I have had the pleasure of moving several times in my life for professional reasons, as part of an internal transfer, when accepting a new job, and when starting my own business. Moreover, I have received many headhunter calls asking me to consider applying for ”exciting jobs” in cities that would have required moving, from Chicago to the suburbs of Atlanta, from West Des Moines to Rio de Janeiro, from Washington, D.C., to a small town in the middle of Connecticut. My experience during these years, good and bad, has taught me about the benefits and additional risks you take when contemplating a job in a different city or country – they are related to job quality/security, attractiveness of location, and financial/tax related consequences (see “Ready to Move for a New Job? - Part I”).
My lessons learned about managing your risks break down into two parts – maximizing your information before signing the deal, and negotiating your job offer for your protection.
Here are four things you should do to maximize the information you have to prepare to negotiate your move and make a decision:
1) Understand all risks and current information gaps: It is easy to get seduced by money, power, or the status of a potential new job and forget to evaluate the risks. It happened to me and can happen to you: You got this amazing offer, too good to refuse, but you disregard what is nagging you, be it uprooting your life, perceived cultural issues in the new place, or not fully understanding all financial consequences. Don’t suppress your own (or your spouse’s) concerns and critical questions. Sit down and make a list of all risks. Write down all areas where you need to do research.
2) Follow your own timeline, not HR’s: You might need a few weeks to get full clarity of analyzing and then acting on your risk assessment. This might run counter the pressure of the company you are dealing with because they “need you now”. Resist the pressure to shortcut your own analysis. The more comfortable you are in your current place and position, the more cautious you should be in jumping for new promises without full information and a safety net. Yes, it might mean that from time to time you say “no” and lose an opportunity by not jumping prematurely. Communicate openly with your company about what you need to analyze the offer and mitigate some risks – a great company will be helpful and accommodate. If you don’t find open ears or a “just trust us, we will deal with it later” response, let it be a warning sign.
3) Mitigate location risk: spend time on the ground: Twice I moved without having a clear concept of what life would be in a different city and country. Once I got lucky, the “blind date” worked out fine; the second time it was a disaster. I hated every day in the place. It was entirely my own fault, though. My misery could have been avoided by having invested some time in a little “test drive” on the ground before making a decision. This would have helped to get a feel for the environment, the people, the climate, etc. Ideally, you should spend 1 - 2 weeks in the proposed new location to experience weekdays and weekends -- walk around in a neighborhood you could see yourself moving to, talk to locals, explore the social scene, look at schools for your kids, evaluate the security situation, familiarize yourself with the commute, etc. If possible, stay with friends or family, as they not only can give you great local advice, but might connect you to their friends to get even more insights. If you don’t know anybody in a new location (no friend, no acquaintance, no family) take this as a “proceed cautiously” sign. After having done your test drive in the new place, be very honest with yourself: Can you see yourself (and your family) there or not? Ideally, your instincts are in sync with your rational analysis. If not, beware.
4) Analyze financial and tax consequences yourself: Don’t trust HR or any tax accountant without having done you own homework. I have never seen a correct tax return draft prepared by a tax accountant in my life. I was more than once ill-informed by HR about tax consequences of a potential move. This is no small matter. Whether you move domestically or internationally, a targeted Internet search should give you plenty of information you need on living expenses, tax issues, tax rates, and tax quirks (sample trivia question for you: did you know that when you move from Alabama to a different state, you have left Alabama for good, but if you move abroad, Alabama continues to demand state income tax?). Armed with your newly acquired knowledge, take what you believe are the financial consequences, any remaining questions and concerns to the company-provided tax experts. If the company does not provide this service, seek out third party advice on your own, even if it costs you money. It might be the best “insurance” you have ever bought.
In the next and last installment of this blog series, I will guide you on what and how to negotiate with your company to provide yourself with downside protection after starting in the new role.