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Job Seekers Biggest Obstacle? Many job seekers reluctant to relocate

Text by Franke james; Photo of goldfish jumping ©istockphoto.com /Lise Gagne

As the slowing economy forces employers to put the brakes on new hiring, job seekers have seen their searches lengthen by nearly one month. However, job seekers’ understandable reluctance to relocate may be inflating the time it takes to find a new position.


The median job search among those winning positions in the third quarter lasted nearly 4.4 months. That was up from a median job search of 3.6 months among second quarter job winners. The findings are based on a quarterly survey of approximately 3,000 job seekers in a wide variety of industries nationwide.

The latest job search times represent a significant increase from the recent low of 2.8 months recorded in the fourth quarter of 2007. While the longer search times come amid a weakening economy and job market, the increase may be seasonal in nature.

Considering all that is going on in the economy, including the turmoil in the financial sector, increased job cuts across several industries and decreased spending by consumers and business, it would be easy to attribute the longer job search times to the struggling job market. However, we will need to wait for the fourth quarter to see if we have a trend.

Dual-income households resist relocation
One factor that may be leading to decreased relocation is the large number of dual-income households in which both the husband and wife earn good salaries.

A move would mean that the employed spouse has to quit his or her job, seek new employment in a new town and risk starting at a lower salary. Many couples are simply not willing to downgrade their lifestyle due to less income.

Tips to Ease Relocation
If an out-of-town job opportunity does come along that is too good to pass up, there are some steps one can take to make the transition a little smoother.

First, find out if the new company offers job search counseling for working spouses. More and more companies are offering this service, finding that it is necessary to attract the people they want. Accordingly, they provide it as an extra corporate benefit.

Job search counseling teaches the spouse how to look for a job in the new location by combining personal counseling with job search training. The main goal is to help ensure that a relocation can be as beneficial to the spouse’s career as to the individual offered a new job. It is predicated on the idea that spouses should not sacrifice their own careers nor suffer any loss of income in order to relocate.

If the new company does not offer this service, spouses can work together to find new job opportunities in the new location. Unless one’s spouse is highly specialized, the job search must cover a variety of industries in the new location, including edge cities that surround major markets.

Even if no formal job search counseling program is offered by the new employer, consider contacting them to see if people will advise you about job leads in that market. Frequently, staff are members of business associations and civic groups. They may have access to information about potential employers for one’s spouse. In turn, their friends or associates may be able to provide job leads.

Additionally, utilize the resources of professional associations. Friends or former business associates who reside in that market present another prime source of job leads, as do relatives. Rather than writing letters, which can be time-consuming, use the phone and e-mail. One’s own friends and business associates in the present market also may be a source of information about jobs in the new location. Tap their contacts.

The economic downturn notwithstanding, the third quarter is also a traditionally heavy vacation period. It is also a time when companies are working on budgets for the coming year, so decisions regarding staffing, vendors, acquisitions, etc., are often placed on hold.

At least one survey suggests that there is reason to be optimistic about lower job search times going forward. The quarterly survey among CEOs of leading U.S. companies conducted by The Business Roundtable found that 67 percent expect sales to increase over the next six months. Nearly 40 percent of the CEOs said their companies will increase capital spending over the next two quarters and nearly one in three said they planned to increase their payrolls.

Job Seekers Biggest Obstacle?
The biggest obstacles job seekers may face in the months ahead may not come from the economy, but from their own aversion to risk taking. Only 13 percent of job seekers finding positions in the third quarter relocated for their new positions.

The reluctance to relocate, while entirely justified considering the state of the housing market, invariably leads to a longer job search because job seekers are casting a much smaller net. With a growing number of Americans upside down in their mortgages, it is only going to become more difficult for employers to recruit out-of-town candidates.

Job seekers also appeared more reluctant to change industries in the third quarter. The portion of job seekers who switched industries for new positions fell to 35.9 percent, compared to 37.3 percent in the previous quarter. In 2007, an average of 40 percent of job seekers changed industries each quarter.
This downturn is definitely hitting some industries harder than others. Now is the time to make the switch from a down-on-its-luck industry to one with more promise. Changing industries can be difficult, even if one remains in the same function. It becomes necessary to learn a whole new set of customs and nuances.

However, industry switching is far more preferable to career switching and for some it may be the quickest path to reemployment. Unfortunately, in times of significant turmoil, such as now, it is more comfortable to stick with the familiar. That comfort level may outweigh the need to find a job quickly.
If we find that the longer job searches are indeed related to the economic downturn, and not merely part of a seasonal trend, it could be several quarters before search times begin to fall. Companies are likely to keep hiring at a minimum until they know if the government’s intervention on Wall Street was effective.

job cut chart © Challenger and Gray

John A. Challenger John A. Challenger is chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the global outplacement consultancy that pioneered outplacement as an employer-paid benefit in the 1960s. Challenger is a recognized thought leader on workplace, labor, and economic issues.

Job Seekers Biggest Obstacle? Many job seekers reluctant to relocate © 2008, Challenger, Gray & Christmas;

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