Written by Mandy Morgan, Technical Writer at Sertifi, Inc., and Missouri State University alumna and online instructor
Are you considering taking a job in a new, big city? Do you have a dream city in mind and want to know how to land a job there? Well, I’ve done it. It was tricky and required a lot of research and a little bit of luck to go from a student at MSU to a full-time technical writer in Chicago. I’m going to offer you my tips and tricks, and call out some pitfalls, so if you’re dreaming of big city life, you can make a seamless transition.
Before you graduate
The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to get ready for the job market BEFORE you graduate. For me, during my senior year of college, I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s degree, so I was covered there. However, when I started my first semester of graduate school, I was looking at the job market and the opportunities out there.
Do your research to start. Think about the industry you’re going into and if there’s a sector of that industry you’re particularly passionate about. I didn’t do a lot of research about which industry I wanted to see myself in; I was more eager about finding a job in the location I wanted.
After you pick the facet of the industry you’re going into, look at job descriptions. You can do a basic search on Indeed and see what companies are asking for. If you find a company that interests you, dig deeper! Look them up on Glassdoor and see what their current and past employees are saying. This is a great way to discover any red flags and see if the culture of that company is a good fit for you.
Then, work your network. If you found your dream company, and you think the culture is a good fit, see if anyone in your network has a connection to someone there. If not, look at the employees in that department. Send them an email and ask to interview them for a class project, even if you aren’t. You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to talk to you.
My path went something like this. I knew I wanted to work in Chicago – it was/is my dream city. So, I interviewed the president of the Society for Technical Communication chapter in Chicago. He just happened to work at a company that I was interested in. I asked him if he would keep me in mind for an internship if one ever came up. Sure enough, one did, and I got a full-time offer within two months of my internship.
Accepting a job offer in a new city
When it comes to accepting a job offer in a new city, my biggest piece of advice there is NEGOTIATE. Seriously. Don’t just accept the job because they offered it to you. If you get a job offer, great! Now go back to some research.
I recommend looking at the low, median, and high salaries of your position in the area where the job is. What I mean is I wouldn’t do research on base salaries for technical writers in California, unless I was going to move to California and accept a job there.
This was a big uh-oh moment for me. I just accepted the offer probably two seconds after they gave it to me. I wish that I would’ve investigated what other technical writers were making at that time in Chicago. The worst thing the employer can say when you negotiate is “no.” That doesn’t mean they’re revoking the job offer – so negotiate again. Find a place where both you and the company are comfortable. Plus, you can use your salary research as leverage for negotiation.
Making the transition
Accepting a new job in a new city is both extremely exciting and exceptionally terrifying. I didn’t know anyone in Chicago, and it was hard to leave the amazing friends I made at MSU, and my family in St. Louis. Take time to be excited, but also take charge of some of the terrifying aspects.
Make sure you understand the cost of living in a big city. I used to complain about how high my rent was in Springfield. Little did I know that my rent was going to be nearly triple when I moved to Chicago. Also, pay attention to how much you’re taking home AFTER taxes. Don’t do what I did and assume you were taking home every penny of your salary, and then wind up getting an apartment that’s a little out of your price range. This was a rude awakening for me.
Also consider transportation. Chicago isn’t as much of a commuter city as Springfield, and you certainly don’t need a car to get around. I wound up selling my car and traded it in for a CTA pass. Now, I take public transportation and I walk everywhere else.
Take a few days to get acquainted with the city, too, especially if you’re moving somewhere you haven’t lived before. I took a few days off before I started my full-time job, and it helped that my internship was in Chicago, so I had the summer to get lost and explore the city. But when I moved to my new apartment, I made sure that I knew which form of transportation to take, how long it would take me to get to work, and how to navigate after getting off at my stop. Believe me, you don’t want to show up late to your first day of work because you got lost.
I’ve done this. Twice. Don’t do this.
If you’re new to the city, don’t be afraid to get out there and make some friends. I moved without knowing anyone and ended up spending a lot of time in my apartment. Make friends with your coworkers, or use apps like MeetUp, to see what’s going on around you.
Be easy with yourself
I’ll wrap up these advice nuggets with this – be easy on yourself. Finding a job is hard and finding one at a company that you love is equally as hard. And moving to a big, new city is hard. But the fact that you’re taking the steps to get there is something worth rewarding yourself for. I promise, at some point, you’re going to get overwhelmed by a new city, or get lost in that city, and show up late for work. It happens. But remember to treat yourself with kindness. You’re chasing your dreams and you’ve got to do a lot of research and have a little bit of hustle to get there.
If I can do it and be successful, I promise you can too.
Mandy Morgan is a technical writer at Sertifi, Inc., a leader in frictionless business, based in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated with both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in professional writing from Missouri State University. She’s worked as a full-time technical writer for the past four years and teaches Introduction to Technical Communication online for MSU. She’s a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan and is still trying to adjust to life as Cardinals fan in Chicago.