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Working Off a Six-Month Sentence

If you're locked in for a while at a job you dislike, there are plenty of ways to use that time to hunt down more suitable employment

Dear Liz,

My company relocated me to a new city, and while I like the new location, I don't love the new job. I have been in the new job and city for a year. If I quit before 18 months have passed, I owe the company my relocation expenses back. Can I ask a new employer to pay me a bonus to cover those?

Yours, Melinda

Dear Melinda,

You can ask for whatever you want, but I advise you strongly not to go to the job market asking a future employer to cover your debts. You've indebted yourself to your employer by accepting the transfer, and in my opinion you owe it to them to stick it out for another six months.

Besides, if you got a sign-on bonus, wouldn't you rather spend that money on a new car or your retirement savings than pay it back to your last employer? Anyway, they don't want the money. They want you to stay and "work off" your obligation.

Melinda, six months seems like a long time, but it's not. And it's actually a great amount of time to implement a really focused, targeted job search. Here's a plan of action to help you make it through those weeks:

Month One: Rewrite your résumé. No, it won't take all month, but it will take longer than you think. Work on it the first week, put it away for a week, and take your time tweaking it or coming up with different versions.

Month Two: Think about where you want to work. By the end of the month, you should have identified 10 companies you will approach regarding job opportunities.

Month Three: Begin your outreach. The way typical job searches go, it will take three months for you to get an offer anyway.

Month Four: Start interviewing (hopefully). If you find you're not getting any interviews, maybe you should look at your résumé again and also make sure you're identifying not just the companies you want to work for but who at those companies you should be contacting.

Month Five: You should be deep in discussion with one or two companies.

Month Six: Look how fast the time went! Chances are because you took your time and conducted a methodical search, you will end up in a job that won't feel like you're serving time after a year.

There are other things you can do to take your mind off your six-month "sentence." For example, join a professional association in town to begin networking with other local business professionals. Spring is coming, Melinda! You can bring your sneakers to work and take a walk at lunchtime—that's got to help your mood.

Cheers, Liz

Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive. She can be reached at

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