Start Early to Land a Job When You PCS

woman working at a desk
(Jennifer Spradlin/DVIDS)

I’m a worrier. I’ll admit it. I worry about moving. I worry I’m not starting my job search soon enough. I worry that I won’t get a job and my bank account will glare at me through months of unemployment. I worry about this even before I get word that we’re PCSing.

So it’s probably no surprise that when it comes time to a job hunt in a new town, I start worrying as soon as we have orders.

That might seem really early to my civilian friends. Amy, a Marine Corps wife and thirty-something professional with three moves under her belt, says there’s just one key to landing a job when you move: Get a head start.

“There’s a lot you can do before you move to start looking for a new job,” she says. “A lot of spouses wait until about 30 days before the move to start looking, but I don’t know why. That’s way too stressful for me. If you know where you’re going, and you know when it’s time to start looking for that job.”

First Things First

The first step to finding a new job is explaining your situation to your current employer. “The earlier they know, the longer they have to help you,” explains Amy.

The first time Amy PCSed, she was worried about telling her employer “too soon.” She was concerned that she’d be pushed out or made irrelevant if she explained she was leaving.

When Sarah, a Navy wife in her twenties, finally confessed that she was moving, her boss sprang into action: he immediately went through his address book to determine who he knew in Sarah’s new region. “I was really surprised,” she says. “But being honest always pays off.”

Once your move is out in the open, you can begin to discuss your options with your employer. Maybe your company has a local branch in your new region and you need to put in for a transfer, or maybe your job could be done remotely.

When you’re talking through the path ahead, be sure to ask if your boss has any colleagues in the new area with whom you could connect. Remember, your last employer will be your first reference, so you want it to be top-notch. Nothing could be better than that top-notch recommendation going straight to an old friend.

Set A Timeline

“I didn’t set a timeline for myself when I moved,” said Sarah, a dental hygienist. When their PCS orders came in, she figured she would just figure it out.

“I’m not sure why I thought that would work,” she says. “But I did. With the move and leaving my job and friends, I was just too busy to start looking for a new job, too. That was a big mistake.”

Five months later, she was still unemployed. “If I set some standards for myself before we moved – like, laid out when I’d write my resume or when I’d start calling around, I wouldn’t have been in that position. I got really easily sidetracked.”

So the next time her husband got orders, Sarah set out a calendar on how to approach her job search starting 45 days before the move. She marked down the days when she would work on her resume and send it to a few trusted friends for edits. She blocked out time to contact potential employers.

Sarah even made sure she factored in time for her furniture to get delayed and moved in before she started pounding the pavement with her resume. “Once I had a plan, I could stick to it,” she says. “It made it so much easier.”

Forty-five days later, Sarah arrived at her new duty station -- with a new job lined up.

Start Networking

When it comes to your social life, once you find out where you’re headed, you immediately start racking your brain for the friends you have at the next base, right? The same should be true for your professional network. Do you know anybody working in your field who is already there? Does your organization have any local affiliates?

“The first time around, I didn’t really know where to start,” Sarah confessed. “I knew I needed to start networking, but I just didn’t know how.”

Networking doesn’t come naturally to everybody. No matter how good you are connecting with people in your real life, it can be daunting to think of doing it in a new town.

“I started with friends,” Sarah said. “And finally, one person knew a person who knew a person who worked at a dentist that was hiring. I just kept asking around until someone knew.” And that’s the real work of networking: the more you ask, the more likely you are to get the answer you want. And when you want a new job, you can’t ask enough!

Plan a Visit

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to try to head to your new base for a visit before it’s actually time to move. You might want to scope out the area, figure out which neighborhood is right for you and look through some housing options. This is also a great time to sort through potential work options.

When you start planning your visit, reach out to employers in the region where you think you’d be happy to work. Find a contact person at each organization and request an informational interview. This will be a time for you to discuss the company, industry, and put your resume in front of a potential employer.

Even if you find out that the one job you hoped they’d have for you won’t be a good fit, you can take this opportunity to learn more about your field in the new area. Ask about other organizations that might be hiring and if your interviewer has any recommendations for how you should continue your search.

Before you leave, make sure you ask if they’d be willing to meet with you again when you get settled for a follow-up. That way, you can look forward to sitting back down with them to discuss any opportunities that may have become available while you were busy moving.

“Really, with the market the way it is, as soon as you know you’re moving, you might as well get ready,” said Amy, lamenting how hard it can seem to have to pick up and move your job every few years in a lukewarm job market. “But I don’t care how scary it feels. The only thing scarier than leaving your job and looking for a new one is looking for a new one and not having done anything in advance.”

With a few simple steps, you can get a handle on your job search before the move overwhelms you. All you have to do is get a head start.

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