Career Doctor: Do Employers Cover Relocation Charges for Contractors?

By Katherine Spencer Lee | December 2007

Dice is pleased to introduce a new monthly IT career column, Ask the IT Career Doctor, with Katherine Spencer Lee, Executive Director of Robert Half Technology. Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Once per month, Katherine will respond to an IT career-related question from a Dice reader. This month, she responds to an IT professional who supports an ERP system that is being phased out.

I’m a 25-year IT veteran who has been self-employed for the last 15 years. I have just begun researching contract positions as a way to expand my work opportunities. My question is related to relocation expenses. If I have to move to another city to take a contract, will potential employers be willing to cover my expenses?

Katherine Lee Spencer responds:
Relocation packages are determined by a number of highly variable factors – your experience and position, the market for your skills, the urgency of the company’s need, the distance involved in the move, whether you have a spouse or children, and so on.

Regardless, few employers pay relocation expenses for contract workers. Relocation packages are more commonly offered to executive-level candidates or to entice workers to move to an area with a limited talent pool. From the employer’s perspective, a key advantage of contract work is that it usually doesn’t require them to offer professionals benefits or perks, which are instead provided by the staffing firm for which the temporary employees work.

In other words, if you’re determined to remain self-employed, you’ll likely have to remain "self-relocating." There are always exceptions, of course. Just don’t expect a relocation package to fall into your lap.

Kick-start with care
Your situation brings up some universal questions about why – and whether – to relocate. Many workers view relocation as a way to kick-start their careers or explore interesting opportunities. While you can accomplish both of these goals by moving to a different area of the country, relocation isn’t an automatic ticket to better things. Think hard before expanding your job search beyond your local area.

For example, if you’re having difficulty locating a position in your city, is the trouble due to a depressed employment market in your city? Has your research shown a higher demand for your skills in another part of the country? If either of these is the case, a move is likely to be your best option in the long run, whether or not you foot the bill for your moving expenses.

Also, consider the long-term aspects of a potential move. While a larger salary or better benefits may prove appealing, will you limit yourself in the long run? If you move to a small town with few employers nearby and don’t like the position you accepted, you may soon find yourself without other job opportunities, facing a fresh set of moving concerns.

The real costs of relocation
When you consider a contract or full-time employment offer, you’re probably already factoring in the cost of living in the new location (if not, a number of online calculators can help), as well as home prices and other financial considerations. Make sure you’re also taking a close look beyond the numbers, however alluring they may be.

Even if you’re single, relocating can demand lifestyle changes that sap the appeal of any high-paying gig. How will the move affect your relationships with friends and family? How about the things you like to do outside of work, from outdoor activities to nightlife? Make a list of pros and cons, and don’t leave out highly subjective matters such as whether you’re nervous about moving from a small town to a big city.

Look before you leap
If possible, spend a week or so in the new location before you make a decision. You’ll gain a clearer sense of all the subjective factors involved, such as how long your daily commute would be and how safe you’d feel in the neighborhood you might live in.

As you weigh your options, don’t put too much emphasis on the one-time costs of relocation. If the destination is beneficial to you and your career, you’ll look back on those expenses as a small initial investment that continues to pay dividends. On the other hand, even an all-expenses-paid move to a location that doesn’t advance your career goals will continue to cost you, both personally and professionally, until it’s time to move again.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, Europe and Asia.