Guest Post: How to Leave a Company Town (And Conduct a Long Distance Job Search)

How to Leave a Company Town | CorporetteIs your job very location-specific — and have you ever wondered what would happen to your career if you picked up and moved away from the “company town,” embarking on a long distance job search in the process? Today’s guest post comes to us from one of my best friends from law school, Mindy Barry, who was already pretty senior on Capitol Hill when I met her.  Since law school, she’s accomplished the incredible not once but twice: building a great career as a chief counsel on the Hill, and then chucking it all to build a new legal career in Michigan.  For all of the readers who feel chained to their city because of their job, I asked Mindy to share her experience.  (We have talked about finding a job in a new city, but not in ages!)  Mindy, thank you so much for sharing with us! – Kat.

Imagine you are midway into the prime of your career, you are exactly where you aspired to be professionally, you have the position you  worked for years to achieve, and you decide to give it all up to move for reasons unrelated to your career. How would you go about finding a new job in a new profession in a new city where you know almost no one?

That’s the situation I found myself in about seven years ago when my husband and I decided to move from Washington, D.C., to Michigan. At the time, I was a chief counsel on Capitol Hill, where I had worked for my entire professional career. Although I am a lawyer, I had never worked in a traditional law practice and was not sure how to parlay my experience dealing in politics and legislation into a challenging and rewarding career outside of the Washington Beltway. Making the move was an exciting but scary prospect. Looking back on that time in my life, here are some things I know now that I wish I had known then: 

Change, by its very nature, is different — and different sometimes means unexpected. Unexpected, however, does not need to be an obstacle. After we made the decision to move, my first task was to brainstorm possible careers for which I would be qualified and that would interest me. After a lot of research and talking to people in a variety of careers, I settled on seeking a judicial clerkship, because I thought it would be an effective transition from working in a lawmaking role to being a practicing lawyer. I knew securing a federal clerkship took a lot of luck, so I decided not to notify my employer that I was hoping to move until I had finalized a job. While applying for clerkships, I took advantage of that time to meet as many people as possible on our visits to Michigan. I networked with everyone I could, even with people who were totally removed from the legal arena.

As it turned out, this networking turned out to be more valuable than I could have imagined. Shortly before I was to start working for a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge, she died unexpectedly. By that time we had sold our house in Washington, D.C., and I had resigned my job. What could have been a disaster — no job in D.C. or Michigan, as well as having no home in either place too — turned out to be just a detour. Because I had built a strong network in Michigan, I had an indispensable resource of people to help me identify potential job openings. Certainly this professional transition was unexpected in its course, but our move remained on track, thanks to the people in a variety of industries with whom I had met.

Lessons learned:

  • Plan, but don’t be inflexible. Researching career possibilities opened up my vision and made my search less constrained. When faced with wholly unexpected obstacles, my willingness to consider a wide range of jobs made the move to Michigan easier.
  • Network, even when you may think it’s a waste of time. Engaging in general networking, at the same time I applied for clerkships, provided me with contacts to whom I could turn when I was scrambling to find a new job. And it’s not just for my job search that I value lots of the folks I met in our pre-move scouting trips. Many of these same contacts have continued to be resources to me in numerous ways, including by offering career advice, and also by inviting me to participate in community, charitable, and political activities that make my life in Michigan more fulfilling (and fun!).
  • Don’t burn bridges. Though I was looking for a job, I still worked as hard as ever for my Congressional employer. I didn’t want to give him a reason to be displeased with me and I didn’t know how long it would take until I had found a job in Michigan. When the judge for whom I was supposed to work died, I was able to “unquit” my Congressional job and keep working in D.C. until I obtained a job in Michigan.

My transition to Michigan had lots of challenges. But by keeping in mind our goal of moving there, I was able to keep moving forward without becoming overwhelmed with frustration. And it all paid off — life in Michigan is better than I hoped it would be!

Readers, have you ever moved and faced a very different job landscape?  How did you navigate the change?  What did you learn from it; what would you advise others?

Pictured: Lincoln Memorial, originally uploaded to Flickr by casajump.


N.B. PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS ON TOPIC; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course I highly value all comments by my readers, I’m going ask you to please respect some boundaries on substantive posts like this one. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. Did you have to take the bar exam? I think that’s by far my biggest “chain” as far as my career goes. I know it’s not impossible or even that difficult but I hate the idea of having to take the bar exam all over again, which leaves reciprocity states but alas not the one I’d want to move to (why no reciprocity, California!?)

    • YES. So true re California. I just do not want to take another bar exam.

    • This is one of the things that makes me not consider moving from New York. Like you, California is one of the only states I’d like to move to and the thought of sitting for the bar exam again just does not sound appealing.

    • Gail the Goldfish :

      I took the North Carolina bar before I started job hunting here (I was living in New York) because I didn’t want to wait for reciprocity. I do think it was helpful for finding a job. Probably not totally necessary, but if nothing else, it demonstrated that yes, I was actually committed to moving, so much so that I spent a large sum of money and an entire summer studying to take another bar exam. (As it turns out, though being admitted to the NC bar is a requirement for maintaining a job at my firm-I think they give you 2 tries if you aren’t admitted when you start–I will probably never practice law in NC at my job, and may have to take another state’s bar in a state where most of our cases are venued. But I do think it helped get the job). Yes, taking another bar exam is not pleasant, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. (but take the February one. Studying when the weather is nice is hard)

    • Coach Laura :

      Supply and demand. The California ABA thinks it has too many attorneys so it sets the bar high. (Pun intended.)

  2. Famouscait :

    The hubs and I moved from a one-horse company town to a University town. I absolutely agree with the networking advice. While were were making house-hunting visits I scheduled interviews and informational interviews with folks which did turn out to be very useful. Two factors I’d add to the OP:

    1) Pay rates were hugely influenced by the nature of the “company” in the company town. When it was a Fortune 50 company, they were high. When it was a University town they were considerably lower, even though both areas had similar costs-of-living.

    2) Getting a foot in the “company” door (in this case, the University) was key. I had to take a lower, less-paid position than I truly wanted and sit in it for 8 months before I was able to get a promotion to where I am now. In hindsight, this was frustrating and financial painful, but ultimately worth it by ANY calculation. There’s no way I would have been hired externally into the job I have now.

  3. “Change, by its very nature, is different — and different sometimes means unexpected.”

    This sentence is making my head hurt. Does it mean anything?

    • Carla, This sentence is suposed to be sage advice. Usueally spoken by someone who know’s alot, and it’s also on some cereal boxe’s!

      The post is very good, Kat. I also lived in DC, but never had to move anywhere b/c of my husband, b/c I did not ever have a husband. I would like one, but do NOT want him to rule my life. In fact, if the need be, I want HIM to move for ME! YAY! That is what equality is suposed to be all about, right? Speakeing of which, now the manageing partner’s brother want’s to move into MY coop, and he want’s me to VOOCH for him. I am NOT even aware of any apartement’s open in my coop but he said he would have “his girl” find out. Who is “his girl”? I hope he is NOT thinkeing that I am? FOOEY! I cannot fathom the thought of me and him in the same place and the manageing partner over 2x a week for dinner! DOUBEL FOOEY! I will have to await his meaning. I do NOT like text’s. They are so criptic. TRIPEL FOOEY!

    • I think it is an awkwardly worded sentence, but the meaning seems clear to me. Change=something different. Sometimes these are things that are expected (If I change jobs, I expect that I will go to a different building, work with different people, etc.) but there are somethings about this change that are unexpected.

  4. Anon In-House :

    This post is super timely for me, as my husband applied to a job in his company’s Other City, and on the first interview was told he was the only qualified person who applied for the job. After the second interview yesterday, it’s sounding more and more like he’s going to get an offer. We’ll see if the numbers are right, but it sounds like we might be moving to Other City. I hear it’s a nice town, but I’ve never been there!

    I’m like the OP in that I’m a lawyer but I’ve never worked in a traditional legal setting. After law school I went back to work for the company I worked at before law school. The field I’m in exists all over the country, but jobs in my current role don’t open up very often. We think there is a possibility that my company might let me work remotely, at least temporarily, but I’m still terrified for what this move would mean for my own career. I’ll be interested in what others have to say on this topic.

  5. I have some follow up questions for the post:

    What tips do you have specifically for transitioning from non-traditional practice to a more traditional practice? Was it difficult?

    How would your tips change if you hadn’t been totally overhauling your career direction?

    I have a traditional practice but most of my clients are in an industry that is very specific to my region, and while I’d consider moving elsewhere, I sometimes worry that I’ll be a little trapped because of my narrow practice.

  6. Following this thread with interest.

    And it bums me out that these substantive threads get so little love these days. You can definitely tell that a lot of the older, wiser commenters have moved on :( I miss the words of seasoned experience.

  7. Anonymous :

    I’d love to hear advice on switching careers by moving to the “company town” (actually the epicenter for the whole industry) of the new career.

    • Rachelellen :

      I did this… if you consider DC a company town for the federal gov’t, which I do. I’m a journalist and switched beats to cover the macro economy, Fed, etc. I doubt I can offer any advice to anyone… The long-distance searching was tough logistically and the move has been… more complicated than I expected. But it’s a good town for journalists, and I suspect so e of you mulling these moves might be able to get a sense of whether you think the new town is right for your line of work. For me, it also beat the alternative, staying put in NYC and covering finance. I was just burned out and needed a fresh start. That may be a consideration too…

      • Hm – I’d love to hear from journalists who moved away from the company town – and particularly those who made international moves; that’s the situation I’m in for family circumstances, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty around my work eligibility in the country we’re moving to.

    • I left NYC where I was a management consultant in Financial Services (definitely the global hub) to go to Hartford CT. Insurance capital of the world – LOL. I was able to stay in my job for several years but my career took a huge hit because in Big 4 consulting, being seen & being in the city regularly are key to moving up.

      I also took a nearly 10 year hiatus to have kids. Coming back was really hard, even though I had a lot of clients in the area. Between the recession and the layoffs, most of my former clients had moved or retired. The networking I’d done while I was working and tried to keep up in KidLand was essentially toast. Also the industry had changed, and I wasn’t willing to go back on the road 5 days a week. I retooled, but it was hard. While I was in KidLand, I got a second master’s degree and started teaching at the university. As an adjunct, I made very very little but it was rewarding and I was finally (after 6 years) able to parlay my skills to a full-time job with the university.

      It’s really tough to make the switch, but in terms of work-life, there was no question. I didn’t want to raise kids in the city, and I wasn’t going to travel full-time anymore. I think the key that the OP had here was that you have to think outside of the box. I’m building my network now at the university and it really makes a difference. It was just so frustrating to lose my former network just as I wanted to go back to corporate, though!

  8. Having just transitioned from a federal attorney job in DC, where I worked for four years, to a job with a state agency in a mid-sized Southern city, I have a few “lessons learned” to share. The most important, for all the non-reciprocity eligible attorneys out there is to register to take the bar ASAP in your new state. I cannot stress how important this is. This seems obvious in hindsight, but when you’re in the middle of a huge life transition like leaving your job and moving, finding housing in a new place, etc… having the bar as an added stressor seems really overwhelming. We moved from DC in June and because we had just gotten married in April I didn’t register for the July bar here because I thought it would just be too much with the wedding and the move. In hindsight, this was unwise, since I could have studied during July and been fine. I ended up taking the February bar and landing an interview with the agency I will be working for after the bar, but before I found out my results. And if you’re moving to a company town (as we did for my husband’s job at an academic medical center) make sure to attend all the ‘company’ events and make it well known that you’re job hunting. And keep attending the events and networking with the company folks even when you don’t feel like it. A nod from one of the company higher ups to the head of my new agency helped me get notice and land my new job. After a year of unemployment (though technically I was only ’employable’ in this state for 2 months, starting in April when I got my bar results), I’m happy to share a happy ending. Whew. Also curious, are there any medical spouse/SO Corporettes out there?

  9. For all the comments abput retaking the bar. If you work as an attorney for the Federal government your bar is good in any state. There are federal offices in the states. You may want to consider that option as well.

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