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5 tips for employers when hiring an out-of-town candidate

How to recognize the warning signs of cold feet

Many of our firm’s search assignments involve geographic relocation, often to small markets with one major Fortune 500 employer. Think of places such as Bentonville, Ark. or Battle Creek, Mich.

We’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out who is willing to pull the trigger on such a major life change. That assessment is just as important as matching credentials and culture fit. I recall losing a client 10 years ago when one of our recruits got cold feet about moving to Cincinnati, after he had accepted the position.

The reality of moving is different from the thought of moving. I learned from the loss and have developed a sixth sense for identifying cold feet much earlier in the interview process.

For law departments that are self-sourcing without the benefit of outside expertise, here are a few tips:

  1. Don’t assume that a single person is more likely than a married candidate to relocate, especially to a smaller market. The opposite is true. Singles have to face the reality check of restarting a personal life. A happily married candidate has a cheerleader and support system in place.
  2. Spouse support is everything. An early warning sign of a doomed process is when a candidate wants to learn more about your opportunity” before discussing it at home. It’s a sure sign that the candidate will need to lobby his or her spouse to support a move, and that rarely leads to a good outcome.
  3. Older kids are problematic. Even more than a reluctant spouse, teenage children have tremendous influence in this process. Almost without exception, our successful relocation experiences have involved candidates with young kids or no kids.
  4. Look for clues on the resume. Anyone who already has worked in multiple locations, lived overseas or attended school far from home is potentially the best candidate for relocation.
  5. Desperate is a misconception and should be avoided anyway. Many employers assume that an unemployed attorney will relocate. It’s a bad assumption, and this is the most common cold feet scenario. Currently employed candidates tend to do a better job of thinking through the location before investing time and effort in an interview process.

Conversely, unemployed candidates seize interview opportunities first, always showing great enthusiasm early, and then the relocation reality check tends to hit them later in the process. Even unemployed folks rarely move if they are struggling to get excited about the community.

My main piece of advice is to talk about relocation at every step in the interview process. Force candidates to talk about the pros and cons of relocation. Ask if they have discussed the potential move with family and friends. Get them talking about it early and often.

For individuals who are reading this column from the employee perspective, I don’t have advice to offer so much as I have a request. On behalf of employers everywhere, I plead with you to please think through any relocation scenario before throwing your hat into the ring for an opening. If you are married, discuss it with your spouse now, not later. You will save all of us, most importantly yourself, from making a poor investment of time and emotional energy.           

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