I am originally from Pittsburgh, though it’s harder for new friends to detect that than it used to be. I left Pittsburgh many years ago to take a great job in . . . Kansas. The job was headquartered in Topeka, but involved so much travel that I don’t think I noticed anything but the weather when I landed at KCI from time to time. But when I moved to Atlanta and subsequently found myself job hunting again, I truly began to understand the impact of regional customs and cultural differences on a career and a job search.
Some places are easier to access than others. Some places are harder to understand; they look friendly and open but aren’t, in the end. For what it’s worth, not even the natives realize the nuances that define the day to day functioning of community networks and relationships as they affect newcomers or those who want to be newcomers to that job market.
If you want to move your job search to a city or town where you haven’t lived and worked, your first and best bet is to try to focus on a place where you have family, friends, or any kind of network or foothold. These are significant advantages, and you will be competing with people who have them. Referrals, support, answers to questions, ideas, and opinions are all genuinely helpful. If you don’t have that network, this will be a climb, but it may be worth it. So try.
1. Be ready with answers to “why and how” questions; your first test for an out of town job will very likely be a sudden and unexpected phone screen (mainly because you are going to send a lot of resumes in response to postings, even if I tell you that is not the best way to do this.). When I make those calls, I get this a lot: “I’ve always wanted to live in Florida, and when I saw your job listing, I knew it was my chance.” In less than a minute, I know this applicant has no idea where in Florida the job is, how much it costs to live there, what characterizes this community, or how they would make the move. You can’t fake research, or the answer to “How much time have you spent here?” “Why Birmingham?” or “What is it about Cleveland that appeals to you?”
2. Plan your detailed adjustment to this new community ahead of time and based on the assumption you will get the job you want, because doing so will make you look well-prepared. You will get questions about things like that.
There are places that are harder to adjust to than others, and talent managers and recruiters know that. I flunked an in-person interview for a great job in Manhattan when I couldn’t answer basic questions about public transportation or plans for housing. In my head, job first, worry about the rest later, but a talent manager in New York knows that newbies to that lifestyle have a very high failure rate. No one wants to be your first NY employer.
3. Read the local papers, blogs, gossip columns, sports chatter, and learn about the neighborhoods, prices, traffic problems, cultural icons, political challenges, and other important stuff about the community. Know the name of the mayor, for heaven’s sake. If there are sports franchises, how are they doing this year? What are the hot buttons in this city or town? What are the big charitable causes? Where will you volunteer, and what do you bring that makes you a good prospect?
You want to look and sound like you really want to be a part of the bigger picture, not just the latest incumbent passing through this job. If you get the job, you get to be a part of the lives of the folks you will be working with—so what do people who live here do? Do that . . .
4. Spend actual time where you want to live. Go there; endure the worst and enjoy the best. Talk to the locals and find out how they speak—and what they talk about. At least in your interview you will be able to say that you did that, and that you connected with folks. When I interview, there is a vast gulf between someone who is sitting in front of me asking good questions, and someone who is describing to me the great conversations they had in order to get a variety of viewpoints and answers they wanted. Vast.
5. Interviews are not the same in Miami as they are in Arkansas. Even though you may be asked a few of the same-ish questions, people experience and interpret word choice, language, cadence, emphasis, volume, and facial expressions differently based on what they are used to.
I speak more softly and slowly than I used to when I lived and worked up North, but I haven’t been able to lose my animation. I think I have learned to simplify my vocabulary and say fewer words. And I think this is because once I left Pennsylvania, I experienced myself as too loud, fast, and wordy for the room—I looked at the other people I was with and they were more measured in all things, and I thought they seemed a lot less impulsive. When I go back, it’s a little jarring to interact; I’m not used to the culture.
In some parts of the country, fluency is a second language is a huge advantage, often a preferred qualification. If it is your advantage, be sure you can back up the claim that you are fluent. Your interviewer may decide to conduct the interview in your second language, her first.
6. Dress like the locals do, but for an interview, take one step up the dressiness scale. Now, that is not to say that your heels should be higher or your necktie silkier—more like suit instead of sport jacket, for the interview, and pearls with that blouse and suit.
In some parts of the country, a dress is more the norm than a skirt suit, and colors matter. Find someone to ask about the company you are interviewing with and the right clothes for the level of job. Pants for women are still a question, especially in certain cities and professions. And shirt collar tabs for men, type of tie, and actually even type of shirt have regional connections. It is very much worth it to dress according to the norms in the place you want to work.
On that note too, if you are from Florida and you are interviewing in Washington D.C. in January, you may need weather boots and a winter coat. Make sure yours are reasonably in fashion. Similarly, if you are flying in from Connecticut in March for an interview in Florida, for the most part lighter tropical wools in dark colors are worn until summer. And you won’t need that coat, so leave it at the hotel or in the suitcase. these are examples, there are other big differences in seasonal weather that can affect your wardrobe and gear preparation. If you look wet, cold, sweaty, or just out of place, your hosts may be sympathetic–but that’s not the reaction you really want.
Stay ahead of things like this; that’s the point. You want to look, sound, act, and kind of feel like you are local and already there.
It is harder for an out of town candidate to get the job, almost always. Organizations know there will be delays in getting you there, hiccups in leases and home sales, admin matters, adjustment issues, and generally, the productivity delay while you acclimate to new surroundings. Your job is to minimize that perception, and sound like you are very low maintenance, highly planful, and determined to participate in and enrich the community.