Relocation Recruiting

As unemployment continues to decrease, local talent is becoming harder to find in many U.S. markets. Recruiters in hot job markets like Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Las Vegas more frequently have to relocate candidates from other areas. Determining which markets to target with your recruiting efforts doesn’t have to be a guessing game. In consulting engagements with several Seattle-based high-tech companies in the mid-1990s, I attempted to build regional targeting strategies to help deal with the local crunch for IT labor. We typically began with unemployment rates in each geography and did primary research on industries that were strong in each geography, migration trends, and labor force composition.

This was incredibly time-consuming back then because the Internet was still in its infancy. Today, the Web is a treasure trove of resources to help you identify the most logical markets for your recruiting strategies. Data is now available on everything from migration trends and job growth to housing prices and industries – all of which can combine to give you a much clearer picture of where to target next.

Where Talent Will Move or Stay When building a regional or relocation recruiting strategy, knowing which markets are gaining or losing the most people is a great starting point. Markets that are losing high numbers and percentages of people are the most ripe for targeting. Many economic factors, including housing prices, costs of living, job availability, climate, and crime rates, factor into which areas have the highest migration rates. Beginning at the state level, domestic migration to southern states continues to increase, with residents in Western and Northeastern states (including many retirees) beginning to move south seeking more affordable housing and better standards of living.

According to a recent USA Today article, one of the dominant trends is movement away from our biggest cities. States like New York, Illinois, California, and Massachusetts demonstrate the impact that this new urban flight is having, although they make up for this population outflow with international immigration. Chart 1: Domestic Migration

view full-size image The percentage of people entering or leaving each state due to domestic migration is also a great tool to identify areas where it is possible to have some recruiting success. Midwestern states like Kansas, Iowa, and North Dakota score highly on this list as potential target states. Delaware, South Carolina, and Idaho, among other states, score much lower on this list. Chart 2: Domestic Migration

view full-size image At the city level, the U.S. Census Bureau’s data demonstrates the impact of out-of-control housing markets in some of our biggest cities. Metro areas with the biggest net migration to other areas from 2000 to 2004 were New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston. The biggest beneficiaries of these migration trends were Riverside-San Bernardino, California, Phoenix, Tampa, Atlanta, and Dallas. As you’re putting together your next recruiting strategy, housing prices remain a huge indicator of where the population will move next and the areas from which it will become easier to pull talent. The areas mentioned above are pricing many people out of their market, and in other cases, individuals are pocketing the money they have gained from their houses and moving elsewhere.

The net impact of talent migration for a recruiting team is as follows: Without a phenomenal job offer, targeting candidates in a lower cost-of-living area like Texas if you live in a high cost-of-living market is nearly impossible. However, all is not lost. “Weather recruiting” – hitting specific markets when the weather is unbearable, like Texas in the summertime or the Northeast and Midwest in winter – can be a highly effective strategy, one which I have used successfully for many companies.

Understanding the Job Market, Part 1 The job market in a metropolitan area is another reason why people move from one state to another. A poor economy and weak job market often translate into an excess talent supply. The Milken Institute, a non-profit economic think tank, is an excellent source of data on local economic conditions and job growth. Its analysis of the 200 largest cities and 179 small cities is one of the most useful resources on the Web to evaluate the economic health of a potential target market. Not only does it provide sortable data on job growth, wages, and population, but it also gives an indication of the high-tech industry base in a given city. Its data confirms that some of the hottest talent markets are in Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Arkansas (thank you, Wal-Mart). A harder to use but equally valuable resource is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics site at

About as detailed as it gets, the BLS site’s most useful statistics are its tracking of regional and metro area unemployment statistics. The most current release shows that unemployment rates are high in states like Michigan, Kentucky, and Alaska, and low in states like Florida, Virginia, Utah, and Nebraska. The metro rates of unemployment are also very revealing – at times an indicator of economic health in attractive climates (like Cape Coral-Fort Myers and Fort Walton, Florida) and at other times an indicator of markets that have a hard time keeping their local talent (like Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Fargo, North Dakota). The month-to-month statistics on the metro area unemployment rates are perhaps the most useful component of this chart, giving one an idea of whether the economy in each metro region is expanding or contracting.

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Understanding the Job Market, Part 2 General job market data like job growth and unemployment is useful, but not if you can’t find the specific types of individuals you seek. In my hometown of Seattle, for instance, the strong high-tech market means that there are relatively large numbers of programmers and software engineers (approximately 85,000 of them, to be exact), which is reflected in the BLS data on occupations and wages by metro areas. There’s not much of an entertainment industry here, which is also reflected in the low numbers of Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes (only 50 of them in Seattle compared to 2,610 of them in Los Angeles). Occupational data is also an important indicator of whether the types of individuals you seek live in a given market. For example, you can see which metro areas and states have high concentrations of recruiters and which pay the highest wages. It will take you a little while to navigate, but the “customized table” function allows you to view an Excel sheet with detailed data by city. This data shows that New York and Chicago have by far the highest numbers of recruiters (over 10,000 in each city), followed by Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

The biggest gap in the BLS statistics is in industry by state. If you’re looking for pharmaceutical employees, you’d want to know that the areas you’re targeting have high concentrations of employees in this industry given its specialized nature. The U.S. Census Bureau has very general statistics on industry employment by metro up to 2004 that are relatively helpful, and this data can often be supplemented by state departments of labor, a helpful list of which can be found here.

Finally, your own knowledge of competitor locations and the types of individuals they employ in each location are incredibly important. One of the best resources for this type of data is each organization’s career website, which can give you an idea of what types of employees they recruit and in which locations they recruit them.

Putting it All Together Using a combination of your knowledge of regional job markets, industry concentrations, migration patterns, and costs of living and your competitors, an organization can begin to create an effective regional recruiting strategy. The tools provided above can help you strategically identify and whittle down your target list. Now it’s up to you to create a message that speaks to the selling points of your area relative to your target markets and learn from your experiences along the way.

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (, a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.