Dear Internet,

Another institution contacted me today to schedule an interview. #fistpump Once I confirmed I was still interested, I started researching the location to see if it would be a good fit for me. Now you may be wondering why I’m doing this as it’s the “get to know you” interview. Simple: I applied for the position as it seemed like a good fit and now I need to see if the location fits me too.

Here are the questions I ask myself and how I obtain my answers:

  • How much are they paying me? You have a good chance of finding your potential salary on the call of applications and it will usually have a range. Because of my experience, I place what I should be commending between the median and high end of the range to give me a rough idea of what to expect. If I fall below that, I negotiate like heck. If they don’t advertise it on the call for applications, you can do one of two things:  The institution may require you meet the meet all the requirements of the union, whose website they gave me, to obtain tenure. I checked the union’s website and it gave the list of the pay ranges for each track of position, in this instance, full, associate, or assistant professor. Often, instead the pay ranges via the union, they will have a pay band, usually associated with a number or letter, so this job may fall into pay band of A21 which the pay is between $55K-$70K. University / college websites are so convoluted you’ll not be able to find this information easily so in google I use the search “salary site:nameofcollege.edu” to find the info. (As a rule, I do not use the college’s search box because it’s always terrible.) If none of this works, email HR to get the salary range. (One of my pet peeves is when institutions want you to provide your salary range. Don’t. This gives them the idea of what they can pay you versus what is available plus that number, for you, might be flexible. If you can live on $60K in one city, the cost of living in another might be low enough for you to live on $45K. So don’t tell them and it’s none of their business.)
  • Holy cats! Can I afford to move to XXX? Cost of living rules our daily lives. For example, we know living on the East Coast is more expensive than living in the Midwest. But just how much more expensive is it and can I use this knowledge to negotiate a higher salary? Let’s start by comparing your current location with the prospective one. For this I use Sperling’s Best Places to get that answer. For this example, I’m comparing moving from Grand Rapids, MI to Louisville, KY with a salary of $60,000. The increase to move is only 2%, which to me is negligible but depending on the pay range of the new institution, if I was near the middle, I’d probably negotiate higher.  If I were to move from Grand Rapids, MI to NYC, the increase is 90% and heck yeah would I be negotiating that salary. Remember this is an estimate and not an absolute number.
  • How much rent can I afford? Now that you have a rough idea of pay, and you have a rough idea of cost of living, let’s take a look at the biggest chunk of your paycheck: rent. To get this number, I head to Zillow’s rent calculator and use the following equation: $X (salary) x .75 (I am generous with taxes/SSDI and usually go 25%) / 12 = monthly take-home. For this example: $60K x .75 = $45K / 12 = take home of $3750. I plug that number in and leave monthly expenses at $0 to get your max amount of rent you can afford each month. (I leave the monthly expenses at $0 as they shift too much to get a minimum and I’m more interested in the max of affordability.)
  • Make an effing budget Now that you have a general idea of how much you’re making and what it will cost for you to live, how are you going to pay your bills? In December I had scored two second interviews with two institutions and I had to be prepared to make a decision so I needed an idea of what i’m looking for. I knew some things were constant (cell phone bill, car insurance) but others were going to be variable (gas, food, internet). I figured out what I was spending in Louisville and amped it up by at least 25% to give me an idea of what my disposable income would be. Make an effing budget.

You have your average salary, cost of living, and what you can afford for rent, the next step is to figure out where you want to live.

Let’s assume you’re moving to a new city and you don’t know anyone, so finding an area that fits your needs is going to be rough going but it’s not impossible. Just like the list I gave the other day on my requirements, for location virtual scouting these are the tools I use:

  • Walkability score  I am not and never have been by any stretch of the imagination a suburbs girl, so I always check the walkability of places I’m interested in. What this also gives you a good idea where neighborhood markets, coffee shops, bookstores, and the like are located. Check out Walk Score to see where your neighborhood lands and Walk Score also allows you to sort by the most walkable areas.
  • Google Maps  for anything I am interested in (coffee shops, trader joe’s, comic book stores, whatever), I use the search string “coffee shops near name of city” in google maps. Up pops a lovely map of all the coffee shops in that city, which I cross reference with my other requirements. Now I have a general idea of where I want to be
  • Google I use search strings like “best bars in X” or “best whatever in X” to also get a good idea of locations. This should also pull up local magazines, newspapers, and websites dedicated to the area since they typically run these type of listicles.
  • Wikipedia I use wikipedia to get an idea of what the town, overall, is like and get an idea of culture.

    Is this a lot of work? Yes — I can spend an afternoon or two just doing research but remember, you’re interviewing the city as much as you’re interviewing the instituion.

Good luck and may the gods be with you in your job search.