Ask Annie

The best cities for job hunting

February 3, 2012: 10:54 AM ET

Hiring nationwide is still sluggish, but local economies in some places are thriving and creating jobs. Ever thought about moving to Texas?

By Anne Fisher, contributor

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FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I just got a pink slip from the bank where I've worked as a marketing director for the past 12 years, and which is now undergoing a total restructuring, so I'm pondering what my next move should be. Opportunities are limited in the smallish East Coast city where I live (the bank I'll soon be leaving is the single biggest employer in town) and, having moved here solely to take the position I'm now losing, I'm not particularly attached to this area. Our kids are away at college now, our mortgage is paid off, and my wife, who is a pediatrician, really could work anywhere.

So we're open to the idea of moving -- but where would I have the best chance of finding a new job? I'm also wondering, do many employers still pay moving expenses for new management hires, or is that a thing of the past? — Footloose

Dear Footloose: To answer your second question first, employers' willingness to help out with the cost of relocating has been declining steadily since 2008, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2007, for instance, 40% of companies would pick up the tab for a candidate to visit his or her new hometown before moving there. In 2011, only 18% would. The percentage offering help with selling a transplanted executive's previous home dropped from 19% in 2007 to 9% four years later.

Now, however, there are signs that may be changing. "One of the key trends we've seen lately is the movement of labor in and out of markets across the U.S.," says Matt Ferguson, CEO of job site CareerBuilder. "Workers have had to expand their job search geographically, and employers in need of hard-to-find, skilled talent have had to recruit across state lines."

As a result, says a new CareerBuilder poll of 3,023 employers, about one-third (32%) say they'll foot the bill for bringing out-of-town candidates on board. There's a catch: Their willingness to do so varies markedly depending on the kind of talent they're seeking. Engineers have the best chance of negotiating for financial help with a move, with 30% of employers saying they'd pay, followed by information technology hires at 23%. Business development and sales are tied at 21%.

Only 13% of employers in the poll say they'll pay moving costs for marketing folks. However, it doesn't hurt to ask and, if the answer is no, you can recoup the cost of relocating when you file next year's taxes. If you pull up stakes and move in order to take a new job, the IRS allows you to deduct the expenses you incur.

So where should you start looking? Each month, job search sites CareerCast.com and JobSerf pool their vast databases of management job openings and come up with a list of U.S. cities with the most openings for executives.

Because they include calculations of the number of help-wanted listings relative to population, the rankings give an idea of how hard (or easy) it is to find a management job in each place. According to the January 2012 report, the top 10 metro areas for job-hunting managers are:

1) Washington, D.C.
2) Boston
3) San Francisco
4) Seattle
5) Baltimore
6) Atlanta
7) Chicago
8) Denver
9) Nashville
10) New York City

You might also consider Texas. An annual Best Performing Cities study by the Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank, analyzes economic data from 200 large and 179 smaller metro areas and comes up with a ranking of which local economies are thriving -- hence where the most hiring is going on. The most recent report, released last month, says that four out of the five top metro areas now are in the Lone Star State, with Houston and San Antonio leading the pack.

"Despite continuing national economic weakness, the Texas job machine continued to crank out employment gains" in 2011, the report says. From January through October, "its employers created one out of every six new jobs in the U.S."

Among the reasons why "other states can't mess with Texas", the Milken researchers wrote, are low business costs, increased trade with Mexico and South America, robust activity in energy exploration and development, and "aggressive recruiting of employers from less business-friendly states."

One encouraging note: It seems that most people who relocate for work reasons end up glad they did. According to the CareerBuilder survey, 77% "reported they were happy with the move and didn't regret the decision." Happy hunting!

Talkback: If you've ever moved to find a job, or to accept a job offer, how did it work out? Leave a comment below.

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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