Finding a Job, but Moving a Family
The New York Times
July 26, 2009
Finding a Job, but Moving a Family
By SKIP WATKINS
I WAS laid off last August and was looking for work until February of this year, when I was offered a position at Emerson Process Management in Houston. I was living in Chaska, Minn., so I had a decision to make: Should I uproot my family and move, or keep looking? After talking it over with my wife, Mary, and my four children, I decided to relocate. The job match justified the move.
I’m vice president of technology in the gas chromatographs division, which makes instruments for analyzing chemical components of gases in harsh climates. I had been working at Xiotech, a data storage company in Eden Prairie, Minn., which acquired a company in 2007 and then ran into a rough patch. I knew that my position was in danger, so I had been looking intermittently for other jobs anyway.
I had never been laid off before. It was a bit of a shock, but I’ve been a director or a vice president for almost 15 years, and executives have large networks to draw on. I enjoyed networking. I got to meet a lot of people when I was out of work, and I heard a lot of different stories.
I’m used to being in control, however, and you can’t control what happens during a job search. You have no idea what’s going to work and what’s not.
A big issue was having jobs disappear after I went on interviews. Once a person I used to manage arranged an interview for me with two executives at an industrial machine company. I went so far as to visit a client in Florida for them. Then they said they weren’t hiring after all.
After that, I interviewed with a company that later chose to hire from within. I had lunch with an acting senior director there whose job I wanted. His official title was very different, so I had no way of knowing he wanted the permanent job until he mentioned it. That was a little awkward, but nothing came of it anyway.
I spent a day interviewing at another company for a position that would have involved managing only five people. At the end of the interview, I told human resources that we were not a match.
I was fortunate to have a supportive family and friends who helped me through the tougher times. I attended the Wooddale Church Job Transition Support Group in Minnesota and learned about a job-hunting process that helped. It kept me focused on doing something each day to look for a job.
I had worked for Emerson previously, in Austin, Tex., in 1992. I heard about the position there in early September and talked to a friend who recommended me to the president of my current division. In December, I interviewed with my current boss, who recommended that I talk to my family about relocating.
I have a daughter who graduated from college, as well as twins — a boy and a girl — who are still in college, and a 13-year-old son. When my wife and I talked to our daughters and older son, they were all for the new job. They noted that Galveston, a popular town for spring break, is not far from Houston.
The thought of moving was a little harder for our 13-year-old. The older children had lived in Austin when I worked there, but our youngest had lived only in Minnesota.
In January, I had a second interview, with several top executives. Emerson invited my wife on that trip, too. In February the company made an offer, including a guaranteed buyout option if we didn’t find a buyer for our house. I accepted the offer and took a couple of weeks to get my house ready to put on the market. I also spent a lot of time with my family. My wife and youngest child were staying behind until the end of the school year.
I started work in mid-March. When I got to Houston, I stayed at a hotel for a few days, then moved into a furnished apartment. In three months, I almost burned up the cellphone calling home. The bill was so high that I cringed. The longest that Mary and I had ever been away from each other was two weeks. It was three weeks before I went home for a visit, which was tough.
In another sense, it worked well to be away from family at the beginning because the learning curve for this job is steep. I was able to pour myself into work and not feel as if I was cheating my family. I also scouted out the area before they arrived. I looked for houses and checked the driving times to work. I checked out a few stores and found an orthodontist for my younger son, who still wears braces. I also visited area churches. I told one greeter that I was an early scouting party. Every Saturday I’d give my wife a report.
MY wife and younger son joined me in June, and she and I sold our old house and closed on our new one. Our twins are working in their college town for the summer, and our oldest daughter still lives in Minnesota.
I feel fortunate to have found another job, but I’ve never considered myself a lucky person. I got to this point through hard work. It would have been easier to stay in Minnesota, but there’s no question that the pros in moving outweighed the cons. I enjoy being back with this company; I see a lot of opportunity. Sometimes you have to leave a company to truly appreciate it.
As told to Patricia R. Olsen.