Planning, risk-taking make move to find better jobs successful

Clayton and Tisha Havens

When Clayton and Tisha Havens committed themselves to finding better jobs, they made two big decisions.

First, they agreed to follow their research and relocate to whatever city provided the best combination of plentiful employment and low cost of living.

Then they committed themselves to take that scary leap — to quit their current positions, sell their house and move — even if they didn't have new jobs.

“We realized that, in the current economy, most employers were going to be a little more wary of hiring out-of-towners,” Tisha says. “We knew we’d have better luck in a job hunt if we were on the spot.”

The result?

Clayton and Tisha had a surprisingly easy time landing more-rewarding, better-paying jobs in the undeniably cool city of their choice, without taking a big hit to their savings.

“You have to have a plan," Tisha says. "You have to have a general idea of where you’re going and what you’ll find there.

“Frankly, we expected the move to be a big setback in our financial position. But we decided that, as long as we were in it together, and as long as we did everything in our power to mitigate the risks, it would be worth it.”

Many of us who are underemployed (or out of work altogether) have been tempted by the thought of running off to greener pastures.

After all, isn't heading out in search of fortune part of the American ideal?

But how do you know it’s time to pick up stakes and try your luck in a new locale? When does it actually make sense to move to another city or state to find better opportunities — even without guaranteed employment?

In late 2011, Clayton Havens, 40, was feeling underutilized as a quality engineer at his company in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was itching to find a job that would allow him to use his full skill set.

Despite the fact that his wife, Tisha, 39, was also employed, the two decided not to limit his search to the local area.

Instead, the two went online to find the city that offered Clayton the best chance of fulfilling his professional desires while offering affordable housing and an enjoyable lifestyle.

First, they created a short list of cities. Then, they picked the one that would be their new home.

Their choice — wait for it — was Austin, Texas.

Photo credit: US Air Force Academy: © John Hoffman/Shutterstock.com, University of Texas: © Kushal Bose/Shutterstock.com, Map: © Globe Turner/Shutterstock.com

“We did a lot of research,” Tisha says, “and, in terms of jobs, we found a fair amount of high-tech in a lot of places. But it was almost always related to one specific industry.

"Austin, we learned, had a lot more diversity and so was less dependent on one specific industry that might bottom out. That variety, it seemed to us, would give us the opportunity to find new jobs if one didn't work out. It also was a way to grow and learn new skill sets. We knew we would have lots of options.”

Tisha is the more practical half of this pair, so she set the rules on how they would proceed.

First, she decreed the couple wouldn't leave Colorado Springs until they had squirreled away enough money to live for at least six months without work.

Then, she said they both had to keep their current jobs until they could sell their house or one of them found a new job in Austin.

The country was still reeling from the subprime mortgage crisis, and the real estate market was a mess. Paying the mortgage on an unsold house back in Colorado was a huge potential burden that could quickly drain their savings.

While Clayton threw himself into the job hunt, Tisha came clean to her supervisor about their plans to head south.

She tried to work out a deal where she could keep her job and work remotely once they had decamped to Texas. After some back and forth, her request was granted, but, with a round of layoffs on the horizon, it was unclear how long that boon might last.

But then the good news started pouring in.

Clayton was offered a job within a few weeks of putting their Colorado house on the market.

He moved to Austin to get started while Tisha continued to work in Colorado Springs.

Then she moved to Austin (before they sold the house) two months later.

When the inevitable happened and she was let go from her remote position, she was able to find a new job in town within a matter of weeks.

Despite the depressed housing market, the Havenses sold their Colorado home about three months after they made the move to Austin.

Since the couple opted to rent an inexpensive apartment in Austin for the first year — both to offset costs and get a better feel for the city before committing to a neighborhood — they had overlapping mortgage and rent payments for a very short time.

Overall, the two agree: The decision to move ended up being a financially sound one.

“In both our cases, our salaries have increased,” says Clayton. “Not hugely so, but enough that it’s helped take a little bit off the financial stress of the moving costs. We covered those costs 100%, and moving is not cheap.”

While it’s never easy to leave a place where you are well-established, the Havenses say they are “financially happy” with their decision.

“You need to be practical about your chances — conservative, even — before you make the jump,” Tisha says.

The couple credits much of their success to their diligent research.

The Texas capital and university town was clearly a good choice for them.

Here are a few of the resources they used and recommend.

Google (www.google.com) is the obvious place to start.

The Havenses kept it simple by using such basic search phrases as “best cities for high-tech” and “best cities for quality engineering,” then following the links to learn more about different areas that might be a fit for jobs as well as for their personal interests and hobbies.

Want to know more about the job market in a city you’re considering?

The Havenses looked closely at city and industry growth, as well as unemployment rates in the high-tech sector, using data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov/web/metro/laummtrk.htm).

They were comforted by the fact that Austin, as a city and a high-tech hot spot, had been showing strong, consistent growth for more than 10 years.

Payscale (www.payscale.com) can give you an idea of what a fair salary is in a particular location and help you get an idea about the cost of living in the area. The Havenses looked up their jobs to see whether Austin could offer comparable salaries to their current ones in Colorado.

Of course, there other considerations in picking a new place to live other than just a job.

Neighborhood Scout (www.neighborhoodscout.com) is a great online resource to help you learn about crime rates, the housing market and public school ratings.

Zillow (www.zillow.com) can give you the lay of the land as far as real estate and rental markets are concerned. The Havenses said these sites helped “paint the picture of Austin” for them as they made their decision.