My Small-Town Move That Ended The Job-Search Blues

By Julie Rains on 25 January 2009 (Updated 7 April 2010) 7 comments
Photo: Dave Mcmt

When I was a new college grad, I wanted to live and work in a big city with great opportunities. I didn't know that an unemployment rate of 9-10% wasn't the economy as usual (recent media reports have mentioned that today's unemployment statistics are the worst since 1982, when I entered the full-time workforce); I did know that just a few of my classmates had real jobs waiting for them upon graduation. So, I searched for a job anywhere, and landed in a small town. Since then, I’ve spoken with others who have made similar moves. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of career building and living in a small town that's not your hometown.

Career Building

Pros

Even major corporations with corporate offices or a presence (such as a distribution center, retail store, or research facility) in a small town sometimes have difficulty attracting top talent, compared to their big-city peers. They will often give greater responsibilities to capable but less experienced employees and offer opportunities for professional growth through support of continuing education, mentoring programs, or tuition reimbursement. These companies may also offer exceptional employee benefits.

Those who have worked for small-town corporations are often able to get valuable experience in a relatively short amount of time: you might control millions of dollars in inventory, set strategic direction for a small division, or make presentations to key customers or an executive staff early in your tenure. Moving up will depend on the growth of the company; a fast-growing one may promote quickly whereas a more stable or mature organization may have less employee turnover, making it more difficult to take the next step.

Cons

A downside to having access to fewer talented employees may be leaner operations with lower headcount. As a result, you may spend long hours at the office or on the distribution, sales, or production floor.

Because the cost of living is often lower, salaries may be lower also; your standard of living while in the small town may be just fine -- you'll just need to consider costs in new towns or cities should you decide to relocate later in your career, and negotiate compensation accordingly.

The process of extracting yourself from the company may be tricky. Few employers in town may mean that you'll have to relocate in order to take the great job that you are now equipped to handle. If there are desirable employers around, you'll have to take extra steps to keep your job search confidential and avoid being spotted by your boss's friend on an interview.

If you have a significant other, the prospects that both of you will find meaningful, decent-paying jobs with great companies in a small town may be less likely than if you lived in a larger town with a more diverse employment base.

I was single when I moved to a small town, where I met my husband, so initially the jobs-for-two issue was not a problem. But when my employer was acquired and its corporate functions were eliminated, finding a new position wasn’t easy. One of the largest companies in town quickly declared a hiring freeze, possibly to avoid an influx of recently displaced friends and relatives. (At the time, the Internet was not yet commercially available and telecommuting was in its infancy; today, working remotely or running an online business would be a reasonable option for having a career in a small town.)

Housing

Pros

Housing is often less expensive and real estate prices more stable. Exceptions might be small towns that are near resort areas or in college towns.

Cons

Large apartment complexes with space available are scarce. When I moved to a small town, I found one large complex near the community college and close to town (an ideal location): there were many units but no openings. Most apartments had four to eight units, usually with a wait list that didn’t move very often. However, I was able to lease an apartment that was a 15-minute drive from work. Later, I managed to find a rental house near town though it took a few months of searching. At the time, there were no property management companies in the area so there was a lot of legwork involved in finding a home.

When a major employer reduces its workforce in the area, the housing market is likely to falter. In my case, my employer was acquired by a larger competitor and its corporate offices were closed; as a result, there were lots of people with homes to sell but not a corresponding number hoping to buy. The housing market slumped for a while, and then recovered.

Limited residential development in a small town can be both an advantage and disadvantage: there may be fewer choices of neighborhood homes but when those homes come up for sale, there may be a ready market.

When my husband and I decided to sell our house in a nice, close-to-town, and affordable neighborhood, we had a good offer within a couple of days; our buyers had been looking for a while and when our house came on the market, they snatched it up.

Social Life and Entertainment

Pros

Moving to a 5,000-person town may not sound like the path to a great social life but since nearly everyone knows everyone else, it's easy to meet people. If I had something vaguely in common with another person, we often became instant friends. I spent much of my time during the week at friends' homes or at one of the few meeting places in town, and headed to the nearby mountains for hiking on weekends.

The movies never sold out nor was it difficult to get good seats for the occasional live theater production. If something fun was going on, it was usually easy to find and required very little planning to attend.

Cons

There is a greater intersection between personal and professional lives as coworkers are more likely to live in your neighborhood, visit the same restaurants, attend the same events, etc. You might feel as if you can't get away from work or your co-workers.

Choices are limited. There may be just a few restaurants and a couple of movies available.

Bottom line: You might get great experience working in a small town but consider whether you'll have a good time after hours, before making a move. For me, just having a job helped me to enjoy life after college.

For ideas on how to thrive career-wise in a small town:

Large companies in small towns (AOL and Blogging Stocks)

Big employers, small towns (CNN Money)

Networking in a small town (Wise Bread)

A Telecommuter's Move (Wise Bread)

Tips For A Small-Town Job Search (Forbes slide show)

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Guest's picture
Jeremy

The small-town career building strategy definitely worked for me. Right after college I got a job at a small town tech company that had some big city clients (New York City), and that enabled me to network with a lot of people at those larger companies. When I decided to move on from my small town roots a couple of years later, it didn't take me long to find a job with a company where people knew me already and knew the work that I was capable of doing.

Guest's picture
Mom of 6

I fell in love with our small town of 900. Sure, housing was ridiculously expensive, but for the first time in years I knew my neighbors. The kids were safe walking to and from the library and I would often get calls from friends spotting this teen riding his bike without a helmet, or that one who shoveled an elderly neighbor's snow unbidden.

But when the company closed down, we were truly stuck. There were no competitive companies for 200 miles! We eventually moved back to the city, 2500 miles away. We thought we were safe because there are three competitive companies in this metro area. When hubby's job was discontinued here, we thought we had a shot at finding employment close by. But all the competitors are laying off and closing down, too! We're looking at another 2000 mile move soon, IF we can find work in his industry at all.

Moral: enjoy your life wherever you live!

Tisha Tolar's picture

I have lived in both big cities and small towns but since having a family I chose to come back home to small town life. I think whatever area appeals to your gut and your heart is where you should set up camp. Listen to your gut in the end but there is no harm in trying both lifestyles in order to see how you feel. I am also a firm believer in finding a job you love doing. when I was still on the job hunt, I did apply for jobs in NYC but in my heart I didn't think I would want to move to the city again.

Now that I am working at home and can literally have the choice of where I want to live, I think I want to stick to the small town life. I like people at the bank knowing my name and my neighbors looking out for my child. It feels right to be in a small town and we have the advantage of living within driving distance of some great big cities.

Thought provoking!

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for your comments and insights into small-town working/living. Finding the right job is a challenge, and though it may seem counterintuitive to look for a job in a small town (rather than a big one, where there it seems like there should be more openings) but it can be a great step for some. Adjusting to a new culture (in whatever city you're in) can be hard but pay dividends later. And the Internet has definitely opened up possibilities that didn't exist 25 years ago.   

Guest's picture
Amy

Whenever I watch Sex and the City, I think about how "Carrie" passionately loves the city as much as I love a small resort town (and I am originally from New York). To each his own. Everyone has their own unique set of life guidelines and interests as to what really makes them tick. This is a great post. Excellent article giving people helpful information to evaluate when considering a small town, a new job, and a new home. It often takes a little soul searching. I often tell people to make sure the thought of moving to that small cabin in the woods is not actually a dream vacation as opposed to a full-time home! I also agree with the comment made earlier, "enjoy your life wherever you live!"

Guest's picture
Griff

I am burnt out. I grew up on a small farm well outside of town, a samll town of about 5,000. I thought about how the life there changed so little, and longed for more. Now, I am a senior NCO in the Army, and usually have to work in a position above my actual rank and pay grade. I am well into my third tour of duty in Iraq, and am literally burnt out. I thought of how nice it would be to have a job with no responsibility, no stress. I could be that guy who changes oil at Jiffy Lube... there is no such thing as overtime, and the time away is taking its toll. before I left for this current tour, it broke my heart when my wife called me at work and she was craying, and asked if she had to eat dinner alone again, and that I might as well have been in Iraq already. I love serving my country, but what is a guy supposed to do?

Julie Rains's picture

Griff, thank you so much for your service and sacrifice. Having the appreciation for simple life can be hard to come by but it sounds like you are there. The support of a community, whether it is a small town or a group of friends or a faith community, can make a difference in the day-to-day, which is the best I can offer as far as advice right now.