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You will find when you are interviewing that most industrial and scientific companies have formal relocation policies. A 2003 Atlas World Group survey of corporate relocation policies found that 80% of respondents had such policies. When you consider a job offer, this--the relocation package--is one of the negotiable factors. As a vice president of talent acquisition at a major pharmaceutical company, I was surprised that, when we recruited Ph.D. scientists, very few inquired about relocation benefits until after accepting an offer. At that point they had lost leverage in negotiating the terms of this benefit.
This article will review some of the typical elements of relocation policies, provide insights into aspects that you may be able to negotiate as part of accepting an offer, and suggest resources that are available to you. There are many tax implications when relocating, which won't be discussed here. The best place to get answers on that topic is from the IRS or your own tax accountant.
New Hire or Transferee? Knowing the difference
The Atlas Group survey found that employees transferring within the company received more assistance with relocation expenses than new hires did: Transferees more often received full reimbursement, whereas new hires typically got only partial compensation. This suggests that, as a new hire, there is room to negotiate if you are offered only partial compensation.
If the company you are considering working for can fully compensate employees who are being transferred to a new location, it can also fully compensate new hires, even if it isn't in the habit of doing so. After all, just because you're a new employee doesn't mean that you should expect inferior benefits. This is one of several points you can negotiate--politely and professionally--after the company has made you an offer.
While working at a major health care company, I recruited several senior scientists who chose to trade off a taxable sign-on bonus for a better relocation package. They had learned what our policies were, talked with their accountants, and determined that, after taxes, they would be better off in the end with a better relocation package than they would be with the signing bonus.
Some companies' relocation policies provide lump-sum payments; others compensate transferees and new hires expense by expense and require submission of receipts. Some companies offer lump-sum reimbursement only to established employees who are being transferred--but this, too, is something you may be able to negotiate.
Homeowner or Renter?
If you are going to have to relocate for a job, it is very important to decide before you accept an offer whether you will buy or rent a home. This is key because companies often provide different relocation packages to renters than to homeowners, the homeowner package usually being the most generous. You can negotiate this as well. For example, if you are a renter and intend to become a homeowner, you will want to ask what sort of home-buying assistance your new employer can offer; this may cover closing costs and other home-buying expenses. Some people prefer to rent and then, after they've gotten to know their new area, buy a home. This approach is sensible but may make you miss the financial benefits of a homeowner's relocation package.
One of the best ways to decide whether to buy or rent is to go on a relocation trip. Many companies offer the opportunity to tour the area with a professional realtor. Again, this is something you can request before accepting an offer. The Internet also provides a wealth of information about communities, schools, the cost of living, and the cost of renting and buying. One popular site for information about cities is http://www.bestplaces.net . Another useful site is http://www.homefair.com ; it has financial calculators that help you determine the difference between renting and buying, home affordability, and other financial components of the relocation equation. It also includes information about using movers as opposed to doing it yourself. Knowing this type of information will put you in a better position to negotiate a relocation package because you will know what you need and want.
For those of us with a spouse or fiancé(e), another key component is being able to gain relocation and job-search support for him or her. Next Wave recently published a feature  on dual-career couples, which, although focused on couples in academia, contains some useful advice for wannabe corporate employees. Two points from one article  that are particularly pertinent are that spousal support is an important issue and that some of these approaches to partner accommodations are also available in an industrial setting. Another article in the feature provides resources  and ideas for dual-career couples, such as finding funding for a trailing spouse, as well as a link to the job database partnerjob.com , which facilitates geographic mobility for couples. In my experience, most major companies have resources available to assist your spouse in relocating and finding a job in the new area. But, again, this is something you may have to negotiate. If you have children, negotiate child care expenses. Often a company will reimburse you even if you leave your children with relatives.
Preparing to Relocate
Before accepting a job offer, do your relocation homework. Determine what your needs are, and understand what the company offers new hires and transferees. Then, before you accept the offer, ask your new employer for everything you need. It is in the interest of your new employer to have a happy new employee, with a happy spouse. A generous relocation package is one way to begin winning your loyalty and trust. You, in turn, can identify your key needs and ask your new employer to help you meet them.
With the information in this article and the additional research you do, you will have the Insider's Edge in negotiating the relocation component of your next job offer.