How I found a job in a new city before moving there

Last summer, I did something that seemed highly unlikely: I got a job in a city I wanted to live in before I moved there – from 3,000 miles away.

When I made the decision to move from New York City to Portland, OR early on in 2013, I wondered if it was possible to secure a job from afar. Initially, the logistics and distance made it seem like a mountain to climb. But in hindsight, being proactive and calculated in my job search made relocating my nonprofit career rather easy.

Based on my experience, here are some things you can do to make the seemingly impossible, possible:

Include a potential arrival date in your cover letter and resume

Something I considered early on was how my New York City address would appear to prospective employers across the nation. Not favorable in comparison to local candidates, I estimated. It seemed like a possible barrier, so to remove it, I wrote “Relocating to Portland, OR in Summer 2013” in parentheses directly under my current address on each document. And for a more definitive explanation, I reserved a sentence in my cover letter’s final paragraph and said something like: “I am relocating to Portland in the summer, but I welcome any opportunity to interview for this role before then.” These steps effectively alerted nonprofit employers of my current location and not-so-distant future intention.

A common piece of advice is to use a  friend’s local address. However, I learned that this can be confusing to prospective employers since you’re not actually there yet.

Learn about the local nonprofit scene

Another initial step I took when seeking to relocate my nonprofit career in a city far-far away, was to inform myself on things like:

  • Nonprofit organizations at my destination. Scan Idealist, peruse GuideStar, search “nonprofits in city xyz” in Google; Do everything you can to figure out which nonprofit organizations are operating in the place you want to live in.
  • Online sources that have great tips for relocating your career like Ask A Manager. Take some advice on long-distance job searching from some people who have done it!

Be ready to explain why you’re moving

When you decide to make a long-distance move, your parents, friends, neighbors, and friendly guy at the bodega will all ask you why you are leaving. And so will a prospective employer during your first phone interview and probably any subsequent interviews. To avoid bumbling through an answer about coffee and beer (Portland!), do yourself a favor and come up with a preferred story – one that even mom buys into – and tell it with enthusiasm.

Having your story straight and telling it with confidence will underscore your seriousness about relocating, and make an employer who might take a chance on a non-local candidate more comfortable with hiring you from afar.

Leverage your network and actively build a new one

 I found that networking was the single most important step I took to relocate my nonprofit career. Talk to everyone you know about your future abode and its nonprofit job scene. Specifically, I reached out to:

  • Colleagues. I sought advice from my coworkers, past bosses and mentors, and other affiliates I met through my work-life.
  • Local nonprofit associations. I became friendly with nonprofit professionals in Portland by reaching out to local places like the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and WVDO and building relationships.
  • LinkedIn connections. I scanned my LinkedIn account for anyone who might be able to help and even reached out to some 2nd – 4th degree connections that had experience in working in the nonprofit field in Portland.

By spinning a web of connections for my relocation project, I ultimately forged some important relationships with those in my soon-to-be nonprofit market and garnered some important information during the process. I found that having my name “out there” led to a series of interviews.

Be flexible and smart

During your long-distance job search, you will be required to have interviews at odd hours and likely be asked to travel for an in-person interview. So be ready for anything, whether it be phone, Skype, or heading to the airport for a five hour flight.

It is important to be flexible with a potential employer because unfortunately for you, there are likely local candidates who will be far easier to access, especially for nonprofits that rarely have the time or money to treat you differently. But make sure any commitments you make are within both your means and the realm of reason. If you are traveling a great distance for an in-person interview, you must weigh the opportunity cost with your time and money.

I’d advise making sure interviews on the road are final interviews, due to the time and cost involved. Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re a final candidate for a position and be open about your availability, desires, etc. Be as flexible as possible, but be smart about what you can and can’t do.

Finding and getting a job is never easy, but doing it from long distances makes it even more difficult. My best advice would be to seize the opportunity like you never have before. Bring your top game in any interaction with a potential employer and make sure you are doing everything you can to act like a candidate that is not so far away. I ended up relocating my nonprofit career relatively easily by taking into account the tips above, but by more often than not, just by being proactive and rational.

Have you ever done a long-distance job search? What worked for you or didn’t work? Share your tips below.

Michael V. Paul recently relocated to the Portland, OR area and is the Annual Campaign & Grants Manager at Columbia Land Trust. He is an appreciator and practitioner of efficient operation, strategic thinking and hard work, and an avid reader and soccer enthusiast. You can follow Michael on Twitter here: @Michael_V_Paul


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    • Steve
    • June 2, 2014

    Great idea with the relocation bit to go under your current address, I am including that in all my applications from now on!

    • Catherine
    • June 2, 2014

    I am currently trying to relocate from St. Louis to Tampa. One thing that has helped is that I am using a friend’s Florida address on my resume and applications. I am honest about this with potential employers when they ask, and I tell them that this is where I might live while I look for my own apartment there.

    One thing that has been a huge challenge is the interview process. I am not happy that I paid hundreds of dollars, while unemployed, to fly down for an interview that did not turn into a job. I can’t keep doing that.

      • Chantal
      • June 3, 2014

      I can relate to your last paragraph in a worse way. My money is so tight I’d have to relocate before interviewing. Traveling just for an interview really sounds like a luxury.

    • Kristine
    • June 3, 2014

    I’m currently looking for a job in Austin, and have been using many of these tips. I’m still finding it hard to get a foot in the door, though, with an out-of-state address.

    • Karen
    • June 3, 2014

    I live in Arizona and was recently had a phone interview for a position in Colorado. A week after I submitted my resume, I called the HR representative and said I was following up to learn where they were in the hiring process and would be happy to travel to Colorado for an interview. My call may have gotten them to at least look at my resume, because they called to schedule the phone interview soon after.

    • Beau
    • June 3, 2014

    I’m relocating from SF to Denver this summer (my partner’s company is moving his job there). So far I’ve had 7-8 phone interviews and flown out for three meetings with Denver nonprofits. I clarified I was a finalist for each job before I paid my way to Colorado, but when I got there, every group said they had several candidates competing for the job and just wanted to meet me in person. They asked for samples of my work or for me to do a “project outline” so they could judge my skills. At this point, I don’t have any offers but three Denver nonprofits have scammed me for about $10,000 worth of free consulting. Kudos to these reps of Denver’s nonprofit sector for giving me a taste of local ethics!

    • DJ
    • June 3, 2014

    I would have hoped that an article like (on idealist specifically) this could/would speak on the privilege that might be held, and the ease in acclimating in a city such as Portland OR IS certainly based on skin color. Been here for 2 years, super talented creative, but have only been able to get a call back (for stocking fruits and veggies)

    Your article could be more enticing or fruitful if you’d researched into or had written about, exclusion that is painstakingly present (for decades, ask Black locals who have been here for years). Don’t worry there’s still time for you to do your own research and publish another article that can open people’s eyes on the issue of exclusion in Oregon for certain residents; it’s not Oregon alone.

    1. I see that no one replied to you. I agree with you. I’m a black mom who is in a long term relationship and we have a toddler. Both of us are students about to graduate. We are planning to relocate to LA because we think there would be more opportunities. I’m an animation and digital art BA and he’s getting an associate in programming.

      We know that being black we’ve a barrier in front of us. We’re also poor, and cannot afford to fly out for interviews. The common advice us not to take a job below your station but… things are not so simple. There are no jobs for us here though so we have to decide if we should just move there cold or wait till we find something secure.

  1. Pingback: How to build a network in a new city before you move | Idealist Careers

    • Sheliese Smith
    • October 23, 2014

    I am a recent grad looking to relocate from Atlanta to NYC, I have my dad’s NJ address on my resume but I think since this will my first full time job and I just graduated its even harder and employers may see me as a risk.. I’m stuck with the question is it better to search for a job in another state while having a job (currently doing) or relocate, be jobless and search locally? I have decided to take a leap of faith and go up for a week of networking with local professional in nonprofit. Hopefully it helps.. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!! 🙂

      • :aVonda Clay
      • February 9, 2015

      Wow! I am currently in the exact situation. The only difference is that I am in Mississippi!!

    • Jenn
    • January 3, 2015

    Thank you for this article. I am looking to make a move from the West Coast and this has really helped me. It is awesome to see it can happen and will happen. I am lucky that I am returning to my “hometown” and went to school here and have family and friends. This makes me not quite, but almost as compelling as a local candidate. Time to get my networking on!

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