for a new locale, however. Schleich also recommends examining two educational metrics when considering a new location—a community's educational level and the quality of the school districts.
In Schleich's view, the educational level of a community can predict how well he and his wife will fit in with their colleagues and neighbors. Schleich looks to see how many people have graduated from college, for instance. The U.S. Census provides free information about the educational levels of the general population.
Quality school districts are also a crucial concern. "If you do have children, you want the schools to be good," said Schleich. Homefair's City Reports provides a basis for comparison of a number of community concerns, including primary and secondary school ratings.
Research the technology base
Technology managers also need to examine a community's technology strengths and weaknesses. This information can prove helpful if the new gig fails and you find yourself out of work. Online IT certification provider Brainbench mines its databases to provide a geographical report on the number of certified technology professionals in a number of key IT skills. This kind of data is helpful in learning the demand for or lack of particular skills in a particular industry.
IT managers should look for a healthy diversity among types of technology employers, advised Schleich. For example, during his relocation research, Schleich noticed that Austin, TX, was particularly enticing due to the diversity of semiconductor companies in the area. That translated into the Austin area boasting more job opportunities than Denver, which has a strong concentration of telecommunications businesses, Schleich explained.
Stability of employer
Technology managers should definitely research the financial stability and long-term prognosis of an employer, said Davey. This may, in fact, be the largest hurdle in the job investigation process, especially if the company is privately held.
Davey recommends using business directories and publications for articles that might mention the company. A good resource site is Hoover’s, which provides business information about publicly held and some privately held companies. Much of the site's information is free, although there is a cost for in-depth reports. Vault.com, an online site for "insider" information, also provides information about companies, including opinions on management, employee benefit packages, and company culture.
If employer data isn't readily available online or in articles, you can always try simply talking to current employers and residents.
"Just from talking to people, you can get a good sense of those kinds of things too," explained Davey.
Dealing with the what-ifs
Any relocation event will create a lot of ifs and buts, as well as anxiety. Getting all the information you can about all aspects of work and life in the new area not only can ease those concerns but help you jump right into the new role once you’ve chosen it.
"Any time you move, there are a lot of what-ifs. I've moved a lot of times in my life, and what I've found every time is that you manage, you make new friends, and you get comfortable where you are,” said Schleich.