How Geography Plays A Role In Your Job Hunt Part 1

blue globe sm.jpgLast month, I received this email from an Air Force vet:

I have attached a copy of my resume. Any help with finding a job in the Central and Northern New Jersey or the Eastern Pennsylvania area will be appreciated.

In July, I had an Army vet email me a note that said in effect: I couldn't find a job in Texas so I'm packing up the house and moving my family to Ohio.

A year ago, a Navy vet told me that he had moved his family 13 times over a 20-year career. So, he was letting his wife choose where the family would settle down after his retirement. Her choice was a small, tourist (fishing) town in northern Wisconsin that had no high tech companies (his job specialty) to speak of.

Another Army vet emailed me for advice on whether to take a job in Maryland or Pennsylvania; his concern was the excessive cost of housing in Maryland and was favoring the PA job.

All these examples lend support to the belief that geography plays an important role in choices military veterans make about employment.

But belief is one thing, economic reality is quite another.

For starters, I'd say that job hunting in Pennsylvania or Ohio would be a challenge--both states have lost jobs since the Recession.

Yet, you can find a job, even in Pennsylvania. The Army vet I cited did.

For most people, the key is getting real facts about your future home's economic status and trends. This is essential to avoid a prolonged job hunt. This information is free and available online at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

. . .

Despite the power of technology, which can enable employees to work virtually anywhere in the world, most civilian business sectors still operate around geographic hubs.

For instance, the U.S. West Coast is a hub for the high technology business with San Francisco's Bay area at its epicenter.

The Defense Industry is global--but one would be hard pressed to find a high concentration of DoD contractors in Chicago's Loop (downtown business area). Generally speaking, the U.S. East Coast is the heart of DoD employment with the West Coast tied for first or second runner up.

However, if you are a vet who is interested in a maintenance job in the "heavy" industry sector, you'd want to beeline it to the U.S. Midwest, not Boston, MA, or one of my favorite vacation destinations: Boulder, Colorado.

In summary, knowledge of your job skills' geo-economic hub is important for two reasons:

  • Job hunting is a numbers game for most people. More opportunities for employment usually mean a greater chance of getting hired at a salary level you desire.
  • Decreases your chance for future (and involuntary) job relocations. Most people go through 1 to 3 job hunts over a 10-year period. By moving to the middle of a geo-economic hub, you will have more opportunities for employment within your home area in the event you are laid off or are looking for a new opportunity.

(This happened to a Navy friend of mine. He moved from Vermont to Palo Alto, CA one month and the next month he was laid off. As a computer professional, he had no problems finding a job within a few weeks because of the high concentration of tech jobs there.)

If you move to an area that has little need of your job specialty, does this mean you won't find a job there?

No. But you will have to dig a little harder to "mine" the job market and score paydirt. You will have to get more creative. That's what the vet who moved to northern Wisconsin did.

As a recruiter, he had developed some valuable business skills: researching/sourcing new contacts and effective telephone communication. Realizing that there were few opportunities for his work specialty (electronic maintenance) in the little Wisconsin town that would be his home, he got creative and combed the local newspaper and read about a high tech company that was moving into the town.

I encouraged him to call the company and give a quick "elevator pitch," that is, a short, persuasive, 20-second statement about what he can do for the company. It didn't take him long to gain the confidence of the President's secretary. Within a few weeks, the vet had a telephone interview with him.

One of the advantages of being a vet and living in the "foothills" of a geo-economic hub is little competition and employers' search for workers with a broad range of skills, which describes most senior enlisted-to-officer veterans.

. . .

If I were separating from the military service right now, here's what I would do:

Option 1: Stay Local First. I would seek employment where I was stationed. People know you and know the value of military experience. The transition would more than likely be transparent.

After a year of civilian employment, I would conduct a national job hunt, targeting areas that have a lot of industries and employers who need my work specialty (Option 2).

Option 2: Find Your Geo-Economic Hub: To do this, I would first determine what are my primary value-adding business skills and create a database of industries and major companies who need these skills using the Internet and job websites as my sources for company information. The database would be no less than 100 companies. I would review where these companies are located and target a future home somewhere in the geographic middle.

Option 3: Reconnect with Family and Friends: If the above two options were not workable, I would start calling old friends and family to learn about the local economy or obtain job leads.

Existing employees learn about job openings before job ads are posted in newspapers or on websites. More than likely, these contacts have access to the hidden job market that would reduce my job competition immensely.

. . .

There's no question that geography plays a role in job hunting. You can play it to your advantage by taking the time to learn the local economic "lay of the land." If you don't you might find yourself throwing darts from many miles away and always missing the bull's eye.

Good Luck In Your Job Search!

Randall Scasny

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