How to Decide if you should relocate for a job.

What happens if you are offered your dream job, but it is thousands of miles away? How do you know if it is worth locating for a particular job? Who should be involved in helping you make this decision? How do you weigh up the pros such as opportunity and increased salary against the cons such as the loss of your network and the impact on your family.

What do the experts say?

Relocating for a new job is a huge personal as well as professional decision. There are a multitude of factors to consider. The decision becomes even more complicated if you have children and a partner. Matthew Bidwell, who is an associate professor at Wharton researching patterns of work and employment, states “It’s not just, what does this mean for your career, but what does this mean for our family?”. He says that whilst relocating for a job can often be excellent for both your professional and personal development, it can also be a huge risk. Here are a number of tips to help you figure out whether the move is the right thing for you.

1.Think holistically – Jennifer Petriglieri, author of Talent Management and the Two Career Couple and assistant professor at INSTEAD, says that when you are faced with making an important decision “there’s a temptation to get out an Excel spreadsheet and weigh the pros and cons,” however this is one case where this will be ineffective. “When you’re choosing one life over another, it becomes an identity choice: Who do I want to become? What kind of family will we be?” The job is only one aspect, you need to consider your “holistic happiness and satisfaction.” You have to take into account what the new location will offer and what it lacks. For example, are you better suited to city life? Or do you prefer small towns? Your answers to these types of questions will help you to work out what this move means for you and for your family, you need to try and think beyond the initial move and ask yourself what is best for your family in the longer-term.

2.Talk through the move with your partner lots! – Your partner is hugely important in this decision as you are not the only one who is going to be affected. Bidwell states “The big issue is what does this move do to your partner’s career?”. Will they be able to find meaningful work in this new location and if not, will this be a big setback? There is a significant amount of research which demonstrates that people suffer if they put their careers on hold. If your partner won’t have a new job, Bidwell states that “the move brings up other issues because you’re taking them away from their support network.” He also mentions an unhappiness know as ‘trailing spouse syndrome’. “You have a new job, new office, and all sorts of new people to meet; your spouse has been dropped in the middle of nowhere and knows no one.” Petriglieri also states that research pertaining to why relocations fail always points to the unhappiness of the partner.

3.Talk it through with your kids, a little – You can relocate with children any time, however certain ages can be more difficult than others. For example, people tend to be hesitant to move if their kids are teenagers, however if they are younger than 8 the idea of uprooting them seems less unnerving. Petriglieri states that whilst of course you need to speak to your children about a potential move “there is a danger of consulting them too much because it brings up a lot of anxiety unnecessarily.” Children have a much harder time than adults at imagining what their life will be like after they move and as a result, they can become resistant to the move which will be much harder on you and your partner.

4.Take your development into account – Bidwell says that taking a job in a new city is a great way to ‘round out’ your experience and skills. “You’ll get to know people from different parts of the company; you’ll be exposed to new ideas; you’ll be able to build a broader network.” If you decide to relocate overseas you will develop and understanding of another culture which can be very beneficial as in some organisations international experience will be vital in getting a top job. It is important to keep in mind that the relocation process has both short and long-term trade offs to development.

5.Find out what’s next – It is also important to think about how this opportunity will affect your long-tern professional path. Petriglieri states “Most companies are not likely to offer you a relocation unless there’s something pretty big in it for you, meaning a significant promotion and raise,” However you need to stop and ask yourself what move will follow this one? This can create tension as according to Bidwell “On one hand you want to have a conversation about where do I go after this? But realistically, the company can’t give you a definitive answer.”

6.Is there an escape hatch? – If the worst-case scenario occurs and you and your family are miserable in the new location, what happens now? Petriglieri says “When you are relocating to a hub city and it doesn’t work out, there are often other options, but if you’re moving somewhere more isolated, it’s harder.” The specifics of the new role are also hugely important as you need to ensure you are not professionally pigeonholing yourself as a result of taking a specialist role for example. Another hazard is if you stay to long in the new location Bidwell states “There’s a risk that if you stay in a role for a long time you become a specialist for that region.”

7.Get advice- It can be very helpful to get input from other people, however these should be people who are not to closely involved. For example, if you go to your boss, they may try to persuade you to go, likewise friends and family also have a vested interest. The ideal target audience for this conversation would be your trusted peers who have similar family issues and career aspirations.

8.Request a try out – If you are still uncertain about the move it might be a good idea to ask your company if it would be possible for you to do a temporary stint in the location before you make the move. Having to relocate is very expensive and a failed relocation is even worse. Petriglieri says the organisations are “increasingly willing to allow employees to do short-term relocations or secondments” in order to increase the chances of success.

9.Don’t overthink it! – This is a huge decision and can be difficult not to overthink. But you need to be aware of analysis paralysis, which essentially means overthinking something so much that no decision is reached, or a decision is made by default. Try to have perspective, don’t assume that this will be your only chance to try something different. If it turns out you make the move and hate it, you can correct it. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and so, you figure out what to do next.”-Bidwell

Relocating is a huge decision and have a significant impact on not just you and your career, but also that of your family. Think carefully about your decision but don’t over analyse it to the point where you make a decision by default. Take the time to talk it through with your family and your peers and weigh up what is the best option for you and your family.

For more information see:

Knight, R. (2018) How to Decide Whether to Relocate for a Job [Online]

Petriglieri, J. (2018) Talent Management and the Dual-Career Couple [Online]

Wittenberg-Cox, A. (2018). Being a Two-Career Couple Requires a Long-Term Plan [Online]

Groysberg, B. et al. (2011) The Expat Dilemma [Online]

Sterle, M. et al. (2018). Expatriate Family Adjustment: An Overview of Empirical Evidence on Challenges and Resources. Frontiers in psychology9, 1207. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01207

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