A Career Changer's Checklist - 12 Common Sense Questions to Find Your Career: Where Do You Want to Do What You Want to Do? (Location, Location, Location!)
- Top 10 Questions to Help Define Where You Should Go to Do What You Want to Do
- Top 5 Strategies for knowing where you want to go to do what you want to do
Here we are at Question 6 in this series of career-oriented diagnostic questions titled the Career Changer's Checklist.
Take a breath. You have taken good notes on your ideas and reflections. And you have made some educated assumptions on the direction you should take in your career. But you are only half way home.
You now have to deal with the age-old business adage: Location, Location, Location! Where do you want to do what you want to do?
The answer you give to this question will determine whether you will succeed or not.
I have learned that it does not matter what you want, what you like, what you know, what you can and can't do, and what you can afford if you are in the wrong location. You could have the best, most unique idea and thought-out plan that is full-proof on paper, but if you are in the wrong environment it will fail.
So what am I saying? All your plans up until now mean nothing if you are in the wrong location.
You have to tackle this key question: Where do you want to do what you want to do? (And deal with all the ancillary questions that involve location.)
This article presents you with the top 10 questions that will help you define where you should go/look as you contemplate changing careers. What is the ideal location for this monumental move?
Then I discuss the top 5 strategies for locating this new environment.
Again, as I have said in the previous articles, this series and this article is being presented to an IT audience, but its intent is relevant to those contemplating changing careers in other sectors—healthcare, finance, business, education, and so on.
The questions covered will explore a wide range of issues that envelop the concept of Location. As I ask the diagnostic questions, record your thoughts, ideas, feelings in your Word doc.
Don't hold back.
Location is a key factor when you are changing careers, looking for a job, or presenting yourself for the first time to corporate America. Don't underestimate what location can do for you.
So get out your GPS and let's navigate to your new career location.
Top 10 Questions to Help Define Where You Should Go to Do What You Want to Do
- Where do you want to work?
This is where all good questions begin. Just as you started this series with the question of what do you want to do, I start this article by asking where you want to work.
This is a very subjective question. All the other responses you give to the following questions will be based on where you want to go.
You don't have to give a reason right now. That will come, but you have to have a starting place.
Do you want to go to another country, another state, another province, another city, another county, another neighborhood, or another district?
Or do you really just want to stay put? Be honest. There is nothing wrong if you don't want to change locations. There might be some limitations to what you can successfully do, but if you can deal with those limitations you'll be perfectly fine.
But if you want to expand your horizons or territory, then you may have to redefine where you want to work. A lot of counties in the United States have what is known as a brain drain because students and residents have to leave/relocate to another geographic area in order to make a living or land their ideal career. So as we begin, write down where you want to go to work or to change careers.
An ancillary question that you'll delve into a bit later is this: Why do you want to work there? Do you have a reason? Is there something you have heard, read, or experienced that makes this location attractive?
As I write this article, I am in the middle of major shift. I have lived in north Florida for 20 years, having relocated here from New York City in 1988. I moved here because I could afford a home for me and my family. I have been able to do okay as a contract trainer in this area.
But the market has changed, and the opportunities in north Florida have definitely altered, too. So I am faced with deciding where I want to go and why: a career change.
Because of my fondness for the east coast of the United States, I am looking at several centers there that have what I am looking for. There are several factors that are figuring into my decision.
I definitely do not want to continue in north Florida. Apart from the economics and job market, I prefer a climate that has greater variability than I experience in this area.
So my response to this question is an east coast center. Why? Because I love the east coast of the United States.
Now, where do you want to work—and why?
- What is your ideal location?
Do you remember the first article? This question is similar to one I asked in that article, but has different ramifications.
All things being equal and you could pick any location in the world for your new career, where would you go? Nothing is holding you back. No restrictions, no limitations! It is an ideal world! Where would your career take you?
Now I know this is unrealistic. But if you don't know what your ideal is you will never ever be able to define your reality.
Here's another way to ask this question. What location would you never say no to if you were offered your new career, and nothing was standing in your way? Which location is an absolute dream maker?
Conversely, what location is an absolute DEAL breaker (or DREAM BREAKER) if you were offered an opportunity to work there? There are places where you would not work under any circumstances.
When I think of this question I have two answers. My dream job, if nothing were holding me back, nothing was in my way (money, obligations, and so forth) I would definitely be in New York City. I love the diversity of opportunities and the network of friends and associates that were available to me in the city.
I left New York because the cost of living was way too high, and the cost of housing was out of my reach. I loved working in New York (it is my ideal place in which to work), and I have been offered a lot of money to come back on several occasions but turned the jobs down, again because of the cost of living.
I would never ever work in an isolated area in which there was a significant commute to work, to services including medical services, and to normal, everyday conveniences such as groceries. Rural living is great for many people. For me, it is wonderful for a vacation, but not for a staple. I have to be within a short drive to an interstate and a transportation hub. Otherwise, I am out work.
Early on in my career, I was offered a position in upstate New York that was 1–2 hours from any interstate and a half hour or better from normal services and supplies. It was a nice offer, but the location was a deal breaker.
So what is your ideal location? Write it down.
- How long do you want to work there?
Are you looking at this new area for a short-term or a long-term opportunity? Some contractors move from place to place based on the season.
Are you looking at a new location because of the opportunities it offers for two years or less, or because you want to settle there until you retire?
This brings up an ancillary question. Where do you want to retire? Is this new location your future, hoped-for retirement location?
The locations that I am looking at right now are long-term. I hate to move my home and family. I want to go to a place where I can retire and where I can work and enjoy life. I am also looking at some short-term locations for contract work, but they are temporary.
Temporary work locations are fine if you can stockpile your income and go back to where you have stability and no stress. How long you are willing to work in your new location can be a major factor for some of you.
If your current market has dried up, you might have to move somewhere temporarily to get back on a level economic field and then move to a long-term location. Don't be afraid to have a short-term location and long-term location.
So how long do you want to live in your new location? Write it down.
- Why do you like the area?
Now for the million dollar question: Why do you like the location? As I said earlier, I am looking at east coast locations because of my love for the area. But I also have lots of other reasons why I am interested in this region.
To determine why you like a given location, let me ask you a number of related questions that drill down into this topic.
- What are the geographic benefits of this location?
Is there some geographical benefit to the type of work you want to do in this new location? Some types of work need to be near bodies of water, or inland, or in high country.
Is there some geographic need that is job related that is attracting you? Is there some geographic feature that gives you a sense of well-being and makes you want to work there?
Some folks have to work near a beach. Others have to work near the mountains. Others love the plains. So you not only have to consider the geographic benefits but also the attractiveness of the location.
I used to want to work near a beach. If I would have been offered a job working near Virginia Beach, I would have taken the job in a New York minute. Now the opposite is true. Because of the hurricanes that have occurred over the course of the last 10 years, I have had to rethink my preferences, and I prefer to not work near a beach or ocean front.
What is attracting you to a location? What are the geographic benefits?
- Why is the area important to you (or what is important to you when selecting an area)?
This is another key question that we all have to consider. You might like an area for any number of reasons, but is the area important to you? If so, why is it important? What aspect of the area makes it important? Is it near some convenience or service that you need to live or work?
This might sound vague, but it is a critical concern for many career changers. For example, if you have a child who needs a special kind of medical care, you might need to find your next career option near a treatment center where your child can receive the care. Another example might be that you want to find the right job near an area that has good, reasonably priced higher education institutions for your children. Where you are currently living and working, the colleges and universities cost too much. And you cannot find a job/career that will allow you to pay for their tuition. So you are looking for the ideal location—where you can earn the salary you want and pay your children's tuition.
So is the area you are considering important to you, or is it just an area where you can find a good job?
A secondary question that comes from this consideration is this: What are the top four or five issues that make a location attractive or important? That is a great question to consider.
For example, my ideal location has to have the following:
- Good transportation
- Good medical services
- Ecclesiastical diversity
- Career diversity
- Good variable climate
Those are important location-related points for me. What is important to you when it comes to location?
- What drawbacks would stop you from living and working in a new location?
Part of understanding why you do like an area is knowing why you don't like an area. What would stop you from choosing a location? What are the drawbacks in your mind?
When you look at a new area, it is always good to look at it with a friend or family member. Get others' perspectives. They will see things you don't see. You don't have to agree with their point of view, but you will at least hear their point of view.
When I have looked at several career locations over the years, my family and friends were invaluable in my decision making process. I know what I like and don't like. But I don't always see it because I am blinded by the discussion or the pitch.
Others saw what I had not seen. And kept me from some bad options. Know what you don't like, what the drawbacks are, and consider the perspectives of others. It will help you really find a location you like.
- Do you prefer rural, urban, or suburban life?
Why? What is there about each that you like for your new career? That you do not like for your new career?
- How much stress will you tolerate? What is the quality of life in the area?
You are considering this new location and you really think you like it. But will the stress of living there—or lack thereof—be attractive to you? Will the stress of this new environment harm you?
Do you like the quality of life in this new location? What about the quality of life in the new job? If you are miserable because of the quality of life or the environment, the location stinks. Period.
You want to find a location that offers a good quality of life, according to your standards, and a stress level that you can accept and work within. Write down what your perceived stress level and quality of life is in the new location.
- What is the cost of living? And how does it compare to your current cost of living?
When looking at an area through rose-colored glasses, it is always good to have a reality check and ask this question. You like the area for your new career, but can you afford to live there? If not, why not?
The best thing you can do is research the cost of living indicators for the new location and for your current location. Run the numbers; be objective and honest about them. Don't skew them to get the answer you want. Be cold hard and honest. If you cannot afford to live and work there, that's okay—there are plenty of locations in the country and in the world where you can be successful. And don't let anyone tell you different.
I had a boss several years ago who told me and some others in a meeting that those who succeeded in this region worked for this given industry and did what they were told. If you wanted to pay for your house you would be a good employee and do what you were told. Why? According to this boss, there were no other employment options in the area.
So the key is to know that you can move elsewhere and do very well. Don't let one person's perspective dictate where you can work and whether you can succeed. When faced with this situation, do as I did—just move on to another, much better job.
Do the research. I know I can't afford to live in some areas that I would love to live and work in. Why not? I don't make enough money to afford the cost of living and I don't want to make enough to afford the cost of living. That's fine. I can do very well elsewhere—and I have. But be smart about it. Don't ignore the numbers.
- What are the climate benefits?
A lot of folks look for a location to work in that has a given climate. Remember one thing: unless you are working in a weather-related industry, the weather does not pay the bills. But in order to be comfortable and live with a minimum of stress, you have to find a location where the weather is acceptable to you.
One reason to consider a given climate is a health-related concern. Some folks must work and live in a dry climate. Others need a tropical climate. Don't ignore health-related concerns when selecting your location.
Weather can make or break a location; for example, hurricanes, blizzards, too much heat, or freezing can kill a business.
Is there a seasonal influence? Do you like a location in a given season? If so, when and why? When do you like the location? Some of you may want to work up north in the summer and in the south in the winter. If that is what you want for your new job, go for it. I admire you. I have not found that gift yet. Write down the seasonal- or climate-related issues for the new location.
- Is the area attractive to you?
This is often overlooked when making a career choice. But is the location attractive? If so, what makes it attractive? Is the attraction that you can make a good living, is it the hustle and bustle, or is it something external to the job? What is attracting you to this location?
- Is there an ethnic or cultural draw to a location?
Many workers in the United States and in other countries migrate to find opportunities. One of the things that make an area attractive to them is that people from their culture, heritage, or ethnicity are living and working in that area. And being successful! So one of the questions related to why you might or might not like a location has to do with one's comfort level as a result of the ethnicity, culture, or heritage of the people you live and work with.
Is that a concern for you? If it is, that's okay. Write it down.
- What are the geographic benefits of this location?
- Which vendors/trades have made inroads in this location?
If you are looking at this series from an IT point of view, this question is key. When considering a location, you have to ask what's going on in the area. Is a vendor that you support active in the market? Or has it faded out? If you are a professional Java programmer and you love a location but all that is done there is .NET, you need to look elsewhere or start retooling your skills.
Not every vendor or trade is big in every area. Everything in the trades and in IT is cyclical. There is a beginning, a middle (where most of the action occurs), and an end.
In the trades this is evident in certain pockets of the east coast of the United States. Years ago, there was a big demand for textile workers in New England and in parts of the Southeast. Those pockets have dried up and are now either out of business or retooled to do something else. Many of the auto plants in the U.S. are being stressed right now to either retool or close.
Some American medical workers want to work in rural areas, whereas others want only the major research centers. Why? Preference and demand.
You have to look at an area from the work point of view, especially if you're changing careers. Ask yourself and others what has universal appeal and what is the flavor of the day in this area?
An example is the area where I am now located: north Florida. Back in the early to mid-90s most state agencies and school districts were on Novell backbones. That situation lasted to well into the early part of this decade. Novell was king. Guess what? That is no longer the case. Just as every agency flocked to Novell, they jumped ship when a new flavor of the day came by. Why? Who knows. But many who were trained had to be retrained. Were the networks broken? Nope. Someone who had no idea what worked and what didn't just made a decision to change everything around. Now the state is primarily Microsoft. Those who are Microsoft are doing well. Those doing Novell are relocating.
Another key question you should ask about an area is this: Is there a good job pool in the area? Would you stand out or just be one of the masses? How tough is the competition going to be and what are your chances of finding a good job?
Some regions of the U.S. are IT hubs. Others are bombs. Areas of the Carolinas are big into IT, as well as areas of the northeast and parts of California. Each area has its pluses and its minuses.
If you are IT-certified, you have to consider what areas your certifications have some weight in. Is your new location a Microsoft hot spot, a Novell hot spot, a Linux hot spot, a Cisco hot spot, or a Nortel hot spot? Don't go into a Microsoft hot spot with a bunch of Novell certifications and expect to succeed. Go where you will be in demand. How do you find this out? Research! Use the Internet and the job boards.
- What areas are hot right now? What areas are cold? (Not climatologically, but in terms of careers.)
This question goes hand in hand with the previous question. But to not be so IT-focused, you have to look at which areas are doing well and which are not. You should ask whether the area is stable economically, whether it is stable in terms of the housing market, and whether it is on the upturn or downturn according to the experts. This can be a major factor in determining whether you will succeed or fail.
- Do you have to relocate?
When you are looking at location issues when changing careers, you have to consider all aspects of relocation. Do you want to relocate? How far are you willing to relocate? Can you afford to relocate, and if so, where? What are the benefits of relocation? Will the employer pay for your relocation? If not, will you still want to relocate? What are the drawbacks to relocation for you, for your career, and for your family? There is a lot to consider; please don't overlook this important question.
- What is the educational standard of the location?
When you are considering a new location for your career, you have to consider the educational potential of the area. Why? If you have children you want to know whether there are good schools in the area. Also if you need to be retrained, you need to know if there are schools/training centers reasonably close by to get the needed training.
If you need to get a new degree, you have to know whether the colleges in the area offer what you need. If you are looking for continuing education credits, you need to know whether they are available locally or whether you will have to travel to earn those credits.
One of the things educational opportunities can tell you about a location is what the potential for advancement is in that community. Does the location believe in the value of education? That tells you a lot about potential if you have to change jobs, or if your children are also looking for work. So does your new area have educational opportunities available for you and your family? If so, write them down.
- Do you want to live near your family?
This is a question many workers are wrestling with today. There is no doubt that family matters, whether good or bad. Every one of us has to answer this question and often it is the deal maker (or breaker) when deciding on a location.
Many folks take off, looking to be independent in a new career and find that the workplace can be very lonely and nasty. The result is that they quit and move back closer to their family. Is that bad or good? Only you can say. I know I always wanted my family close by. Many of my career decisions were based on the location being close to my folks.
Some people want to escape from their families. Others are dealing with divorce and looking to start a new life. Some have to deal with their parents getting older. Will that be a consideration when examining a new location? Will your parents move with you, or will you stay near your folks so that you can take care of them? And if your parents move with you to your new location, will the services you need to help them be available?
If you get a great job, and your folks are nearby and need your help, but the services they need are nowhere to be found, rethink your location. For many years I have fought the lack of services available to my folks because we lived on a state line, and the services needed were in the other state. I would never opt for this type of location again. Write down the family-related concerns as they affect your new location.
- What are the unique benefits/features of the location?
We have talked about why you like a location. But, we have not talked about the benefits and features to the location.
Some of the benefits/features that you should consider are the following:
- Is there good travel access? Is there a major airport hub close by? In IT (and if you are a contractor) you need to know this. Is there good interstate access? Can you be snowed in? How often?
- How much time will you spend traveling to and from work? What is the distance? How much time will you spend in traffic? How much money will you spend on gas? How much money will you spend on mass transit?
- Can you telecommute from your new location? If so:
What are the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting?
How often do you have to go to the office?
How much travel does going to the office involve?
- How close to your job is the new location?
- How close to mass transit is the new location?
- How close to the services you need is the new location?
- How close are you to your house of worship?
- How close are you to off-hours recreation?
- How close are you to doctors and healthcare?
- How available are needed services such as DSL and cable TV?
- How available are support services such as office cleaning companies?
- How isolated will you be? How many neighbors will you have?
- How is security and safety in the new location? How is the crime rate?
- How serene is the new location?
- When it comes to the bottom line, what is the cost benefit to changing locations to this new area? Will it cost more than you will benefit, or will you benefit more than the relocation will cost? Short term and long term?
Based on these 10 questions and the ancillaries, you should have a pretty good idea about where you want to go. What location is ideal for you? Yes? No?
Here are five strategies to help you compile your responses as you consider a new location for your career.