When looking for a job, many candidates will review job postings and sometimes find the words "locals only" or "locals preferred" tacked on to end of the description. As someone looking in a market where you don't currently live but want to break into, these words can leave you frustrated and confused, especially if you feel like you are a good fit for the position. However, an employer with a job opening usually has good reasons why a "locals only" search makes the most sense for their open position. Here's why:
Strong Local Market Talent
Many employers feel that their local market has enough strong legal talent for them to be picky and to not need to relocate candidates. This is particularly true when employers are looking for generalists with broader experience.
Now, if employers are looking for a candidate with a specific type of experience in an industry, they will be more inclined to look outside their market to hire the best talent. If you are the unicorn they've been looking for in their search, make sure to highlight these attributes on your resume earlier on so they don't go unnoticed.
More Organic Interview Process
When working with local candidates, employers are initially able to have a more organic interview process. The interview process can ebb and flow at a different pace than was initially defined, depending on how the candidates differentiate themselves and when frontrunners are identified. An out-of-town candidate won't be able to adjust his or her schedule at the drop of a hat to keep up with the changes in, and possibly demands of, the interview process.
Also, if someone lives out of town, he or she most likely won't have the local knowledge that comes with living in a city for many years, which can lead to conversations that share a common tie. Finding that common tie can lead to candidates developing stronger relationships through the interview process and gaining a better understanding of the company, the leadership team and the employees through those conversations.
Frankly, relocation can be extremely expensive. A small or start-up company, for example, might not be able to invest in relocation to get the superstar candidate that lives across the country. Companies that have enough self-awareness about their budgets and growth potential may determine that relocation is simply not in the stars for them.
Even when companies are larger and may be able to relocate a candidate, if they decided to initially focus on a local candidate, they might not have the budget to relocate someone when all is said and done. Given this, when searches are focusing on locals, even if you have ties to the market or location, you might not be considered.
Once an employer has found the perfect candidate, they are ready for you to start—and start soon! Local candidates can most often promise, "I can start in two weeks, after giving notice to my current employer." This ability to start sooner with fewer unanticipated delays than non-local candidates is a huge positive for employers.
Even when candidates may agree to relocate themselves, there is the "disruption factor" that is associated with any move. That disruption factor may be finding a new home, getting children settled into school or simply finding your new local grocery store. Regardless of whether you are moving by yourself or with your family, there is an indisputable unknown delay factor when dealing with a move. If you do have a family, timing concerns can dictate when the move occurs based on the timing of schooling and selling an existing home.
Trailing spouses can also be a concern to a potential employer. If you are moving to an area and your spouse also needs to find a job in your area, this may delay your start date or moving date.
When candidates are already settled into a location, they are able to focus on work and not the move. Most employers want candidates that are settled in an area already and are prepared to hit the ground running on their first day on the job.
The "locals only" decision centers on time, money and ease of the process.
When you encounter a "locals only" search, please be mindful that unless the role is unique to that market, your current residence area can dictate whether you are a potential candidate for that search. It's best to focus on other opportunities that may not be limited to locals only. Use your time to its best effect and focus your search elsewhere. If you are truly interested in moving markets and feel that the area is closed off to those "locals only" candidates, plan a visit to the area and start networking. Making yourself known within a market can be just as valuable a networking tool and can open lots of other doors. Happy hunting!
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Joanna Herman is a Managing Director with Major, Lindsey & Africa's In-House Practice Group. She brings significant contacts and experience in the Southern California legal market to her practice, helping build and strengthen in-house legal departments.