Your Geographic ABCs

WOW: Words Of Wisdom from your Career Coach

Military personnel have a reputation for being flexible. Companies that hire veterans will frequently mention this flexibility among their reasons for targeting that demographic. Included in this label is geographic flexibility. Most military personnel change assignments every two or three years. Many of these job changes require a geographic displacement. After four to twenty or more years of this lifestyle, you have obviously learned how to relocate. Perhaps you should ask yourself if you want to market that talent.

The phrase Willing to Relocate appears on many resumes. Those three words send a powerful message to a potential employer—for the right opportunity, I will go just about anywhere. If that willingness applies to you, then it should also be on your resume. It is however important that you do not misrepresent how you truly feel. As much as you want to reinforce the flexibility label and keep the doors open, you do not want to find yourself in a position where you decline an offer primarily because of the location of the job. If that is the main reason you are saying no, then you are not as willing to relocate as the message you conveyed earlier in the interviewing process.

The choices we make in life are not only driven by the alternatives at hand but also by our preferences, likes, and dislikes. This decision making process is a major component of a job search. Very few, if any, people are willing to relocate without restrictions. Human beings are choosy by nature and inherent in the word choosy is the concept of having a choice. The ideal job search will in the end produce options and the more options, the better—right?  Not necessarily.

In order to maximize the number of choices, one must minimize the number of filters. For example, let’s say you will do any job, live anywhere, take any salary, place no restrictions on travel, work any and all hours of the day, and are open to any type of business or industry. That level of flexibility will definitely increase the options available, but does that approach support your goal of finding the right opportunity?

Job location is a filter used by both parties in a job search. An employer does not want to interview a candidate who will not seriously consider the location of the job. Similarly, a candidate should not waste time and resources to find a job in a location where he or she will not live. Keep in mind also that filters do two things when applied to a system. Yes, they increase the quality of the final product by removing impurities along the way. However, in the process of removing these impurities, the flow or quantity is restricted and choices are fewer, but also inherently better. Think about it—what matters more—quantity or quality?

How important is the geographic location filter in your job search?  Take the time to learn your Geographic ABCs before you start interviewing. Here is a 10-step exercise to help you answer that question and conduct a more productive search.

  • Step One: Gather together a map of the USA, writing materials, and an eraser.
  • Step Two: Compile your A List of places to live. This is the A List because it consists of all of your premium locations—ones that are so good that you would sacrifice other criteria in order to live there. You can list whole states, parts of states, cities, towns, or regions.
  • Step Three: Compile your C List. These are the locations where you will not, under any circumstances, reside. No matter how good everything else is, it does not matter—you will not even consider it.
  • Step Four: Compile your B List. This one is easy because it consists of everything not already accounted for on A or C. These locations, although neither prime nor rejected, are acceptable if everything else about the opportunity is positive.
  • Step Five: Review the map to make sure that every square mile is accounted for and shows up on one of the lists.
  • Step Six: Quality control all three lists. There are several ways to do this. First, have your family or significant other review them. That frequently changes things. Second, consider the size of the state. For example, when you say New York or Texas, do you mean the entire state or a section of it?  Third, consider the size of the town. When you say North Carolina, does Bolivia work as well as Charlotte?  Fourth, take into account bordering states. For example, Ohio is on your A List, specifically Cincinnati. Kentucky is on your C List. Are you sure?  Guess what, the Cincinnati airport is actually in Kentucky!
  • Step Seven: Walk away from this exercise for 24 hours and then take another look at all three lists. Pay particular attention to the B List. Upon further review, some of those locations might slide to A or C.
  • Step Eight: Using an eraser, modify the map of the USA so that is now represents the USY—the United States of You—by eliminating everything on the C List. Things just got easier and harder at the same time. Although geographically speaking you may have much less from which to choose, the remaining choices are much more likely to make you happy. Focus your job search resources on positions in locations that are on the A and B Lists. Make sure to share those lists with all of the people who are assisting you in your search.
  • Step Nine: Use the results of this exercise to prioritize your search parameters. Here is how. Consider that in addition to those three categories of location—A, B, and C—there are also three categories of opportunities out there for you: A grade, B grade, and C grade. Make the assumption that you are good enough to find something in the A or B grade categories and that leaves you with four choices.
    1. First Choice: an A grade opportunity in an A grade location.
    2. Last Choice: a B grade opportunity in a B grade location.

    Now for the hard part. What do you do if you cannot get your first choice?  You move on to your second choice, right?  But wait—what comes second?

    1. Second Choice: an A grade opportunity in a B grade location, or
    2. Second Choice: a B grade opportunity in an A grade location.

    That question has no right or wrong answer. It depends entirely on what really matters to you and where geographic location appears on your priority list.

  • Step Ten: Decide whether or not to include the phrase Willing to Relocate on your resume; figure out how you will answer the Where do you want to live? question in an interview; and give some thought to what you will put in that Geographic Preference box on that application form.

In summary, be as flexible on location as your personal circumstances will allow and be sure to study your Geographic ABCs before you launch your job search.

© 2012; Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher,

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