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Keep a Geographic Move
From Ruining Your Career

A DIFFERENT COMPANY. A different boss. A different city -- far away.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and rising unemployment, job seekers seem more willing to relocate for new positions. Some want to work far from landmark skyscrapers. Others have exhausted their local job market.

Any employment switch involves certain upheaval. But moving far for a new job can prove highly disruptive. How can you make sure a geographic move doesn't become a bad career move?

In launching an out-of-town search, you should honestly weigh your values and priorities. Is this a logical career step? What type of corporate culture best matches your style? Will you and your family be miserable living in an area with a different climate, or where there's no professional football team, for example?

Prepare a checklist of your most important values and possible tradeoffs, suggests Dory Hollander, a partner of WiseWorkplaces, an executive-coaching firm in Arlington, Va. Still, if you're offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that doesn't exactly match your checklist, she adds, "you might want to do it anyway."

BEFORE YOU ACCEPT a distant job, conduct a thorough assessment of your potential employer. Talk to many current and former staffers, including people in departments outside of yours. Most employers view such access requests "as a positive," says Barry Joffe, a managing consultant for outplacement counselors Drake Beam Morin.

Subtle clues can help you decide whether you will fit in well. Office-space arrangements, workers' dress style and displays of corporate historical artifacts indicate whether a business is traditional or laid back.

Auto-industry executive Joel Manby knows the consequences of not finishing such homework. He says he "talked to tons of people" in the dot-com industry before leaving Alpharetta, Ga., to accept the presidency and a significant equity stake at, a Web start-up in Livermore, Calif.

Mr. Manby, now 42 years old, had headed General Motors' Saab Cars USA operation. Despite his homework, "I didn't do a good enough job nailing down the lifestyle difference of the job I was going into," he says. "The grass always looks greener when you are going into a new situation."

On April 4, 2000, Mr. Manby's first day at Greenlight, the Nasdaq market tanked. Raising additional funds for the online car seller turned into an arduous task. Rather than his usual 60-hour weeks, he found himself toiling every minute he wasn't sleeping. He advanced to CEO in August 2000 and last February, oversaw Greenlight's sale. The executive and his family soon returned to the Atlanta area, where he is chairman of Silver Dollar City, an entertainment firm in Branson, Mo.

To his credit, Mr. Manby did cover some bases. He insisted Greenlight pay his temporary housing for six months and rented rather than bought a new home. "Never bring up this kind of [housing request] until they ... determine that they want you," he advises. After that, "it's very rarely going to be the issue that undoes the deal even at the non-CEO level."

Indeed, relocated new chiefs of big companies often command interim housing for a year. Since last spring, numerous businesses eager to transfer new hires to uncertain housing markets have extended their typical month of temporary housing to two months, says Sandy Lee, co-founder of consultants Plus Relocation Services in Minneapolis.

A guaranteed return trip represents your best protection against a soured move. Even in dicey economic times, you can wrangle a move back, as long as you begin in a strong bargaining position or are willing to swap some severance. But first, make sure you know why you're needed in that distant location. "If you don't understand that, you miss the boat," warns Michel Tanguay, finance director for the sports-boat division of a Bombardier unit.

HE SHOULD KNOW. The 40-year-old French-Canadian joined the Montreal transportation-equipment maker in late July when he moved from White Plains, N.Y., to Benton, Ill., a rural community with 6,000 residents. His office overlooks cornfields and, he observes wryly, "I haven't found any good Italian restaurants except for Pizza Hut."

Before making its offer, Bombardier informed Mr. Tanguay the Benton post had been vacant for six months. Realizing he had considerable leverage, he refused to accept without a written agreement to move him and his wife back to the New York area if he lost his job through no fault of his own. "I was concerned about coming here because if it doesn't work out, I am stuck" in a one-company town, he explains.

Bombardier proposed an even sweeter arrangement: It will relocate Mr. Tanguay anywhere in the U.S. or Canada any time if the company dismisses him for any reason except gross misbehavior. Corporate policy usually limits a moveback guarantee to 12 months, reports Krys Darnell, the division's human-resources director.

How might other job hunters obtain similar deals that would lessen the insecurity of a distant move? Scrutinize a new employer's past practices, Ms. Darnell recommends. And make your request reasonable.