You Had Me at Relo

By: Matt Tovrog

Remember the scene in Jerry Maguire when Dorothy Boyd is packed and ready to move to San Diego for her new job? Then, Jerry proposes just before Dorothy and her son (“the human head weighs 8 pounds” kid) are about to hit the road. She decides to stay, Jerry “had her at hello” and that’s a wrap. Ever since the credits rolled, I’ve wondered about the company Dorothy abandoned in San Diego, and the bind they were in when she bailed.

As a partner with an executive search firm, my job is to worry about these things. I manage the complete search process–from the launch meeting until after the candidate has started their new job with my client. I am tasked with understanding the candidate’s questions and concerns, as well as making recommendations to my clients based on the needs of the candidate—all in hopes of avoiding a Jerry Maguire situation.

Of course, there are countless factors that can ultimately persuade a candidate to pass on a job, but for the sake of this blog I am going to focus on relocation. In this particular case, had Dorothy Boyd’s job not required relocation, Jerry would not have felt the need to propose marriage and prevent the move. And we all would’ve been robbed of the “you complete me” scene.

The process and feasibility of relocation has changed drastically over the past six or so years. Before the recession, attracting nationwide talent was an easier proposition for companies, since most homeowners had very few challenges selling quickly and for a profit. Those were the days.

Even so, and in good times or bad, relocating a candidate for a job involves many moving parts: some logistical, some emotional and some monetary. If any of these variables become too much of an obstacle, the candidate can very easily say forget it, stay put, and hope that a similar—and local—opportunity will present itself.

Key relocation considerations  

Having worked consistently on searches that require relocation, I have accumulated a list of questions and considerations that are helpful in addressing these kinds of issues from the start of the process—especially if the candidate is a homeowner or has a family. Of course, always be sure to entertain the family members who are involved in the decision during the entire process. Consider the following:

  • Does the spouse work? If so, will they be able to transfer internally or find a new job in a timely manner? If not, how much of a financial burden will it be for the spouse to quit his or her job?
  • If the candidate has children, do they have specific needs for school or healthcare that will be a challenge in a new location?
  • Does the timeframe you have in mind align with the timeframe of the candidate?  If the candidate has kids in school, they will likely prefer to let the children finish up the year or wait until a break. The candidate can start with your company but may require additional travel back home until the family completes their relocation.
  • If the candidate is going to sell their house, did they purchase it during a year where they earned tax credits for buying their house? Will they owe these back?
  • If the candidate rents, what will their cost be to break their lease?
  • Does the candidate plan on renting or buying when they move? As a candidate often prefers to rent their first year before committing to a certain area, does your relocation policy support long-term rental assistance?
  • What are the comps in the candidate’s area and the average amount of time to sell the house? Do you have a contingency plan if the candidate’s house takes greater than 90 days to sell? This is extremely important.
  • If there is no formal relocation policy from your organization, what are the candidate’s expectations on relocation assistance? Listen to their requirements and work to come up with creative ways to meet their needs.
  • If the candidate is married or has a family, it’s a good idea to invite them (expenses covered) along for one of the interviews. Host a dinner in which another employee—relatively new to the company and who had to relocate—is present to share his or her experiences. This could help validate the candidate’s decision to accept or decline the position.

It is best to ask these direct questions early in the process and several times throughout. Attracting a candidate who requires relocation can be a hefty expense for your company, so be direct. Too often the sticking points arise late in the process or even when the offer is on the table, when “the rubber meets the road.”

Don’t be the company that loses a candidate at the 11th hour. You can prevent this by being thorough, thoughtful, asking the necessary questions…and by making sure your candidate isn’t in a relationship with Tom Cruise.

Matt Tovrog is a Partner with Bell Oaks Executive Search, a national executive search and placement firm based in Atlanta.