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Where to search for an IT job: Out of state or out of luck?

Where to search for an IT job: Out of state or out of luck?

If you're an out-of-work systems or network manager in a saturated job market like Boston or the Bay Area, you're probably reaching the breaking point. So it's natural to wonder if it's worth uprooting your family, abandoning your friends and perhaps selling your house to go where the jobs are.

Before you leap, you should realize that relocation has serious drawbacks -- especially if the job is your sole motivation. In fact, in many cases you might be better off staying where you are and getting by on temporary or contract work. "The Bureau of Labor Statistics has stats showing that people have been too quick to chase after sudden job offers, since the length of employment can be quite short," warns Frank Bernhard, managing principal of the OMNI Consulting Group in Davis, Calif. "Besides, a place that's hot today may not be within six to 12 months. That's a real risk, especially when you stop and consider the potential disruption to your family. That's why you see a lot of people taking jobs out of state and commuting until they're sure things are working out." In addition, you have to factor in the moving costs and the potential culture shock you may encounter moving from, say, a major metropolis to a midwestern cowtown (or vice-versa).

On the other hand, geographically flexible people obviously have a huge advantage in the job search. If you fit the bill, your initial inquiry should be the types of companies hiring, says Bernhard. According to Bernhard, three categories of companies are actively seeking network and systems managers: those still in the process of automating their services, those actively trying to increase the strategic value of IT and those that are highly focused on security. "Companies that prominently come to mind are those like the Ford Motor Co., which are working on all three objectives simultaneously," says Bernhard.

Other places to look are industries that are relatively unaffected by the economy, like healthcare, adds Josh Abrams, who manages the network at AMD Telemedicine Inc. in Lowell, Mass.

Seeking companies with government or defense relationships is a good idea according to Ben Hochberg, a technical recruiter with Softworld Inc. in Waltham, Mass. "There's a huge amount of government and military work out there – especially right now. And even when the budgets aren't huge, they're still there, unlike in industries like telecommunications."

Hot spots

For those willing to follow a job, certain regions are definitely more productive places to look than others. Hochberg says the Washington, D.C. area is as much of an employees' market as any place right now. "It's certainly a stronger market than, say, the Boston area for finding work as a network or systems manager," he says. "That's mainly because of the defense presence." Bernhard adds that salaries are competitive in the capital region. But he warns that there's a real swing in the cost of living throughout Metro Washington. "If you're willing to get off the Beltway and go beyond Dulles International Airport, there are affordable places."

Meanwhile, Kansas City -- which flies below many people's radar screens -- is a place well worth looking into, says Bernhard, explaining that Sprint and other K.C.-based telecom companies have created a fertile hiring market. Plus, you get a lot of bang for your buck there, says Arnie Walkin, formerly a network manager with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and currently president of the New England Computer Consulting Group in Somerville, Mass. "I used to do a lot of work for Sprint, and while the salaries are midrange, they're very good when you consider the cost of living."

Another place to consider is Portland, Ore., where jobs are available, salaries are good and the cost of living is very low compared to its neighbors, Seattle and San Francisco. For example, chipmaker Intel has a large campus in nearby Hillsborough, Ore., where it pays the same salaries it pays in California, says Bernhard. And people in Oregon seem very happy there. "All I know is that the people I've spoken to who live there weren't open to relocating," says Hochberg.

If you do look into relocating to one of these regions, says Abrams, try to look at such opportunities as more than just employment gigs. "Even though the industries may be the same from town to town, region to region or even country to country, each place is unique and you need to consider the opportunity to expose yourself to new people, new cultures and new adventures."

Hochberg adds that -- assuming personal circumstances allow for it -- you might chase a job simply for the opportunity to keep your skills current, implying that it's tougher to do that in a temp or contract gig. Walkin is more blunt. "In this economy, when someone has an opportunity to get something permanent, no matter where it is, they should take it," he states flatly. "Because there's not a lot out there."

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