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Finding a job from 850 miles away

July 28th, 2010
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Summer 2008 while rocking out to Blues Traveler at their Independence Day show, Rich and I decided that we wanted to come back to Colorado “with a moving truck.”  At the time, we lived in Rolla, Missouri.  I was an IT project manager and Rich was a grad student–both at Missouri S&T.  Rich had a couple more years of school to go, but we could dream, right?  It’s less than two years later, and we are living the dream.  It took about 9 months to get out here once we hit it, with a summer’s worth of prep time before that.  It might sound like a long time, but we came out here very happily and well employed, with minimal investment.  I’ve promised this post to friends and strangers alike who wanted to know how we made that happen.

My first leap of faith

Rich had interned at NREL just south of Boulder during that fated summer, but he hadn’t bonded with any of the locals.  We knew exactly 0 people that we thought could help us with our big move.  I remembered seeing something about Boulder on a friend’s Facebook page a few months back.  I took a look, and I was right.  An old college buddy of ours had a friend that lived in Boulder.  I wasn’t in the habit of emailing strangers, but when you want something, you leap.  I sent this stranger a Facebook message–a couple paragraph shot in the dark.  It paid off.  In spades.  This stranger was amazingly helpful.  We emailed.  We chatted.  He gave me great advice, three bits in particular: 1) go to Ignite Boulder 2) get on twitter 3) use Craigslist to find a job.

That’s Step 1: Make a connection, any connection.

The dirty work

The first bit of advice was easy.  We were going to be in Boulder when the next Ignite was scheduled.  We bought tix.  We showed up.  I was mesmerized.  This spark made me realize I had truly found my geeky home:

People were cheering for factorial–including me :)  My commitment to moving to Boulder solidified.  My helpful stranger even gave a spark that night–talk about making the right connection.  I’d embed his spark from that night, but he’d kill me ;)

His second piece of advice was harder for me to swallow.  He told me to get on twitter.  I had already tried and hated twitter, not once but twice.  Third time’s the charm?  Yes indeed.  I started to make more and deeper connections with Boulder folks.  I became a virtual part of the community.   How did that happen?  I listened.   I shared information of value.  I engaged.

Now, Craigslist was also a little hard for me to swallow.  I mean, I’m a professional.  Who puts those kinds of jobs on Craigslist?  In Boulder, everyone.  Looking for a VP?  Craigslist.  MD?  Craigslist.  Partner to act out Michael Jackson videos?  Craigslist.  You knew that last, though, right?  The point isn’t that Craigslist is always the answer to where to find jobs.  The point is that there will be some local spot that is the place to find jobs.  Your local connections can help you find this place.

That’s Step 2: Listen to & take good advice

Connections + homework + ? = JOB

You’ve made your connections.  You’ve done your homework.  How do you get a company hundreds of miles away to consider you when there are plenty of local candidates?  This is tricky, but I know what worked for me.  And believe me, plenty of people told me that this could not be done.  Mentors, friends, and strangers alike told me that I should either move out to Boulder without a job or that I should find a job just to get me out here, then find the right job.  Honestly, either of these approaches probably would have been faster.  The first–just move–was just too risky for me.  We had a mortgage, car payment, etc.  I couldn’t risk sitting unemployed for six months.  The second–get a job, any job–just didn’t feel right to me.  I didn’t want to use a company just to make the move.

My approach was to make sure that potential employers knew that I was committed to the area.  It’s important to set yourself apart from the people who are just desperate for a job, any job, anywhere.  I wrote verbiage in my cover letter that spoke to why I wanted to move to the area.  I participated in Boulder events and put this on my resume–including speaking at Ignite Boulder.  I made employers feel like I was already part of the community and that the move was imminent, which it would be as soon as I could find a job.

For large corporate employers, I was a little less open about my location.  If I was fairly certain that a computer would be the first reader of my resume, I used a Denver address and phone number (Google Voice).  If I was going to be culled, I wanted a human to do it.  When contacted by phone or email, I made a point to clarify that I was out of state.  Once I explained why I wanted to relocate and that I was not requiring relocation benefits, I never had any trouble.  That said, you have to be open to starting the job in a time frame comparable to a local candidate–2-4 weeks, the shorter the better.

That’s Step 3: Act like an almost local

The Last Mile

You’ve had the phone interview, and it’s a love fest all around.  Regardless of how much an employer may love you, there’s always more consideration given when a face-to-face interview is going to cost the company a grand or more.  Since we were so dedicated to getting out here, I helped push these companies over the hump by getting myself out to Boulder.  When I felt like I was on the cusp of a face-to-face interview, I scheduled a trip out to Boulder and let the companies that I was talking to know that I was going to be in town.  I nailed down at least one interview, then scheduled my trip, called everybody, and then sent out more applications with a note in my cover letter with the dates I would be in town.  I made two of these trips at my own cost, one of which I bundled with my spark at Ignite Boulder.  On my last job hunt trip out here, I was offered jobs by both companies that interviewed me–a fantastic place to be.  I took the job I fell in love with and had bargaining power to boot.

My results by the numbers:

  • Phone interviews = dozens (many firms found me through Dice, Monster, connections, etc
  • Applications = 12
  • Face-to-face interviews = 4
  • Offers = 2 (so very close to 3)
  • Result = 1 happy girl

You might have noticed that I actually only applied to twelve jobs in nine months.  That might not seem like I was working very hard at it, but I was focusing on quality over quantity.  For each of those applications, I spent at least 10 hours doing research–for some of them, more than 20 hours.  I regularly spent time cultivating and expanding my network and keeping my online job profiles on Dice, Monster, and Career Builder fresh.  After all was said and done, the two offers I received came through that network and my online profiles.  The company that I turned down found me on Dice, which I tried to update every 7 days.  I found the job I accepted through my network on Twitter and my now friend and co-worker Joe Flasher.  Making this happen was a huge amount of work, but it completely paid off.  I absolutely love my job.  It was completely worth my investment of time and money.

That’s Step 3: Persistence  & Commitment

Bonus Points

In step 1 I mentioned a helpful stranger.  Honestly, I don’t think I would be out here living this life I love without him.  He gave me awesome advice, helped me grow my network, was incredibly supportive, and all-in-all has become an amazing friend.  If you’re a Boulderite, you almost assuredly know him: Terry Cabeen or perhaps affectionately as Tika Bean.  Terry & his wife Kia have welcomed us with open arms–even throwing a welcome bbq for us.  To Terry & Kia: Thank you for truly making Boulder feel like home!

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