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Know when a candidate will, or won’t, relocate for your department

Many of our firm’s search assignments involve geographic relocation.  I learned the hard way about relocation cold feet when we lost a placement with Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati twelve years ago.  Our candidate had accepted a position and backed out two days before his start date.  

            Since then, we have 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.  

            The reality of moving is different from the thought of moving.  For law departments that are self-sourcing without the benefit of an outside recruiter (candidates are often more open with outside recruiters about their concerns or hesitations), here are five tips: 

  1. Don’t assume that a single person is more likely to than a married person to relocate, especially if the move is to a small 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. 
  1. 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 sign that the candidate will need to lobby his or her spouse to support a move, and that rarely leads to a good outcome. 
  1. 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.  
  1. Look for clues on the resume.  Anyone who has already worked in multiple locations, lived overseas, or at least attended college at a school far away from home is usually the best candidate for relocation.  
  1. 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 actually the most common cold feet scenario.  Currently employed candidates tend to do a good job of thinking through the location before investing time and effort in an interview process.  Conversely, and understandably, unemployed candidates seize interview opportunities and always show great enthusiasm early.  The relocation reality check tends to hit them later in the process.  Even unemployed professionals rarely relocate if they are struggling with the life change that comes with moving.   

My main piece of advice is to talk about relocation at every step in the interview process.  Ask questions that will get the candidate talking about the pros and cons of relocation for her.  Ask if she has discussed the potential move with family and friends.  Get her talking about it early and often.  

For individuals reading this column from the employee perspective, I don’t have advice but I do 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 may save all of us, most importantly yourself, a great deal of time and emotional energy.  Only proceed if you are excited about the move.  


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Mike Evers

Mike Evers recruits attorneys for corporate legal departments throughout the United States. Please visit His...

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