For Some, Suburban Jobs Prove Subpar

Published: Mar 10, 2009

 Workplace Issues       

Moving to a city, hunting for an apartment and joining friends for happy hour after work are rites of passage for many recent college graduates. But what if you're offered a job opportunity that requires you to commute to the suburbs?

Such a move could drastically alter your social life, your travel time to work and your ability to network in your industry, so it's essential to weigh the pros and cons before you accept.

Working in the suburbs can rule out the use of public transportation to get around, possibly forcing you to incur the costs of buying a car, gasoline and car insurance, and paying for parking.

When Rochelle Kleter, 24 years old, accepted a position as an analyst at Citibank's Short Hills, N.J., branch, she traded her 15-minute commute to the bank's Manhattan office for a one-and-a-half-hour drive, for which she had to buy a car.

In addition to the expense, commuting can be exhausting. "Commuting took so much out of me," said Amanda Gilmore, 23, of a prior position in Glenview, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Ms. Gilmore now works in Chicago and is able to walk to work, which saves her $200 each month in commuting costs.

Reverse commuting isn't even an option if the workplace is far from a home city. Emily Brown, 28, accepted a job as an academic librarian in Muskogee, Okla., a year and a half ago and had to uproot herself from Pittsburgh, where she worked for the University of Pittsburgh.

"I miss the public transportation a lot; we're definitely considering moving back to the city in the future," said Ms. Brown, even though she and her husband find that their cost of living is lower than it had been. In Muskogee, the couple rents a three-bedroom home on an acre of land for $550 a month, the same price they paid for a small, two-bedroom apartment in Pittsburgh.

Working in the suburbs can also cut down on postwork socializing and access to urban cultural amenities. When Joy Katz, 25, worked in Boston, she enjoyed the city's restaurants, bars and shopping. Now, the marketing manager works in Burlington, Mass., and she says she has noticed a change of pace. "I think that Fridays are really the only day we'll go out, whereas in the city, it was an everyday thing. No one had to drive," she said.

Matt DePascale, 24, says he used to socialize with co-workers three to four times a week when he worked in Legg Mason Inc.'s Downtown Manhattan office. In recent months, he accepted an offer at the money-management firm's Stamford, Conn., office and says that by the time he gets home to his Manhattan apartment, he's often too tired to go out. "Now I have to take the train to Manhattan, go home to drop off my bag, and then go out to meet up with friends. It's more of a production," he said.

Ms. Kleter has also discovered that there is often an age difference between workers in the city and those in the suburbs. She says she is the youngest person in her office and most of her colleagues have families to get home to, making it more difficult to grab a drink after work.

Not surprisingly, recruiters often have a hard time getting 20-somethings to consider jobs in the suburbs. They take issue "not with the job but with their free time," said Rich Vandermay, president of Management Recruiters of Yorba Linda, an executive-search company in California.

Part of what makes cities appealing to 20-somethings is the security of a social circle, says Matt Johnston, the chief executive of Workway, a national staffing company based in Burbank, Calif. "I think after college what generally happens is that people are looking to reconnect with their networks, and most people from college move to large cities near their college," he said.

For some, though, the opportunities of the job outweigh what they're giving up in the city. "Hanging out with friends had to come second to building my career right now," said Alejandra Barron, 25, who works in AutoTrader's media division in Dunwoody, Ga., about 30 miles from Atlanta.

For those willing to make the switch, there are ways to leverage it. Recruiters say companies in the suburbs are often willing to offer perks.

"The companies realize that they need to offer more pay to entice workers," Mr. Johnston said. He added that companies sometimes will offer to pay traveling costs and relocation fees.

Other perks could include working part of the week from home. Connie LaMotta, president of LaMotta Strategic Communications Inc., made a media-relations-manager position in Nyack, N.Y., more attractive by allowing her new hire to work from home part of the week to reduce her commuting time.

"I'm home two days a week, so I have the opportunity to meet up with friends during the week and have my city apartment," said Leesa Raab, 25, who lives in Manhattan and commutes to Nyack. She says working from home also makes up for the other days of the week when she doesn't get home until 7:30 p.m.

Moving outside the city can also open up other opportunities and get you more face time with top executives. Mr. DePascale was able to go from a back/middle office position to a front-office spot when he moved to his company's Connecticut office. Now, he is also eligible for financial incentives and bonuses.

Ms. Kleter also feels she has more exposure to upper management. "In New York, you get lost in the crowd because there are so many people and it's harder for upper managers to personally get to know you," she said.