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Breaking the distance barrier.

The time has come for your job search. You've taken the time to acquire both the academic and practical credentials to show firms you're a serious professional. Everything is in place for your next step up the corporate ladder. There's only one thing in your way.

Unfortunately, that "one" thing is a time zone - and it's not yours.

Even accomplished professionals can be thwarted by the "distance barrier" when marketing themselves to firms in other cities or countries. Adding the burden of cross-country travel to the need to outshine the competition can seem overwhelming. That's not to say the barrier can't be broken, though. It's a question of qualifications, research and personal initiative.

"People need to do their homework; they should figure out where they want to be geographically, and then they should go on a fact-finding mission," said Susan Flesher, owner of Susan Flesher and Associates in Los Altos, Calif. "Companies will want to know why they should pay a premium in relocation costs for you. You have to be able to show them how you are different from the competition."

Flesher, whose firm specializes in recruiting high-tech communication professionals, recommends that job seekers identify the companies in their target area that would likely have the greatest interest in the skills the individual has to offer. She emphasized that once these companies are identified, an unsolicited, "cold" letter to those firms should not be the candidate's first course of action. The number one thing that applicants should do first is find out how to establish personal contacts with their targets.

"You need to figure out how best to reach your target - is it through recruiters? Do you have any personal contacts at that firm? Side by side with your list of target firms should be a list of how best to influence them," Flesher said.

Getting in contact with recruiters can be a particularly valuable technique, noting that the interrelationships between recruiters and different firms can unlock more than one door for the applicant. "Find out which recruiters handle your target firm, then meet with them," she advised. "Investing an hour with them can allow you to access not only your target firm, but all the other companies that the recruiters work with."

In the event that more personalized approaches to a firm on the target list are not possible, then an unsolicited letter to these companies may be necessary to explain the applicant's interest in each firm and detail his or her plans to visit that area. However, Flesher emphasized the critical nature of establishing personal contacts whenever possible.

"You only get one chance to make a first impression," she noted. "A cold letter is okay if there is no other way, but it is 10 times better if you have local contacts [to recommend you]."

In the event that the applicant does get a chance to speak to the firm(s) he or she is interested in, this may result in further opportunities - both with that company and others.

"You'll usually get a few 'nibbles' from these interviews," she said. "Often, a firm or two will have enough of an interest after the first visit to fly you back out for another round. This will give you the chance to do a new round of interviews with other companies while you're in the area again. You always want to be working the different tiers of your search - first round, second round, third round, and $9 on." She also noted another advantage of return visits to these firms - it shows them that the applicant is serious about relocating and coming to work for them.

Flesher said that the importance of visiting prospective firms can't be overemphasized. "One of the hardest things about working with an out-of-town candidate comes from the fact that physical presentation is so important in communication," she said. "Companies want to see that we can communicate on all levels."

Arnold Huberman, president of Arnold Huberman Associates Inc., a New York-based executive search firm specializing in the placement of public relations executives, echoed those sentiments. "If you're trying to find a job in another city, don't assume it can be done long distance. You have to make a commitment to visit the city you're interested in. That's how I got my first job in advertising."

A key element Huberman looks for in job candidates is follow-through. "If we get a call from a person who says they'll call us next week, we make a note of that. If they don't call, that tells us something about the person and their reliability."

Even more important than follow-through, according to Huberman, is the person's credentials. "The first thing we look at are the qualifications a person has. If they have what we're looking for, then we'll call and see if they are planning to visit."

Penny Alexander, another high-tech communication recruiter, said that although the distance barrier is not as great a hurdle in high-tech communication, the individual's experience and capabilities are even more critical in the technical communication field. She described the high-tech communication business as one of the hottest fields right now, but cautioned that this doesn't mean a person can get in "just for the asking."

"Even if you have a master's degree and experience in [general] PR, the high-tech firms will still expect you to earn your stripes in the technical industry," said Alexander, who operates her recruiting firm out of San Francisco. "This could mean taking a reduced salary at first, and that might be prohibitive in an area like mine where the cost of living is so high." She recommended that communicators interested in breaking into the high-tech arena seek technical positions in smaller markets, away from the major technical hubs. "Just one year of high-tech experience on your resume would be significant."

Judith Cushman, president of Seattle, Wash.-based Judith Cushman & Associates, agreed that distance is not as critical with high-tech positions. "As much as high-tech firms would like to find people locally, they aren't always able to," she explained. "Location is still important, but it's not always a 'make or break' issue. The trend is to focus more on the quality of the candidate than on the expense of calling them in."

The overriding importance of the applicant's qualifications cannot be overstated. Consider these comments from employers, as well as professionals, who have overcome the distance barrier in their own careers, about the need for solid credentials:

* "To bring the candidate to Toronto, the person would need to have strengths that add to our company's capabilities to such a degree that it would push the business in a new direction." - Marian Davis, Spectrum Public Relations, Toronto.

* "During the interview, I was able to demonstrate that I was capable of doing the job, I had valuable contacts in their industry, and I was knowledgeable of their business; [they knew] the learning curve would be short." - Michelle Marsh, Institute for Space and Terrestrial Science in North York, Ont.

* "What I look for most is proven strategic communication planning. As this is where communication is going, a lot of people's resumes claim that they are strategic communicators. I want proof." - Cindy Graham, Manulife Financial, Waterloo, Ont.

* "Even though tactical planning is important, I know for a fact that the resume is what will get you the call. If you're good, they will call you wherever you are." - Heather Lowe, Westvaco Corporation, Summerville, S.C.

In fact, qualifications are so important that in some cases, they could turn the distance barrier into an asset for a job seeker. Phil Price, president and chairman of The Price Communications Group in Lubbock, Texas, sees it this way: "Distance can be an advantage if the applicant possesses skills not yet in abundant supply or new techniques that he or she can offer to a prospective employer. Years ago, this would have meant computer skills. A couple of years ago, it would have been digital editing. Last year, it would have meant Internet design and maintenance."

While there may be no substitute for "being there," that doesn't mean there aren't other ways to soften the effect of the distance problem. Cushman encouraged job seekers to make use of the electronic media that are available to establish a relationship with prospective employers. In today's work place, it could make a difference. "Physical barriers are breaking down," she said. "If I have a need in Cincinnati and my solution is in Dallas, I'm going to go to Dallas to get it."

As noted earlier, the value of networking is as 'high in the long-distance job search as' it is in any professional endeavor. Having contacts in a target city can allow a job seeker to give his or her resume the appearance of "localness." Cushman recommended that candidates with friends in a target area use that friend's phone number on their resumes so that firms can call a local number. A variation of this idea worked for Erika Heald.

"One thing I did when looking for an out-of-town job was get a Pacific Bell voice-mail phone number in the same area code as the one in which I wanted to work," explained Heald, a publications editor and media relations coordinator for the San Francisco Mart. "It resulted in my being called in for several interviews and ultimately winning a job."

Another technique that can draw attention to a long-distance candidate is the use of a creative cover letter. Lois Tilles, director of corporate communication for The Palace Inc. said that she once moved a candidate from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco because she was so impressed by the creativity of his cover letter. However, Deborah Edens of South Carolina's SCANA Corp. warned that such a method can be problematic.

"I know people are trying to cut through the clutter, but it makes me wonder if they will handle themselves professionally in other situations," said Edens. She cited real-life letters with introductions such as "Dear Future Employer" and "This must be your lucky day" as examples of this technique that she has seen in the past.

Ultimately, a person's success in seeking a position in another market depends on the key factors involved in all job searches - the individual's qualifications and aggressiveness in seeking the opportunities that are out there. If these attributes are lacking, distance will likely be a moot point. This is especially true of qualifications. As Huberman puts it, "If their qualifications aren't good, they could be right next door and it wouldn't matter."


So, job searching from time zone to time zone isn't enough of a challenge? Try targeting a different continent.

Communication professionals who seek positions with other-country firms will find that many of the same, requirements common to all job searches still exist. Proper credentials and experience, initiative on the part of the individual, and good planning are still key. However, there are some additional factors that make going abroad a particular challenge:

* Language. Though it may be a blinding flash of the obvious to some, communicators need to remember that English isn't always the native tongue. Trish York, a public relations manager in Germany, said that speaking the language of the target country is essential. Even when the people in a target country speak English, communicators should remember that cultural differences are often expressed via language. A word or phrase in English that's harmless in New York could be the cause of great offense if improperly used in London or Sydney.

* Cultural norms. What are the taboos in the target country? How can a communicator make a good impression on a prospective employer in, say, Moscow? Will the things that impress people in the U.S. have the same effect in Tokyo? As one Australian communicator put it, you don't want to go to a foreign country and come off as the "ugly American." Both gestures and words must be used judiciously, to avoid embarrassment. Along these lines, a sense of humor can be lethal in a job interview in another country. A joke that would "have them rolling" in Paris, Texas, could send the interviewee rolling right out the front door in Paris, France.

* Governmental requirements. Numerous requirements exist for potential overseas job candidates - passports, work permits, visas, etc. - and they vary from country to country. Many firms will not even consider a candidate if their "paperwork" in this regard is not current.

With all of these additional considerations, the solution lies in the same principles that underlie successful local job searches - research and travel. "Do lots of research on the communication practices in the country you're trying to break into; believe me, they do vary within Europe," York said. "But being there is probably most important - no one will like what they see so much on a resume that they fly you overseas for an interview. It's a nice fantasy though!"

A trip to the nearest consulate of the country in question can be fruitful when researching cultural issues and logistical requirements such as passports and work permits. And although "being there" to land a job is important, that doesn't mean one should uproot oneself completely before landing a job. Yegor Kuznetsov, a PR specialist and political consultant in Russia, advised people relocating to his country to have signed contracts before moving. "This way, you will have the normal salary and all the 'expat' benefits," he said. "In Russia, competition is very tough and salaries are much lower [without a contract]."

Mike Breslin is a public relations/publications specialist in Lubbock, Texas. He can be reached at
COPYRIGHT 1997 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on international job searching; long-distance job hunting
Author:Breslin, Mike
Publication:Communication World
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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