Glassdoor Survey: Culture May Be the Secret Sauce That Makes Candidates Move for a Job

I know this from personal experience: It’s never an easy decision to pick up and move somewhere for a job.

But as a new research study from Glassdoor points out, more than a quarter (28.5 percent) of applications on Glassdoor were to jobs outside of the applicant’s current metro area.

The study, Metro Movers: Where Are Americans Moving for Jobs, And Is It Worth It?, identifies the U.S. cities job applicants are most interested in moving to for a job, the cities with the biggest share of job seekers interested in leaving, the factors that drive people to move for a new job, and other findings related to the hows and whys of people who relocate for work.

How the data was gathered (and you can get the study here) is always important, but especially so with research like this, and the Glassdoor study is based on a sample of more than 668,000 online job applications started on Glassdoor between January 8-14, 2018 for the 40 largest metro areas in the U.S.

Top Cities That Job Applicants Are Moving to

Not surprisingly, the Glassdoor study found that San Francisco is the No. 1 destination among job seekers — they’re called “metro movers” in the study — who are applying for jobs beyond their current metro area. Here’s the breakdown of the Top 10 cities that these “metro movers” are moving to

  1. San Francisco — 12.4 percent of applicants;
  2. New York City — 8.4 percent;
  3. San Jose (Silicon Valley) — 6.9 percent.
  4. Los Angeles — 6.8 percent;
  5. Washington, D.C. — 4.3 percent
  6. Boston — 3.7 percent;
  7. Chicago — 3.2 percent;
  8. Seattle — 3.1 percent;
  9. Dallas-Fort Worth — 2.8 percent;
  10. Austin — 2.3 percent.

Two Questions — and Two Obvious Answers

There are two questions that jump out of this list.

Question No. 1 is why Glassdoor decided to split San Francisco and San Jose into two separate areas for the purposes of this study. My experience, having worked as a VP for a San Francisco-based dotcom during the late 1990s boom, is that most people consider “Silicon Valley” to generally encompass the entire San Francisco Bay Area tech community, including Sausalito where Glassdoor is located.

I know this isn’t geographically accurate, but “Silicon Valley” really describes a larger region and not a specific place.

Glassdoor says that they based their classification of metro areas on “core based statistical areas,” which is a metric defined by the U.S. Office of Budget & Management and used by the Census Bureau, defined by commute-to-work patterns. The added: “By looking at those who want to make a move from one defined metro to another, we’re focused on job seekers trying to migrate for jobs between two economically different areas. Our goal is to measure economically meaningful job moves and using metro areas help capture that. You can read more on page 5 of the study.”

I get what Glassdoor is doing, and why, but San Francisco and San Jose are not “two economically different areas,” at least not in any meaningful sense. Splitting them apart defies logic, especially to people who work in the Bay Area. It’s more accurate in just about every meaningful way possible to combine the numbers for San Francisco and San Jose into a single one for “Silicon Valley” and say that 19.3 percent of the applicants (nearly one in five) are moving there.

Question No. 2 is pretty obvious — What kinds of companies are attracting so many people to move to the Bay Area?

That answer is pretty obvious too, and it’s mostly technology firms as you may have guessed. Here are the Top 10 San Francisco/Silicon Valley companies that these job “movers” applied to, and I blended the lists of applicants for San Francisco and San Jose together that Glassdoor broke out separately:

  1. Facebook — 635 applications;
  2. Google — 519 applications;
  3. Apple  — 358 applications;
  4. Adobe Systems — 315 applications;
  5. NVIDIA Corporation — 277 applications;
  6. Amazon.com — 253 applications;
  7. Udacity — 243 applications;
  8. Lyft — 240 applications;
  9. Uber — 240 applications;
  10. Shutterfly — 237 applications.

You know the one thing that does surprise me about this list? It’s the number of people willing to move to the San Francisco Bay Area despite the incredibly expensive housing costs and off the charts traffic and congestion. In fact, the Los Angeles Times pointed out in February that Buying a Bay Area home is now a stretch even for Apple and Google engineers.

“Picking up your life and moving for a job is a major decision,” said Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, the Glassdoor economist who conducted the study. “But in a job market where workers are in high demand and many employers are eager to hire, the employers who understand where talent is heading and what influences them to consider a move will have a recruiting advantage.”

Culture is What Really Drives People to Move

Here’s my take: Yes, moving is hard, and the worst thing is if you move for a job … and then end up hating the job. Believe me, that’s a lose-lose situation you don’t ever want to experience.

However, what I found most useful in Glassdoor’s Metro Movers: Where Are Americans Moving for Jobs, And Is It Worth It? study was down in the summary of key findings in a section titled Which Job Factors Most Affect Metro Movers? 

Here are the factors Glassdoor listed, and they tell you a lot about what is driving job seekers today:

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  • Salary drives candidates to move  From Glassdoor: “But, the effect of higher pay is small. Our estimates show an extra $10,000 higher base salary predicts applicants are about a half percentage point (0.41 percentage point) more likely to be a metro mover for a job. That’s statistically significant, but a small effect overall.”
  • Better company culture is more attractive to movers  From Glassdoor: “Applicants are 2.5 percentage points more likely to move for a job at a company that has a 1-star higher overall Glassdoor rating. That’s a statistically significant impact and is roughly six times larger than the impact of offering a $10,000 higher salary.”
  • The more educated someone is, the more likely they are to move From Glassdoor: Workers with a master’s degree are about 4.9 percentage points more likely they’ll be willing to move for a job. Those with a two-year associate’s degree are least likely to move metros for a job and are 7.4 percentage points less likely to move metros.”
  • Younger workers are more likely to be metro moversFrom Glassdoor: “On average, the older a worker, the less likely they’re willing to move for a job. In fact, each one higher age group (which corresponds to roughly 10 years) predicts candidates will be 7 percentage points less likely to be a metro mover. For employers who need to hire experienced candidates from other areas, recruiters should plan to actively recruit these candidates — and be prepared to compensate more senior movers with either premium offers or have excellent workplace culture.”
  • Men are more likely to move metros From Glassdoor: “All else equal, we found men in our sample were 3.3 percentage points more likely to apply to jobs in another metro than women. That suggests employers looking to attract metro movers should plan to make conscious outreach efforts to women — particularly in tech and engineering roles that attract the most metro movers — as women are statistically less likely to appear in employer applicant pools otherwise.”

More Attractive than Money

The one survey finding that jumped out at me is the notion that culture is actually more attractive to candidates than money, and it’s a story that we seem to be hearing more and more often.

Culture is the “secret sauce” that makes companies successful and attractive to others — especially the best and the brightest you want to come work for you.

In fact, if you type “culture as the secret sauce” into Google, you’ll get hit with more than 6 million responses, which simply proves that this isn’t a new notion. But as the Glassdoor study points out, although more pay is important to candidates, culture is really what gets them to make a move.

This should be a message to every company out there trying to supercharge their recruiting and hiring. If you really want to hire and keep the best, you better make sure your culture is among the best.

If it’s not, well, you’re probably just grinding your wheels and wasting everyone’s time.

John Hollon

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.