Relocation 501: Five Things to Consider Financially When Job Searching Nationally


Student Affairs Job Relocation

In our previous post, “Relocation 101: Three Things to Consider When Job Searching Nationally,” Adrienne Boertjen covered some of the essentials to think about when expanding your job search outside of your current region. This was written particularly with graduate students and new professionals in mind. For this current post, I will cover financial considerations and logistics for those more seasoned professionals, especially those looking to relocate with partners, children, and / or other family members.

1. COST OF LIVING: I use Sperling’s Best Places Cost of Living Comparison to enter in my current salary and town in which I live in order to get an estimated comparable salary and find the related costs associated with living in the city in which I am interested in working. If you are looking at a potential promotion to a mid-level or senior level position in the field, not only should you expect an increase to what you are currently earning, but the pay should align with the cost of living in that particular area. Don’t dupe yourself into a situation in which you are asked for your current salary numbers and the offering institution offers a modest increase to that number. You need to be able to make a living and thrive in the the new community so don’t sell yourself short. There are wide fluctuations in the price of housing in various markets all over the United States so be prepared.

2. SALARIES: Do your homework on what the average salary is for the position you are being offered and factor in the cost of living difference. HigherEdJobs.com has a nice listing of various salary surveys that you can view. If you are looking at a state school, salaries may be publicly posted online so you can get an idea of what current administrators are making there along with other public officials. Some regional newspapers and “watchdog” groups also publish public salaries, which you can search for online (e.g., PennWatch is one example for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). In the case of institutions that have collective bargaining units (i.e., unions), you may be able to find a copy of the associated contract for the type of position you are applying. In the contract, they typically list out the schedule of salaries for various levels of position and seniority. An example for one of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education bargaining units can be seen HERE. Also, many job descriptions, particularly on the institution’s human resources webpage, will include a position salary level signified by a payroll code. If you dig deeper through their HR site, you may be able to find a chart or listing of those payroll codes and the corresponding salary ranges. Keep in mind that not all have this however.

One time with my own job search, I found the organizational chart of the public institution for where I was interviewing. With the names of the search committee members in hand along with the key administrators in the division, I was able to search their salaries online very easily. Seeing that the supervisor of the position I was interviewing for was earning roughly what I would negotiate for, I knew that it would be highly unlikely that I would be offered nearly what I thought would be fair with my credentials and experience. Given the highly expensive cost of living with the location of the institution, I knew it wouldn’t be financially viable for me if offered the position so I didn’t get my heart set on it.

You have to be able to weigh all of the intrinsic and extrinsic benefits associated with working at a particular institution in a specific part of the country. Obviously, salary isn’t everything, but you need to be able to pay your bills.  If it doesn’t make sense, walk away from it.

3. LIVING IN VS. LIVING OUT: There are many special considerations when you are a Residence Life staff member in regards to living in vs. living out. This can also include non-ResLife administrators in other roles that require you to live in or simply give you the option to do so. As any ResLifer will tell you, there are both many benefits and drawbacks to living on campus.

  • Housing Expenses: If you are currently living in and looking to change to a “live out” position, you need to look at your current financial situation and how that will change by what is being offered with a new position. Earning $35,000 as a live-in hall director in the rural Midwest will most definitely be worth “more” financially than a $50,000 live-out assistant director position in New York City. Living out means that you will need to rent or mortgage housing along with all associated costs, including, but not limited to, utilities and transportation. So don’t jump at something simply because it’s a position promotion. You do not want to move and then be unable to afford your living situation and then have to job search all over again or acquire debt that you do not necessarily need.
  • On-Campus Culture: If you are currently living out and now considering a position that is live-in, you need to understand that there is a distinct culture with living among and near college students. I myself and my family have had (and continue to have) positive experiences with living in. The conveniences with living in a university community are numerous. With easy access to educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities, it’s pretty awesome! Also, not having to pay rent or utilities is definitely the biggest plus (if, of course, that is a part of your compensation package). Additionally, I don’t have to worry about lawn care, and all of the other expenses and hassles that come with having your own home. I was a previous home owner prior to moving back in so I know. However, living in is not for everyone, nor for others’ partners or their children. There isn’t the level of privacy and anonymity that you would get with living out so that’s something you need to keep in mind. For me the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but this is something you will need to consider if faced with this option.
  • Family & Partner Policies: Those who are not married, but with a partner, may need to take dig deeper to find the institution’s policy on this type of arrangement for living on their campus. The same goes for married couples and children as well. What one institution finds copacetic may not necessary be permitted at another college or university. Find this out ahead of time well before considering a move because you definitely do not want to be surprised when you show up with a packed moving van. I have a close friend and colleague who shared with me that he had a phone interview with an institution and started talking about his fiancee (now wife). The committee chairperson made the remark that they did not permit live-in professionals to have other occupants living with them, including spouses. At that point my colleague respectfully ended the conversation because their non-cohabitation policy was simply a “deal breaker.”
  • Apartments.com & Realtor.com: I use these apps on my phone to quickly look up the general price of housing for the needs of my family related to institutions I may be interested in applying to. I can quickly rule out some potential opportunities simply by seeing how much it costs to live in a particular area. This can save a lot of time and heartache for both myself and my family because the job searching process can be both time-consuming and anxiety provoking. Why look at something that simply is not going to be realistically affordable?

4. RELOCATION EXPENSES & TEMPORARY HOUSING: Some institutions will reimburse you for relocation costs while others will not. Typically you won’t see this for entry-level positions, but it never hurts to ask. Picking up yourself and potentially your entire family is very stressful and can be an expense you normally don’t consider when job searching. If possible, see if the hiring institution can provide temporary housing for you on campus while you work out the logistics of getting settled into your permanent housing situation. This can be an easy sell because it will help you to better focus on the job during the work week while you can spend the weekend searching for various options. I myself asked for that when moving across Pennsylvania to a new institution. I had to sell my house while my wife and kids lived temporarily with my in-law’s. The university graciously permitted me to live in a residence hall room at no charge for the summer until I could get things squared away for permanent housing.

5. SCOUTING THE AREA: It is imperative that you take time to scout the area of the institution in which you are looking to relocate. This can be done before, during, and after the on-campus interview process. My recommendation is to always steer clear of an institution that offers the job without actually bringing you to campus. Even if you are familiar with or visited the campus previously, or even attended there as a student, being offered a job only after having a phone or Skype-type interview is clearly a red flag! Not only won’t you get to meet your peers, staff, and students in person, but you will not get a chance to explore the campus and local community.

  • Rental Vehicle: Typically I will rent a car after flying in when I am offered an on-campus interview. This allows me to cruise around the area and explore the community in which the university is located. You can come a day early or stay a day later if you need extra time to accomplish this. Sometimes the college or university will accommodate your request for the extra day. When exploring, I am particularly interested in looking at housing, shopping options, entertainment and recreation venues, and the general locations of schools for my kids. I want to know what the basics of day-to-day life would be like living in that community: Where would we go grocery shopping? Are there things for my kids to do? Would I have to pay a bunch of tolls to get around? What is traffic like? What would my commute be like? Do I think my wife would like it here? How much of a hassle would it be for family to visit if traveling from the airport?
  • Google Maps / Street View: If you cannot explore the area, you can also use the Google Maps Street View option to see what many areas look like. Not all towns and streets are always covered, but you can get a pretty decent idea of what the surrounding area of a college or university looks like. I do this ahead of time to get a lay of the land and to potentially figure out something to do in the evening(s) with the free time I would have during a multi-day interview process (e.g., movie theater, brew pub, bookstore, sporting event, concert, etc.)

 What are some other strategies and tips that you have used when job searching nationally? Please share your comments below or simply retweet this post and add your thoughts to the tweet.

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