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If you’re getting interviews locally but not out of state, it’s almost definitely about location. It can just be a lot harder to find a job when you’re not local to the area you’re applying in. (Fully remote jobs are a different story, of course, but they’re not the ones you’re targeting.)
There are lots of reasons employers are hesitant to interview nonlocal candidates. Much of it has to do with convenience: It’s assumed you generally won’t be able to come in for an interview with only a few days’ notice or to stop by for an impromptu meeting with a decision-maker whose schedule just had a rare opening and that you probably won’t be able to start as soon as a local candidate could. It’s also more expensive for companies to interview out-of-state candidates (at least it should be since they should cover your travel expenses, though not every employer does). And while virtual interviewing has made distance much less of an issue than it used to be, a lot of non-remote workplaces still rely on face-to-face interviewing since that’s how they’re used to conducting business.
Employers may also worry that you’ll expect them to pay your relocation costs if they hire you, which might not be something they’ll do, depending on the circumstances. And because you’d be moving to a new area, some managers see out-of-town candidates as more of a risk. They don’t know if you’ll end up adjusting well to the new city or whether you’ll end up missing home and moving back.
Since any one of these variables can be a hassle, if an employer has plenty of well-qualified local applicants, they often don’t have enough incentive to consider remote candidates. If they can make a strong hire without any of the drawbacks of long-distance hiring, it can make sense to just focus locally.
Of course, this isn’t true for every role. If you’re looking at fairly junior positions without specialized skill sets, distance is more likely to be an obstacle because there are probably plenty of local applicants who meet the requirements. But as you become more senior — or if you’re in a field where your skills are in high demand — employers often will care less about where you’re located. It’s a workers’ market for many jobs right now, and when that limits employers’ options, they’ll generally broaden the pool of applicants they’re willing to consider.
But because you’re concerned it’s an issue in your job search, there are things you can try that might improve your chances:
It sounds as if you’re already doing this, but look for ways to peg it to something that will feel solid and reliable to the employer. “I hear you have beautiful beaches” won’t be as convincing as “I have family in the area and am excited to join them” or “My partner recently accepted a job there” or even “I’ve visited multiple times and have long planned to make my home there.” (And while I’m not encouraging you to misrepresent your situation, the reality is they’re unlikely to know if you do.)
Ideally, you’d be able to say your move is already in progress or give a time frame by which you expect to be living in the new area. That doesn’t sound like your situation, but you can fudge it a little by, for example, listing the new location on your résumé. I don’t mean you should make up a fake local address, but there’s no reason you can’t put “(relocating to Boston)” directly below your contact info. After all, you will be relocating if you get this job; it’s not stretching the truth too much for your résumé to reflect that.
It’s grown increasingly normal to see résumés with no mailing addresses on them. That used to be an immediate sign to hiring managers that the candidate was trying to hide their location, but it’s become such a common practice that it’s unlikely to raise red flags now. Your location will probably come up at some point in the interview process, but leaving it off your résumé can help you get through the initial screening. (Of course, many jobs ask you to fill out electronic applications that require you to note your city and state, so this method isn’t foolproof — but it’s worth a shot to see if it changes your response rate.)
If you’re willing to cover your own travel costs and relocation expenses, state that up front in your cover letter. And be as flexible as you can about a start date. For example, ideally you wouldn’t tell employers that it will take you six weeks to relocate when they have other good candidates who can start right away. (Good employers will wait for the best candidate when they can. But sometimes they’ll have two “best” candidates or will have legitimate reasons for needing someone to start more quickly.)
It’s always helpful to search your network for connections to companies you’re targeting, but it’s especially important when you’re searching from afar. Having an insider flag you to the hiring manager can get your application attention when it otherwise might have been passed over.
Doing all of the above can do a lot to counter the disadvantage your location otherwise puts you at. That said, sometimes long-distance job searches can be really hard, and people end up having to move to the new area before they can secure employment. That’s not always possible financially (and I realize you said it’s not an option for you), and it’s especially tricky when you don’t have a specific place in mind beyond “just not my current city.” But sometimes that’s the reality of it. I don’t think you’re at that point yet, though. Try the advice above first and see if it changes your results, and good luck!