There are definitely great things about moving to a new city. It’s exciting starting fresh in a new place, with new friends, new opportunities, and new social activities just around the corner.
That said, I probably don’t have to remind you of the terrible things about moving: packing your entire life into boxes (seriously, how many kitchen gadgets does one person actually need?), finding the perfect new place to unpack said boxes, and arriving in a city where you know almost no one.
This is tough for your social life, but it can be really tough for your career. How do you job hunt when your network consists of two old high school friends and a long-lost uncle you’re pretty sure is unemployed?
The answer: Start before you go.
I’ve moved to a new city more times in the last decade than I’d like to count, and here’s how I’ve found success quickly building up a brand-new network. Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to hit the ground running on your job search—and maybe even line up a new gig before you go.
See Who You Do Know
Start by making a list of everyone you do know in your new city, from distant relatives to old college friends. (An easy way to do this is to sort your LinkedIn connections by location.) Also include people who used to live there—even if they’re not there now, they surely still have contacts.
Then, one by one, reach out to reconnect with these people by phone or email. Catch up on their lives, share what you’ll be looking for once you get to your new locale, and see if they have any advice for your job search. Even if it’s someone you don’t know well, there’s no harm in reaching out and asking, “Hey there, I’m moving to Chicago next month and trying to connect with people who are there. I’d love to pick your brain on the PR field in the area—do you have 15 minutes to catch up on the phone?”
Also be sure to ask each person if he or she knows anyone else in your field that you might be able to talk to. Everyone knows that moving is tough, and I’ve found that people are more than happy to make introductions when they know that you’re trying to build your network.
Use Your Alumni Group
Your college alumni association is an amazing way to get plugged in to a group of people you already have some connection to. Start with your alumni directory: Most universities have a database that allows you to search for people by city and industry. Make a short list of people in your field who look interesting (or better yet, who work for companies you’d love to join), and reach out to them to see if you can hop on the phone to connect. (The great benefit of using alumni directories vs. LinkedIn is that people often publicly include their email addresses, so your message goes straight to their inbox.)
If you’re moving to a major city, also see if your alumni group hosts events you can participate in or has an official chapter. And if not? Consider starting one! You’ll bring a new network of people right to you.
I know—it’s cliché, but don’t underestimate the power of social media. Join the Facebook and LinkedIn groups of regional chapters of professional associations you belong to, then start participating in conversations and connecting with people online. It’s even worth telling the group you’ll be moving to the city and asking if anyone has great advice for you.
And don’t be afraid to reach out to interesting people directly for informational interviews or to learn more about their work. Try, “Hey, I see you work at the Smith Company. I’m moving to Atlanta in the fall, and I’m really interested in opportunities there. Would you be willing to share with me how you got started there?”
Do a Trial Period
If it’s feasible, try to spend a week (or even a couple long weekends) in your new city before you go. Ideally, look for industry networking events or conferences, and try to plan your trip around those dates. If that’s not possible, see if you can join a couple of meetups that are happening when you’re there. (Search Meetup for events hosted by people in your field, for people who are new to the area, or even for people who share a hobby with you!) I’ve also used these preliminary trips to set up meetings with recruiters and kick-start my job (and apartment) search.
In addition, try to set up coffee meetings or lunches with your friends in the area and the new contacts you’ve made—connecting face to face is always, always better than a phone conversation.
Believe me—I know moving to a new city is tough. The good news? Most people have done it before, so they feel your pain and are often willing to help you out. So get out there and network—when you do land in your new location, you’ll have a built-in network already.