Human Collateral: More Job Seekers are Relocating. Is that the Right Move for You?

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When there are no jobs in town, what do you do? Cry in your Cheerios? Wait it out?

Increasingly, the unemployed are opting to take jobs in other cities. According to data from global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 18.2 percent of job seekers relocated for employment in the second quarter of 2009, up from 14.3 percent in the previous quarter and just 11.4 percent in the second quarter of 2008.

Paul Sorbera, president of Alliance Consulting, a financial executive search firm based in New York, says many finance professionals are finding they have no choice but to relocate for the right job - but such moves can be a boon for their career.

"In the past when the industry was really booming, people in big financial locations like Chicago or New York could just stay put and over time find the right opportunities where they lived," Sorbera says. "The industry is very tight right now, and when it gets like this people have to explore opportunities in other cities. But if you do the research and take the right position, relocation can turn out very well."

Sorbera mentions people who reluctantly left Wall Street to take hedge fund positions in Florida or top executive spots in the Pacific Northwest, only to find that the lifestyle paired with the big-fish-in-a-small-pond scenario unexpectedly created a perfect situation for them.

Challenges to Overcome

Challenges include forcing children to switch schools, leaving friends and family behind, and forcing a spouse to adjust their own career - not to mention trying to sell a house in one of the worst markets in history. And while relocation can mean good things for one's professional life long-term, that's not an automatic.

"Every time you take a position you have to think about the value of that opportunity down the road - not just the immediate position, but the actual role you are going into and where you want to go long-term," Sorbera says. "You could leave a very prominent financial institution in New York and go to a small center where you could negotiate a position that is really an advancement. On the other hand, if you take a job in Alaska, losing that job probably means leaving Alaska."

When James Gellas, 33, realized he needed to find a new job last year, he broadened his search to outside of Los Angeles where he was living. He landed a position in January, 2009 as vice president of finance for Pictopia.com, which helps media companies monetize their online photos. The job is in San Francisco.

The move was largely out of necessity. "There wasn't lot of options last year," Gellas says. "For the right job you did have to move." He has since come to appreciate that San Francisco is a larger financial center than Los Angeles - a plus in today's world of job insecurity.

Personal Considerations

There are personal considerations to moving, too. Kathy Collatos, 50, lost her job in finance and asset-based lending associate with General Electric in November 2008, and shortly after moved from her home in Exton, Pa., to Gainsville, Fla. to help care for her elderly parents and take advantage of the lower cost of living. She hoped to replicate her previous position in which she worked primarily out of a home office and traveled frequently.

Instead, she's found that her lack of contacts in the Florida-Georgia area and length of unemployment has created a hurdle. So she's broadened her job search to include the Northeast and Colorado, where she does have sales contacts. However, this would create a major challenge in caring for her mother and father. "I want to be a good daughter," Collatos says. "If I do move I'll have to work it out so I can come down and check in and be here for any emergencies. That's what I worry about."

Other considerations are social ones. Gellas says that when he relocated to Los Angeles from New Jersey for a job eight years previously, it took a long time to build friendships and a professional network. Being single, he says, might appear to make relocation a cinch, but it also means he's without personal support or an easy way to build friendships that can come with young children and a spouse.

"The first day I moved here I went to my apartment and realized I had no idea how to get around," he says. "I can say that after being here a year, I have no friends."

On the other hand, he plans to repeat his Los Angeles experience, in which he became involved in a number of alumni and professional organizations which solidified his career and personal lives. "By looking at things fresh and anew, it allows you to take advantage of them more than if you'd been around them for 10 or 20 years," he says.

Emma Johnson is a New York based journalist who writes about money, business and finance for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Forbes, MSN Money and others. Reach her at emma@emma-johnson.net.

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