6 Tips for doing a long-distance job hunt

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Here is my advice about job hunting long-distance: Forget it. It’s not going to work for most of you, and you’ll need to relocate before you get the job. But for a few of you, there’s hope for a long-distance job hunt will work. So, here’s some advice if you must make it work:

1. Pitch yourself as specialized.
Most people are relocating from a city that is in low demand to a city that is high demand. For example: Tucson to San Francisco. There are not a lot of skill sets that someone has to look outside San Francisco to get. If you want to get a job from Tucson, you need to have one of those skill sets that people do not think they can hire for in San Francisco. Usually this means that you’re very specialized. So, the first thing about getting a job in a city you don’t live in is that you need to be very specialized or in high demand.

The idea behind being a specialist is that you are so good at a very specific thing that people are unlikely to find someone as good as you locally. Sometimes a good career coach can help you rewrite your resume to focus on a specialty. If you don’t have one, a good primer for finding a specialty is reading about the funeral industry, where you have to specialize in something (sometimes weird) in order to survive.

2. Pitch yourself as a big-city catch.
Some of you are trying to move the opposite direction: New York City to Tuscaloosa. In that case, you can pitch yourself as having big-city know-how that you can bring to a smaller city. I know from having a company in Madison that when we hear a star performer from a big city is relocating to Madison, we automatically consider interviewing that person. It’s a bias that the competition is so much tougher in big cities that people who have risen to the top are probably worth looking at because we don’t see a lot of those people.

3. Get a reality check.
If you can’t pitch yourself in either of those ways, then you’re going to have to relocate before you get a job. Think about it: Why would someone fly you in for an interview when there are plenty of local people who could do the job? It makes no sense.

4. Be amazing at building local networks.
If you are still determined to get a job before you move, you should commit a lot of time to building a network. You know that most jobs come from networking. So you need to have a strong network on the ground where you want to relocate. This does not mean inviting forty people in that city to connect with you on LinkedIn. Those are not the type of connections where the person goes to bat for you. You need a network of people you have real conversations with, and share real ideas with. After awhile, these people will care about you and want to help you. This is one of the reasons that among the professional groups on Brazen Careerist, location-based groups are the most popular.

5. Choose a city since you can’t choose a job.
Most of you are simply going to have to relocate before you get the job. And, since you are going to have to move before you have a job, why not make sure you are going to the right place? You can read about the research I used. (For all my complaining about Madison, I have to say that the research I used turned out to be true, and Madison is probably the right place for me.)

Another resource for figuring out where you belong is Richard Florida’s book, Who’s Your City, which he has conveniently broken up into web-friendly widgets for your relocating pleasure. Try this one, for example.

And, once you decide on a city, you can use Florida’s analysis to double check your conclusion. Check out these best places lists. (Note: More than 80% of gen y wants to move to New York City, but, frankly, most of people don’t belong there. Here’s a test to find out about you.)

6. Consider your friends and family.
Before you relocate for money, consider that the number-one factor for whether or not your next job will improve your happiness is whether you’ll be moving closer to friends and family. Because, you already know this, but money does not buy happiness. And, you might not know this, but a job does not make you happy, either. A job can make you unhappy, but once you have the basics of a good job, it’s your relationships that make you happy .

49 replies
  1. Clare
    Clare says:

    All good advice.

    Just one I’d add – and it should be obvious but isn’t always – have a good idea about what it is you want to do before you take off to your new location. Unless you live in the middle of a field with absolutely no job prospects, or you need to be in a particular place to make contacts etc, there’s little point in swapping one job you hate for another.

  2. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    Tuscaloosa, Alabama was mentioned on this blog! We have arrived y’all. :)

    My company has recruited several people to come work in Beijing and we usually went through headhunters. Once a headhunter found a good candidate for us from a place like Detroit, we kept going back to him or her for more.

    And we were always interested to know *why* the candidate wanted to move to Beijing. If they didn’t have a solid reason then we usually expected they wouldn’t stay long and thus didn’t hire them.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Melanie and Clare, thanks for the extra tips. These are good. I hope everyone will put their best long-distance job hunt tip in the comments. I’m so curious to read more…


      • Elizabeth Briel (@Ebriel)
        Elizabeth Briel (@Ebriel) says:

        Good tips and ideas here. Also, if you have a long-term strategy dependent on a city – you can:

        1. Make local contacts via friends/social media
        2. Relocate
        3. Get a job
        4. Pursue your long-term goals

        For many creative fields like mine (art), you’ve got to take a several-pronged approach to your career. Here’s what I’m doing with my next move which is geared towards boosting my arts career.

        I’m moving to Beijing next month. My goals are to be part of the artworld there for several years, and become conversant/literate in Chinese. I’m:

        1. Starting out by getting jobs teaching art
        2. Will save up for a studio space while networking on-site
        3. From my studio base in the arts district I’ll be close to the heart of what’s happening – in what is considered to be the arts capital of Asia (while taking 10 hours/week of Chinese courses)
        4. Begin showing my work within a year

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’ll also add something you already know (included in comments of ‘I’m moving out of NYC’ post) – after picking out the city or town, pick out the neighborhood.

  4. Rose
    Rose says:

    The one big exception I’ll point out is teaching and some other jobs overseas. The demand for foreigners in places like China is INTENSE.

  5. Sydney Owen
    Sydney Owen says:

    Check, check and check.

    All of this worked. All of this is true. I’m a living, breathing, successful example of how this strategy can get you the job you want, regardless of location.

    Well said, P!

  6. Veronica Sawyer
    Veronica Sawyer says:

    I’ve seen this from a job seeker and recruiter’s perspective. I wouldn’t expect any company to fly me in for an interview. When I needed to relocate I made it easy for the company to interview and hire me by being available and working with their schedule the way a local candidate would. This is easier when you’re relocating a few hours drive than a few hours flight, but if you’re serious about moving, block a week to be in the new place and available for interviews.

    As a recruiter I also don’t pay transportation costs to get candidates to an interview. If they’re from out of town, I always ask for assurances they’ll have their living situation sorted before we need them to start. People who relocate are usually fine, it’s the ones who claim they can handle a 1-hour plus commute each day who never work out. So out-of-town candidates will always have to work harder to convince me to hire them because I’ve been burned by them before.

  7. Smith+Fritzy
    Smith+Fritzy says:

    I actually snagged my current job 2800 miles away from where I was applying. When you work in a pretty specialized area, you tend to go where the work is. It was strange, too – I had just come out of a job where I needed a refresh and said, “I want to move to Idaho” – yeah, I know that’s probably other people’s last thought, but it’s really a nice place. Low and behold, a perfect job opened up there.

    Last year, I was talking to our secretary about why they actually picked me out of everyone. She said it was because they were really impressed with how much work I put into showing them my work. What I did was took their current magazines, redesigned three feature stories and two departments and sent them my “vision”. It’s risky. I put a lot of time and effort into it because I truly wanted the job and to move there. I wasn’t playing for offers. Not everyone can do this.

    Having done this, my opinion is that unless you move to the area before you start looking, then it’s going to be really hard. You learn a lot moving to places you’ve never lived, either.

  8. Jason
    Jason says:


    First of all I just started reading your blog two weeks ago. I like your advice. I don’t agree with all of it but a lot of your advice had me thinking hard, which I like.

    Anyway, there was one method that I used which was successful for long distance job hunting. I posted my resume on monster.com and I had employers contacting me from 1-3 states away. I guess recruiters sometimes go on monster.com to find employees.

    I also told one of my co-workers to do the same and he was able to land a job three states away in three weeks. Basically there was a layoff which affected me, him, and several others.

    However, this was the software field. After a few weeks of applying, I believe that field was only nicked by the recession as opposed to something like manufacturing.

    Just thought I’d throw this out there, maybe it would help you out. Additionally, this was coming from a small-town area….but a well-known company.

    Take care,

    – Jason

  9. Dan
    Dan says:

    Before I moved to Nashville, I had three companies pay for me to fly in to interview me and I did not receive one job offer. I then went to collegegrad.com, practiced my interviewing skills, watched tape after tape about how to interview, moved down here to meet up with my wife, and had two job offers within two weeks of living down here.

    Once Obama loses the Dems in congress, the economy should improve but I wouldn’t suggest moving without a job right now under Obama. There are no incentives to create new jobs right now and the economy is contracting in the US, not expanding.

  10. KB
    KB says:

    I want to leave NYC, but I can’t for another 2 years because of a contract with my employer. So, I have 2 years to decide where to go and what to do. I’ve thought a lot about moving home to Ohio, where I have friends and family, and I’ve also dreamed about moving across the country to Seattle. Fortunately, I work for a huge company with a global presence and have a pretty marketable skillset. I’m also considering starting a small business after I move.

    I think it helps to have at least one friend who is already settled where you want to go. Then, you can leverage their local knowledge and network. If not, you should tell everyone you know where you want to move and ask if they have friends there. You should then call all of those people when you arrive, ask them to coffee, and pick their brains. Most people are willing to help.

  11. Jim
    Jim says:

    Super post, Penelop, and especially well-timed given the still bleak labour market conditions.

    It’s also well-timed for me since I’m in the process of trying to plan my exit (early retirment) from government to start a new career, but in the much smaller city where I used to live two provinces away. So my case is the reverse of what you described. But your comment about perhaps having to relocate first is something for people to seriously consider.

    While away on vacation in August in my old hometown, I did a lot of networking and talking to people. I was told by a recruiter and a couple of business people that even ex-patriates like myself are considered as being from ‘away.’ One suggestion was to use the adress of family or a good friend in my destination city. This may not be relevant to what you describe, such as moving to a big city. But if you’re going to smallville USA (or in my case Canada), you may want to consider this.

  12. Doug Plummer
    Doug Plummer says:

    In the free-lance world, especially in creative services, the sensibility is a little different. “The out of town talent is always better,” is how I like to put it. I’m a photographer out here in the provinces in Seattle, but I’ve shot jobs in Chicago and New York and San Francisco, places where there is no shortage of great photographers. Almost none of my clients are here at home. And when a Seattle ad agency has a big job here, the gig almost always goes out to an out of towner.

  13. Watson Aname
    Watson Aname says:

    Hi, I’ve just recently found your blog. This post is topical; I’ve just successfully finished a job search involving 3 countries and two continents, so I thought I’d offer a couple of comments:

    If you actually are a specialist, it’s quite common to be flown out for interviews. This isn’t always your best option. When looking for work in a large city, there may be several places you’d like to interview. Picking a schedule that works for you may be much more valuable than the plane ticket (though often you can work this out yourself). It may well be that they’ll pick up the tab also — but nobody wants to feel like they paid for your trip to interview with a competitor.

    If you’ve already had some positive preliminary contact with a company, taking this sort of initiative can’t hurt either. It also lets you steer a little bit, and reduces the chance of being handed a grueling two or three day interview schedule that is convenient for everyone except you, because after all they paid to have you there so might as well “use” your time…

  14. Diane
    Diane says:

    In some fields, there are conferences that everyone goes to. Those are a great way to meet people and perhaps to get an interview, if a target company is represented there – formally or informally. (Really, if you’re talking to someone in your field, you could consider it an interview or a prelude to one. If you don’t impress them when they ask you about your work while you’re both in line at the conference center’s Starbucks, you won’t GET a formal interview.) And if they happen to be in a city you want to move to, you can try to get an interview on-site since you’re in town anyway.

  15. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Hey, great post! I have never landed a job from afar, although I’ve tried. I’m here to ask some questions about this very topic:

    I’m a new grad about to apply for jobs in a city that is a 3-4 hour drive away. I have a friend who lives in said-city, who has agreed to let me use his address on my resume. This will make me *look* like I’m living in the new city. If I get any interviews, I can easily drive there the night before and stay with my friend.

    Does anyone think this is a wise thing to do? Or is it being dishonest? I’m not interested in moving to this city if I don’t find a job there first, so don’t want to relocate just yet. I live in a bigger city with more job prospects, but also higher competition and expensive rent. I live with my parents right now (and it’s easy here) but I’m looking for a change and some solid work experience under my belt. Anyone? XX

  16. Laurie Berenson, CPRW
    Laurie Berenson, CPRW says:

    Great post with valuable advice! If you’d like help pitching your specialty, working with a professional resume writer or a career coach is smart advice. Incorporating a branding statement or USP (unique selling proposition) to the top of the career summary on your resume is the perfect place to highlight your niche value.

  17. Jeremiah
    Jeremiah says:

    I moved to Miami 3 years ago right after college and didn’t have too much of an issue getting interviews. However, I attempted to line up some interview before physically moving and everyone said “call us when you get here”. Your experience level is related to the probability of landing a position before you re-locate.

  18. Frenchie
    Frenchie says:

    Thanks for providing tips to candidates Penelope. I sit on the other side (ie on the HR side) and have one more tip for candidates: indicate in your cover letter or resume that you are looking to move and what timeframe you will make the move happen. Most companies will consider people from out of town if they are moving close by on their own. It sounds fairly obvious but you don’t know how many times I’ve talked with people who are moving but never mentioned it…(I took a chance as we weren’t finding the right skill set locally so they got lucky!).

  19. norris
    norris says:

    You should always consider your family because they need emotional support in addition to monetary support. Your family will always be there for you unless your employer

  20. Jim Edwards
    Jim Edwards says:

    So to be effective, in an executive job search, you have to determine what role you want to play, what industries and organizations would support that role and what you're geographical preferences and limitations are. The task here is not to look for open positions, but to look for the decision makers in organizations that would have the role that you are seeking to fill. Remember 30% of organizations are going to need someone, so it's your job to initiate the introduction and chemistry match

  21. William Mitchell, CPRW
    William Mitchell, CPRW says:

    The success of a long distance job search depends upon the competition as well. If your application is hitting on all cylinders (moreso than the other applicants), you obviously have a much better chance. However, if you and another applicant are close and the other guy is local, then the local guy wins.

  22. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I disagree with the suggestions mentioned in the blogs. That just prove your lack of confidence in yourself. I i were a boss your resume wouldn’t even get to the manager to have an opportunity to get read.

    If you know what you want, you can easily search local websites like 411, and iGoogle gadgets that provide Craightlist. Just arrange a time and use Skype toolbar to make the call and Webcam for the details and the job interview and you will be good to go. (I didn’t found these info while searching for a job, i found these information while doing a self travel for Prarie Province of Canada). I found these info not by surprise, but with passion, experience, and most importantly determination.

    Btw, i got an accounting assistant opportunity just because of my determination in highschool CAPP12. Hell i got no friends, but most people know my computer skills are great. and just because of that, my counselor FOAF’d me and got in. Its not through bribery overtly, its more like internship.

  23. Juliet
    Juliet says:

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  25. 11th Hour Service
    11th Hour Service says:

    With the job market they way it is now its important to build up these skills in order to find a job. Your mention of building local networks (LinkedIn) is great as well, with more and more employers looking and being found via a social media the way you represent yourself there will make huge impacts in your job hunting. Another good practice to adopt is the follow up or after the interview as it can be almost as important as the interview, because of how you conduct yourself. This includes letters thanking for time, job offers, job denial, and offer refusal, those all can stand out and get you employed as well.

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