My life has always involved one constant: change.
It started when I was just a kid. Every few years while I was growing up, my father would relocate us to a new city or state. He’d get a promotion or a better job and our family would pack up the house, say good-bye to our friends and start over again somewhere new.
As an adult, I find myself doing pretty much the same thing. Over the past 20 years I have moved seven times. About six months ago I made the biggest transition of all: my partner Colleen and I moved all the way across the country, from Maine to Oregon.
The move both excited and terrified us. To us, Portland, Oregon, was a brave new world. We knew a handful of people in our new city, but not many. We didn’t know where to shop. We had to find new doctors and veterinarians. The streets confused us at every turn or unexpected dead-end.
It was daunting, to say the least.
Luckily, we had a plan. We wanted this relocation to be the starting point for positive change. We wanted to hit the ground running.
We did. And you can, too.
Step One: Learn as Much as You Can BEFORE You Move
Unfortunately, relocating tends to put you on a pretty tight timetable. After we arrived in Portland the moving truck had barely pulled out of our new driveway before some of my editors were calling, asking when I could start writing articles for them again. We hadn’t unpacked our clothes or kitchenware, set up the computers, figured out how to get to the grocery store or even met our next-door neighbors.
“Moving is overwhelming,” says Stacey Lane, a career coach and consultant here in Portland. “I think being strategic about it is smart.”
Learning as much about your new town before you get there will help you feel confident when you arrive. You can use Google to get used to local roads and scope out a half-dozen stores to get you started, but in many ways your new employer might be the best place to start. If you were recruited, let the recruiter make your transition easier.
“If you’re going to be successful, in your career and in your home life, you need make sure that you and your family have an easy transition,” says Bob Hadick, president of the recruiting company Russ Hadick & Associates. His company researches candidates’ needs to help them find housing, schools, churches and professional resources – whatever they will need to get settled quickly. “If you can make these decisions quickly and easily and get your family settled, you don’t have that huge weight over you and you can move forward on the job-oriented stuff.”
Step Two: Let People Know You’re Coming
Once we decided to move, we started sending individual emails to as many people as we could. That, it turned out, set us apart from many other people who are relocating.
“A lot of people just change their LinkedIn profile and then assume that everyone knows they moved,” says Lane. “It’s much more effective to send out a personal note saying you’ve landed in a new job and new city.” She says this is a great way to not just stay in touch with old friends and colleagues but for your peers to connect you with the people they know in your new job or in the area.
Clara Piloto, an executive coach and director of global programs for MIT Professional Education, encountered the same thing when she relocated from California to Boston. “It was really surprising,” she says. “A lot of people just want to help. Even before I moved out here, a lot of friends and colleagues were connecting me with people.” She said this helped her to not only establish her local business connections but also to start to build a social support system.
Piloto didn’t rule out potential new contacts just because they worked in different fields. “Be open to the people you meet,” she advises. “I was really open to meeting people I thought I had nothing in common with or weren’t related to my work. But those were some of the most interesting folks to connect with and created opportunities I never could have imagined.”
Step Three: (Re)Focus Yourself
Moving to a new company in a new city and a new state is “a great opportunity to reinvent yourself,” says Piloto. “Take a moment to establish what you want to focus on in your career and your new job. Especially in the first three to six months, that’s really critical.”
Relocating means “you are a new person,” says Stas Kravets, back-end team lead at Grammarly. “In your new position or office, your colleagues have no preconceived notion about who you are or what you can accomplish. Use this opportunity to start fresh and to boost your skills and experience.”
This is also, he suggests, a great opportunity to break some of your bad habits and try new things before you get too settled into a new routine. “You could try things you always wanted to try or avoid things that were always boring or unnecessary.”
Step Four: Establish Credibility Quickly
As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. “The main thing when I relocated was getting settled in as quickly as possible,” says Piloto. “Establishing my credibility and how I could help the organization was really key.” She made it a point to get known at MIT, something she accomplished by making it her job to have one-on-one meetings with new people every week so she could learn what they did and how it fit into the broader organization.
Accomplishing all of that, and doing it well, requires getting the lay of the land. “Learn as much as you can about what’s happening in your new city in terms of the business climate,” says Lane. “Monitor the local business journals. It’s a smart move, but most people don’t do it.”
That leads us to a really important next step...
Step Five: Network, Network, Network
Lane says too many people think that because they just found a new job they can stop networking for a while. Instead, she suggests this is the time to “embrace that newcomer status.” She calls it one of the few “sweet spots” in your career, making it a great opportunity to make contact with new people. “You can reach out to people within your industry or other professionals and you can network one-on-one,” she says. “Say, ‘hey, I’m new to the area. What do you see happening in the industry? What groups should I join? What do you consider beneficial?’ That’s a proactive thing that, in my experience, engineers can be a bit shy about doing.”
Hadick says it’s important to quickly become established in your local technical community. “User groups are the biggest thing,” he says, but networking events and Meetups can also be valuable. These not only expand your personal network, but they give you people you can turn to for industry perspective as well as technical challenges you or your company may need to have solved.
Of course, IEEE members should take advantage of local resources that come through IEEE Societies or other organizational units. Most major cities have local IEEE sections, chapters, affinity groups or even conferences. You may find similar opportunities from other professional organizations or even your university alumni groups.
While all of that is going on, don’t forget to network with your new co-workers, suggests Jonathan Curry, software evangelist for Linode. “Not having many local friends in the area yet means you may be spending a lot more time at the office getting to know your co-workers better and seeing with the industry locals are working on. You’ll quickly find out which people can point you in the right direction to learn new things and how to advance quickly in your new company.”
Finally, don’t forget about your old network. Don’t let “out of sight” become “out of mind.” Keep in touch with people in LinkedIn, Twitter or other venues. Write personal notes from time to time. That’s important, because even new jobs don’t last forever. “Keep those relationships as strong as possible,” says Lane. “You never know when you’re going to need them.”