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.
- Local job sources: In Portland, I found places like Mac’s List and WVDO, while not scouring Idealist, of course.
- 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 travelling 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.
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