Should You Take an IT Job in a Small City?

shutterstock  Michael Shake

If you’re tired of living in a hectic metropolis, you’re in luck. Small cities such as Helena, Mont. (pop. 25,596) and Cheyenne, Wyo. (pop. 62,448) have managed to attract a handful of high-tech firms. Now their recruiters are actively seeking IT professionals who would rather live and work in a modest-sized town.

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While the idea of a 10-minute commute may be tempting, accepting a job in a small city could have long-term consequences on your personal life and career. Here are seven questions you should ask yourself before pulling up stakes.

Will Taking This Job Hurt or Help Your Career?

Working with cutting-edge technology may benefit your career in the short-term—but will you be able to reach the next career milestone, and the one after that, in a place with relatively few tech companies?

“If you live in a major city it’s easy to change jobs every three years,” said Alexandra Levit, a workplace expert and blogger based near Chicago. “You have fewer options in a small city. Ask about career progression before you commit, because you should plan on working at the company for at least five years.”

Are there local meetup groups, boot camps, mentors or training classes to help you expand your skills? Can you envision yourself learning and advancing your career in that new city? Use scenario-planning to estimate the impact on your marketability and goals over the next five years.

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Is the Company Committed and Secure?

Job security is fleeting, no matter where you live. But will you be able to find employment in the local area should you lose your job? And what’s your backup plan if you don’t like the company? Is the management team committed to your happiness and success? If you’re not sure, offer to start out on a contract basis before you make a permanent move.

“The company should support your decision making process by providing information on schools, housing, social activities and even take you on a tour,” said Debbie Maupin, president of Relocation Services for Grabel, an employee relocation company based in Aurora, Colorado. “If they are committed to a successful transition, they will go out of their way to give you a preview of the company and the community.”

What Am I Leaving Behind?

Are you an extravert? Do you make friends easily? Leaving behind family, friends, co-workers and your favorite hangouts can be emotionally trying. On the other hand, it could be invigorating if you crave change and adventure.

“It’s harder to make friends as an adult,” Levit said. “Ask the IT professionals at the company about their lifestyle and how they built connections when they arrived in town. Otherwise, you may end up with a great job but no life.”

Does the Move ‘Pencil Out’?

You might think that a small city has a lower cost of living than a major city, but some things could cost more… and salaries are lower, too. For instance, you could end up paying more for airline tickets and groceries, and a local employment boom may escalate real estate prices.

Plus, it could take several months to recoup your relocation outlay if you have to foot the tab. According to the American Moving & Storage Association, the average cost of an intrastate move is $1,170, and the average move between states costs $5,630. Fortunately, there’s plenty of help at your fingertips. Use this list of online resources from the U.S. State Department to assess the cost of living in another city and how much you need to earn to break even or come out ahead.

Do You Like the Community as Well as the Job?

If you love hiking and skiing, moving to a resort area might be just what the doctor ordered. If you like to go club hopping on Saturday night or take in a pro basketball game, you’re probably better suited for big city life. Spend a couple of days driving around the city and sampling local eateries and activities to get a sense of what it would be like to live there.

“IT professionals don’t have to move to a small city to find work,” Levit noted. “You really need to be enamored with the lifestyle, the weather and the community to move to a small city.”

How Will the Move Impact Your Family?

The decision to move is easier if you’re single and unattached. Uprooting a spouse and family can have emotional and financial consequences, and thus requires careful consideration.

Research suggests that every move translates into a 2 percent decline in a spouse’s annual earnings in military families; frequent moves also increase the likelihood of spousal unemployment. (Although to be fair, other research shows that some families on the move experience an increase in resilience and cohesion.) Consider your family’s penchant for adventure and adaptability before deciding to take a job in a small city.

Bottom Line: What Do You Have to Gain?

List the plusses on one side of a ledger and the minuses on the other, along with their associated financial and emotional costs, to determine whether you should take an IT job in a small city. And remember: If it doesn’t work out, you can always move back. Being in demand is one of the perks of being an IT professional.

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5 Responses to “Should You Take an IT Job in a Small City?”

  1. John Covey

    Or one could consider taking an IT job FOR a small City or Town. Municipal IT can be an extremely rewarding application of your technical skills. Cleaning streets, managing departments, providing services all takes technology to do efficiently and effectively. While these positions may not pay the same scale as their private sector counterparts, they are exceptionally fulfilling. Even in a very small Town. As Constantin Stanislavski (often quoted but equally forgotten) said “Remember: there are no small parts, only small actors.” An IT job in a small community can bring big rewards.

  2. I took a job at a software company in a town of 3500 people. I worked there for 10 years, contracted for a few after that, met my husband and lived in the area for most of that. We moved to a town 15 minutes away with 30,000 people partway through just to have access to a few more amenities.

    When we decided to open a computer repair / service / web site business of our own, we already knew so many people in the area that we were able to attract clients, then have word of mouth spread quickly.

    Now I work from home building web sites. We have moved to an area so small, we don’t even have a mayor.

    Just because a town is small, doesn’t mean you can’t advance. There are always opportunities, even with companies that aren’t tech oriented. Everyone needs IT help, or software help, or web pages.