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Relocation: The Ultimate Gamble

Once upon a time, I worked for a company in a small town in eastern Washington state. While it is a beautiful area of the country it is, how do you say… isolated. Like 150 miles from an international airport isolated. Like an hour from the closest interstate isolated. 35,000 people living in a virtual island.

What was my connection to the area? Well, my dad lived there. I had friends close by and I went to college fairly close too. So when I was looking for my first real world HR position, it was on the table as an option. When I was offered the position, it was accepted with ease.

Now I was the recruiter/HR person (or HR/recruiter depending on the day) so when it came to recruiting high level candidates, it came down to three options:

  1. Getting lucky — We made our own luck of course too but when you’re talking that small of an employment base, it often comes down to timing and luck that there is an available candidate.
  2. Poaching other high level people — There were only a couple of businesses in town we could poach talent from and you can’t go to that well too often for political reasons.
  3. Relocating candidates — Moving people from Seattle, Portland or Spokane typically.

Relocating people to our town (especially from a big town) always made me nervous. Like biting my fingernails, tapping my foot, sweating in my office before I made the call nervous. Starting a new job is life changing on its own. Starting a new job in a new city with no established support group outside of work? You’re stacking the cards against them.

Now that I live in Portland Oregon, I’ve heard stories of many people relocating here without a job. That’s nuts to me. Oregon’s unemployment rate is over 10% (worse than the national average). As far as an industrial base, Portland has very little to offer (we have two companies in the Fortune 500 that are based in Portland). People that come without a job come because they want to live here. When I get asked about companies relocating candidates to Portland, I ask two questions:

  1. Do you have an incredibly unique skill set that can’t be filled by the talent in Portland already?
  2. Are you a director level or higher in your organization right now?

Companies that aren’t looking for either one of these have a hard time relocating a person (or even hiring a person who wants to relocate on their own dime). So if you’re a web designer or marketer or green energy fanatic or whatever, it is going to be a tough road especially when there are a glut of candidates out there.

Of course, most candidates don’t understand the hesitation (or severely underestimate it) but really is a shared risk factor. It is risky for you to move someplace for a job. It is risky for someone to move you out there for a job. Logical jumps for high level talent still will happen (as an example, a VP from a Fortune 100 company moved to Portland to take a COO gig at a mid-sized company) but some of the stretch relocations I’ve seen done when unemployment was hovering around 5% probably aren’t going to be done now.

Still want to relocate but want to reduce some of the gamble? Here are a couple hints:

  • Spouse has a job there — If you are married and your spouse has a job in your relocation target already, this is a huge risk reducer. It may be the most effective way to reduce risk out of anything.
  • You’ve been there before — If you’ve lived in a place for a significant time before and are relocating back, you have another big in too (and probably a network in place already).
  • You have big time connections there — I’m talking a dozen or so connections already in place before talking relocation. If you have people in your target city on the look for you, this can help dig out unlisted or lightly listed jobs.
  • You make big time connections there — Social media is a great place to start the search for relocation connections. If you are establishing contacts from scratch via social media, more effort to reach out by telephone or email is necessary.

For those who have relocated candidates before, what do you think? Has it become harder to relocate candidates in this environment?

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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