Ask Annie

6 ways to find a job in an unfamiliar city

June 29, 2012: 10:00 AM ET

The idea of job hunting in a town where you know no one (yet) is daunting, but laying some groundwork before you move can help.

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I just graduated from college and have not yet received a job offer, but my fiancée got a great job, which she's starting in a couple of weeks. The only thing is, it's on the other side of the country and, while I'm excited about making the move, I'm a little nervous about looking for a job in a place where I don't know anyone. I do have a summer job here, which I committed to taking before she got the news about her offer, so I won't be moving until September. What should I be doing in the meantime to make sure I'm not just riding her coattails when I get there? — Farewell to Beantown

Dear Beantown: You're smart to realize that you need to start looking now, rather than waiting until after you move. "What doesn't work, when you're moving to a new place, is rushing in," says Blake Cahill, president of Seattle-based online marketing and branding firm Banyan Branch. "You need to build connections gradually. First, find the right people. Then ask the right questions. This way, by the time you actually move, you'll have laid the groundwork for face-to-face meetings that can lead you to job opportunities."

Sounds great, but exactly how do you do it? Try these six tips:

1. Tap into social media. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and up-to-date, and your Facebook page is ready for viewing by potential employers and colleagues. Then use the search fields on these social networks to find people in the field where you're hoping to find work.

"LinkedIn groups are a terrific way to find important information," notes Cahill. "They let you ask questions like how the job market is, in your field in a particular city, and which local trade associations and professional groups are most active there. People are usually very helpful.

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"Twitter is also a powerful tool," Cahill adds. "Search, for example, 'accounting Seattle' and see who's tweeting about it. Then follow those people." Cahill also recommends checking out Listorious, a directory of Twitter lists you can use to match areas of interest to lists of people, topics, and professions; and WeFollow which lets you locate people whose business interests match yours.

2. Be selective. "One of the biggest mistakes people make is over-networking," Cahill observes. "Don't randomly connect with everyone out there. Sometimes a person with a relatively small Twitter following is more influential in real life than someone else who has a gazillion followers. You want to be in touch with people who can actually help you and for whom you might be able to add value."

3. Ask for information now, and a job later. Especially since you have time before you'll be moving, Cahill says, "don't just throw out there, 'Hey, I need a job.' You'll hear crickets."

A better approach is to participate in discussions and see who contacts you. Bear in mind that, according to a new study from PayScale, 44% of big companies, 65% of small businesses, and 51% of medium-sized companies use social media for recruiting, as do many headhunters. (There is even a new job board called JobsMiner that aggregates about 1 million job openings a month directly from social media sites.)

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So just being visible and active online is likely to get you noticed by prospective employers, without your having to push -- at least until you get there and can do that, subtly of course, in person.

4. Search job boards by zip code or city. Many job sites, including CareerBuilder, Dice.com (for IT jobs), and SimplyHired, allow you to enter your target zip code and get a list of openings in the area. Even if nothing pops up right away that seems like a good fit, this will give you a general idea of who's hiring locally. Since these listings change constantly, check often.

5. Read all about it. Subscribe to a couple of regional business journals and community newspapers and keep your eyes peeled for news about companies that seem to be thriving (read: hiring). And contact the local chamber of commerce. These groups offer a wealth of information about employers, often including contact details for key executives. Pinpoint a few that might interest you and think up a two-minute "elevator pitch" about what you could offer them.

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A third old-fashioned, low-tech source of job leads that many people overlook: College alumni associations. Your school probably has a directory of alums that includes at least a few successful people in the city where you're moving, and they may be predisposed to help you out.

6. Right before you move, fill up your appointment calendar. Two months from now, while you're making your travel plans and cleaning out your closets, contact some of the people you've connected with, online or otherwise, and make dates to meet them for lunch, coffee, or just a quick chat in their offices. If you've found out about local networking events that will be happening soon after you arrive, sign up for those, too. "You may not already have a job the minute you get there," says Cahill. "But you'll have an excellent head start."

Good luck!

Talkback: Have you ever found a job in a city where you knew no one? How did you do it? 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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