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Negotiate a job-hunting deal for your spouse when agreeing to relocate

If you're relocating because your spouse or partner got a new job, it doesn't mean you'll be starting at ground zero when looking for a job in your new hometown. The booming economy means companies are bending over backward to hire good employees and that means making their mates happy, too.

Kellie Alvarez and her husband Jerry were living in Miami this past spring when Jerry got a job offer he couldn't refuse from Johnson & Johnson in Jacksonville, Fla. For the first time in her career, Kellie would be giving up her job without a new job waiting for her.

"Jerry had his job and I had the job of taking care of the move," she says. "Then, once we got there, I didn't have anything to do. I'd never been out of work before. I was used to having that income and I was very anxious."

Assistance companies
Johnson & Johnson had a contract with The IMPACT Group, a St. Louis consulting firm specializing in relocation transition issues.

Kellie says her husband's relocation package contained a survey for her to fill out and send to IMPACT. Within days, an IMPACT consultant called asking about her interests. Kellie sent them a copy of her resume which, by her own admission, was chronological and made her look like a job hopper. A resume specialist reworked it, focusing on Kellie's strengths and experience. IMPACT even sent swatches of resume paper so she could select what she liked.

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"They also did a lot of research on local employers -- not so much on openings -- but they gave me the tools I needed," she says.

Those tools included a box of audiotapes containing tips for interviewing.

Within three months, Kellie had a job with a commercial real estate firm as a training and development manager.

"IMPACT alleviated my fears and it was a pleasant experience. I have their service for up to a year. If anything happens to my current position, they'll help me. They follow up, they call every so often to see how things are going," says Kellie.

Don't be shy
Laura Herring, president and chief executive officer at The IMPACT Group, says a survey done by her company in the spring of 1999 shows 71 percent of the responding companies offer spouse/partner assistance in their relocation policy. Most companies farm this type of work out to specialists, and Herring says spouses and partners shouldn't be shy about asking for help.

"They should ask for someone to talk to. Someone to bounce things off of who isn't related to the company," says Herring. "That gets rated the highest -- having someone at the other end of the line -- a transition coach -- to share everything, the good, the bad, the anger and frustration."

Herring says the consultant should help identify what companies and resources there are in the new location for the spouse. The names of contact people in those companies should be provided. In addition, the spouse should be given interview coaching if needed, and a professional resume.

It isn't just spouses who can expect help in finding a new job. IMPACT's survey shows 24 percent of responding companies provide assistance to same-sex partners and 30 percent assist unmarried partners.

Scott Knudsen, manager of relocation services at State Farm Insurance headquarters in Bloomington, Ill., says spouse/partner assistance is one of the benefits they offer to attract good employees.

"Dual careers, all the ties they're leaving behind ... in the days of the Cleaver residence it was no big deal to pick up and go -- now it is. Now, we're living it day to day -- this is this family's situation and we need to be aware of it," says Knudsen.

Second income is a key factor
In fact, according to a 1996 study by the Conference Board, a New York consulting firm, spouse employment was the No. 1 reason people refused to relocate.

"There's a lot of reliance on the second income -- it's not that easy to replace," says the board's Deborah Parkinson.

That kind of pressure is pushing corporate America to rely on companies that specialize in relocation transition, such as IMPACT and Career Partners International/R.W. Caldwell Associates in Buffalo, N.Y.

Bob Caldwell says today's consultants have to do a lot more than polish a resume.

"With the spouse we have to be more proactive to introduce the spouse to employment opportunities. Anyone who's been in business a long time, as we have, builds a network of companies that we do business with routinely," says Caldwell. "They know us and we're eager to send new employees to them."

When it comes to relocation, spouses and partners may want to consider another employment angle, says Beverly Roman, the Wilmington, N.C.-based author of several books on relocation.

Telecommuting option
"The spouse shouldn't assume they'll have to give up their job. Lots of people work from a distance," says Roman. "We communicate very well through e-mail, faxes, sending files over the Internet. Think about ways to telecommute. Develop a plan and present it to your employer."

For those who do need to quit their job and find a new employer, Kellie Alvarez has some advice.

"It's important to take the time to read through the relocation package," she says. "My husband probably didn't care, but I said, 'Give it to me.' It has everything, including how to get reimbursed. Read what the new company gives you, there's a lot to learn."

Here are some of the most common forms of assistance companies are offering spouses and partners, according to The IMPACT Group.

  • Resume preparation
  • Job search services
  • School information
  • Community research information
  • Child care information
  • Elder care referrals
  • Emotional transition support

-- Posted: July 7, 2004

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