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Starting Your Career Rurally can give you an edge over people living in the cities, we'll show you why.

You just got your degree all framed and your grad pictures are sent out to all of your friends and family, and now it’s time to take on the job market. You’ve read the articles on interviews and resumes, you are prepared for the “real world” that working stiffs have been telling you about since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. The only problem is that after you apply to 100 jobs you get two call backs, and one of those was a mistake. What happened? You got the qualifications, you handed in your resume face-to-face just like people told you to (where you were able to anyway), and you’ve reached out to the vast network of connections you have been building for years, yet still you cannot get a job in your hometown urban area. I’ll pass along a little secret… it doesn’t matter how qualified you are, your chances of landing a dream job in a major urban center if you aren’t in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field is negligible. Think about how many of your buddies with diplomas and degrees are applying for the same 22 jobs as yourself. The odds are not in your favour (pop culture reference anyone?). Now here is the better news, and it also appears to be a well-kept secret… there are plenty of jobs out there for anyone that wants one. Where is this employment heaven and its bounty of pay cheques hiding you might ask? The same place that $150,000 homes, 5-10 minute commutes, and low crime rates are hiding – in rural Canada!

Leave the Pavement Behind? Eeewww

It’s astounding to me how many people refuse to acknowledge that validity of moving to a rural area to being their career. I graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Education degree three years ago. I through my resume out everywhere, save the isolated schools up North, and I didn’t even cross those off of my Plan B list. I can honestly say I was one of the only graduates I know from my entire Senior Years (grades 9-12) cohort that got a full-time job that was not a blatant example of nepotism (this is absolutely rampant in many government-ran organizations today). In fact the only other examples I know of were either French teachers or in STEM-related fields. I went into a Chapters back in Winnipeg over the Christmas break and wasn’t too surprised to bump into a former classmate of mine (teachers are geeks… bookstores are like bars for us). What did surprise me was the fact he was working there. He said that he was taking the odd substitute teaching job, but he couldn’t pay his bills (student and credit card debt in addition to everything else) so he got a job there. He justified it by saying he got a nice cut on book prices, to which I responded they were only 20% more expensive than Amazon in his case then. I told him flat out that I had made some good connections in my rural school division that was about 3.5 hours away from Winnipeg, and I was sure I could get him an interview. He said he had no interest at all in living rural no matter what the benefits were. This astounded me, yet I half expected it because it seems to be a very common response amongst people in our generation.

One Small Step For a City Slicker…

I know the rural countryside can look intimidating. Leaving your little cosy nest can be daunting… but do it anyway! There are so many jobs screaming to be filled in rural Canada all across the country. I live close to the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, and there are literally dozens of small towns that need all kinds of positions filled. I grew up very close to Northern Ontario and a recent buddy of mine just graduated from pharmacy and is earning over $150,000 a year because no one will go work out there! I hear the same situation over and over again. People refuse to leave “the city” because “the country” sucks. Now I admittedly very biased here since I grew up rurally, and I would pay a huge premium if I had to in order to live in a city/town that had under 60,000 people in it. The town I currently live in, and the one I group in are both smaller than 3,000 people, and it fits me just right. Even though I’m biased I think I can say that while the city has some definite advantages, and I understand how difficult it can be to leave your home, rural areas have a lot to offer as well.

Owning Your Own House Doesn’t Have To Be a Rich People Thing

From a financial perspective you absolutely can’t beat living in the country. While owning a car becomes almost mandatory, that needn’t be overly expensive if you take the proper steps. You will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in initial costs to your house, plus hundreds of thousands more in mortgage interest over the course of your life if you choose to live rurally. I paid $95,000 for my house which is just under 1000 square feet, built in 1980, finished basement, 3 bed, 2 bathrooms, a huge yard, and a massive garage. You can’t get the cheapest condo in the worst part of most Canadian cities for that price. Taxes are usually much lower, and while your entertainment options are much reduced, they are also much less expensive. I prefer recreational activities such as walks/jogging in a variety of scenery, sports, and swimming which are tailor-made for the country and are much cheaper than shopping or going to see most shows. There are simply less temptations and fewer expenses such as parking and Starbucks to eat into your savings account when you live rurally.

An Easier-to-Climb Ladder

In terms of your career, moving rural to get a foot in the door doesn’t just get you a paycheque, it also helps you gain experience at a much faster pace since positions above you will open up at a faster rate and will have less applicants. I know from my experience in education and my mom’s career in nursing that rural areas offer promotions much quicker than their urban counterparts. Many people take the career path of “climbing the ladder” and getting management experience in a rural area and then applying to jobs in their preferred urban environment after a 7-10 year stretch. Living rurally will likely greatly increase your free time and this can be used to boost your credentials through graduate courses or a certification program. This is one area I’ve truly enjoyed. If you invest the equivalent of your commute.

I find most people (definitely in the world of teaching) greatly overestimate the amount of free time they will have early in their career anyway. If you’re putting in long hours most days does it matter where your location is? You can still drive in to the urban center on weekends and holidays if you want to, the more you do it the easier it will get. Besides the lifestyle, financial, and career-based reasons to come see what the country is all about I can guarantee that your blood pressure levels will also drop simply because of the decreased stress levels.  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

P.S. The country music is optional… we’ll kind of… it grows on you after awhile… kind of.

Article comments

Ashley says:

Teacher Man,
I am much like you: a BA/BEd teacher. I started out in Rural Manitoba last year because I had thought that having work experience would be better than no job and help me move forward later on.
After that contract ended, I tried to move to a smaller city but got no responses for the applications I sent out. So, I ended up teaching abroad this year. I am planning to come back to Canada and am weighing my options for next year. With current lay offs, things are going to be difficult in Canada. I don’t have intentions of staying abroad after this experience (that’s a whole different story).

I’ve been struggling with the idea of staying rural in order to get a job and move up towards the city, but I’ve heard conflicting ideas now.

– Once you have a job, you are stuck to that division and mobility is severely reduced.
– You can’t get a job in a larger center without being known (I.E. putting in the time subbing and hoping for the best).
– There seems to be a certain amount of experience that is helpful (3-5 years), but too much becomes harmful as you are then too expensive to hire.

So, the question becomes, is it worth staying rural if your intentions are to move to a city eventually? When and how does one make the move to the city? What are your thoughts?
These factors, combined with increasing regulation of teaching, are making it difficult for me to want to stay in teaching currently, and I am considering other options.

Teacher Man says:

Hey Ashley,

Unfortunately your story is one all too common across Canada right now. I think your right to consider other options as the field is flooded right now. That being said…

I know this much for certain – every teacher believes they know exactly how to get hired and most don’t have a clue. I often hear many veteran teachers talk about how hard it was to get hired when they were breaking into the field, but basic statistics say that it is nowhere near as difficult as right now. In terms of the “rural strategy” working or not working, I’ll address your specific concerns:

1) It is true that it is much easier to move within a division, but you can always try to get a job somewhere else. Many teachers will try to take the leap of faith and leave their old division before signing a contract in a new one. This usually works out, but can lead to a rough path as well. I personally recommend just hanging on to your old position in a rural division until you have found something else for sure, and then simply eating the penalty (usually a thousand bucks or so) to get out of your old contract.

2) There is some truth to the idea about being “known” in a school, but the degree to which that matters is highly dependent upon specific principals. If you sub too much you get a rep of merely being a career substitute. IMO the best idea is to get some experience in rural school division, and then try to catch on short term contracts closer to where you want to be. Subbing is dangerous game and does not allow you to truly become a part of a school – a series of short term contracts within a division are a much better option.

4) To be brutally honest how good a teacher you are probably matters less than 10% in terms of you getting hired. It’s sad to say, but absolutely true in the union-dominated world that we chose. The things that will determine if you get hired are:

-Will the principal/CEO (admin) believe they can work with you easily (do you share their view – you’re honestly better off lying if you don’t share their view, but no one will tell you this).

-Can you teach subjects that have a shortage such as French or Physics?

-What extracurriculars do you have on your resume and what would you be willing to do at your new school?

That last one is where I would focus for the time being. Do everything you can to pack your resume with extras. Principals know that they have almost no leverage over employees with permanent contracts, so they need to make sure their young teachers coming in are going to do 101 different things around the school. I know it makes no sense to overburden young teachers with pressure to ALL of the extracurriculars – but this is the reality. I know for a fact my willingness to coach several sports (and my experiences there) were the main reason I got hired.

As to your final question about years in, I think the “sweet spot” is 3-7 years. There is some truth to older teacher “costing too much” but I’ve seen plenty of 10+ year teachers get hired as well, so it’s definitely not a hard and fast rule. I think it depends far more on the factors outlined above. Certainly 1 rural year and 1 year abroad will not be enough to get you a job on their own. Think about hiring you from a principal’s POV – how will you make their life easier? Whether you will be a good teacher or not is sadly almost irrelevant (unless your absolutely atrocious), the main things are do you think like them, will you be able to handle yourself with students and parents, and will you do extracurriculars that improve the school and which the principal can never find people for.

Feel free to ask anymore specific questions!

Kylie Ofiu says:

2 friends of mine went rural as soon as they got their degrees. Being married teachers meant the Gov provides a large home, a car and higher wage because of the inconvenience of relocating etc. They are a long way from the city they love (14 hour drive), and that’s also the closest airport.

They have paid off their own 4 bedroom home closer to the city, having it as a rental while living rurally. It was just a 2 year stint and the gov will give them a bonus for it.

I definitely think more people should look rurally. My sister just moved and she is only 1hr from a major city, yet her expenses are half what mine are in the outer suburbs of Sydney and she has not traffic to contend with.

Teacher Man says:

A bit of a sacrifice for a whole lot of long-term gain right? The interesting thing from the perspective of someone who just went through the first two years of their career is that you are so busy learning the teaching ropes and getting your initial groundwork laid that you wouldn’t have had much time to socialize in a more urban environment anyway. The focus that comes with going rural can be really useful if you channel it right. Thanks for stopping by!

This is very common in journalism, the field I started out in. Usually you go to a small market right out of school, then work your way up the ladder from there. My cousin followed me into the industry, and famously believed she could get an on-air gig in Los Angeles her first year out. I had a laugh at her expense, I must admit.

Teacher Man says:

Not exactly a fan of “paying her dues” was she?

Amanda says:

The only thing that I hated about the country was that if you wanted to do anything you needed a car.I grew up in stony mountain , which is just outside of winnipeg. Nice enough town but not much going on there. In the city, you can bus or bike or walk. I drive a scooter during the summer and I couldnt use that on the highway. My dream house tho would be an acre right in the middle of the city. lol Id have a goat and some chickens and enough yard to not have to see my neighbor everyday. But tim hortons ,walmart and work would all be within walking distance haha.

Teacher Man says:

I’m very familiar with Stony Mountain (fellow Manitoban in the house). I definitely admit that this is one negative to living in the country and there is no way around it unless you are Andrew Hallam-esque and get really good with a bike. Your dream sounds pretty cool. Overall, I’ll take the hundreds of pros of living in the country the relatively few cons, but your definitely right that increased transportation costs need to factor into calculations.

This is great! I grew up in a small town and I’ve been extremely lucky to be able to secure a position in my field back in the same town – near family. I get to work in a small business which means my day to day tasks are varied which is a great way to gain experience. Hopefully some day I’ll be promoted to help run the company.

I lived in the city for four years while I was in university and while I loved it, the lack of a backyard drove me a little squirrelly by the end. Now I’m renting a 400 sq foot house on a 1/3 of an acre for $350/month – can’t beat that! Also having a hay field and a river as neighbours is pretty sweet too. The city is only 30 minutes away, so I get to have the best of both worlds.

Teacher Man says:

This sounds perfect to me Jordann! Congrats on living the simple dream buddy.

Julie @ Freedom 48 says:

I think people are afraid to take the leap of faith. I’d LOVE to move to the country – to have a cozy little lakeside home. However, we’ve decided to move to the country in 15 years or so… once we’re retired. Living in the city is just waaaaayy too convenient!

Teacher Man says:

The lakeside home will cost you a pretty penny these days Julie. What do you convenient about the city just out of curiosity? I think sometimes people underestimate what is available in many rural (NOT isolated) areas.

Being originally from Thunder Bay, I can attest for moving away after school. I spent time in Red Lake (700 km away) for work. It was fun and affordable to live and save money!

Really great idea!

Teacher Man says:

Nice, I love the T-Dot. Lakehead U was one of the nicest places to party I’ve ever been to. It’s all about NWO.

JB says:

Red Lake is awesome! Three gold mines keeps the town running and lots of fishing! I hear there is talk of a Tim Hortons going up there…

Poor Student says:

Well I was born in a small town, and I live in a small town, probably die in a small town. I am on the other side of the spectrum, I can’t imagine living in a city. I really enjoy a large backyard, maybe some bushes out back, looking out at the fields and seeing the stars at night. The first place I am going to apply for jobs after school is the town I grew up in. Hopefully the networking I can do while I am here and from my parents growing up here will help with that.

Even if I had to go to the city for a job I would still try to find a house out in the country outside of it and commute rather than live in a cramped apartment or with a yard in name only, all for more money than a big lot in fresher air.

Teacher Man says:

Yup, I hear you PS. Definitely on your side of this equation as well!

I have been thinking about this more and more lately, and every time I resign myself more and more to the idea of moving to a smaller city outside of the metropolis. Not only for employment reasons, but also just for quality of life, which I believe can be better in many ways (less pollution, noise, more privacy, community, etc.).

Teacher Man says:

Preaching to the choir over here E and M. Just the cut down in my road rage will probably increase my lifespan by 2-3 years!

30kto30million says:

Yeah i share your same thinking.. also the housing prices (not sure about running costs) seem more reasonable as opposed to the current price increases here in Toronto..

Thanks for the interesting read!

Jeanne says:

I’m really glad to read this post!

In 2008 I took a job in Northern Ontario fresh out of school to gain experience while my classmates stayed in the city doing a series of unpaid internships.

Four years later, I’m in a bigger city (Toronto) because of the job experience I gained up north, and I’ve managed to save a little nest egg.

My boss even told me that she was impressed that I moved to get a job, rather then waiting for a job to come to me.

Keep telling my friends this, but many, having grown up in a large city, say they can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Teacher Man says:

Hey Jeanne, whereabouts in NWO? I know the area well as several of my friends and girlfriend are from there. I think you made a great decisions, and life wasn’t so bad up there either right?!

Congrats on successfully implementing this strategy.

Jeanne says:

I was in North Bay. While I found it a little hard to make friends at first, it is a great city for young professionals because there is both a university and a college.

I enjoyed being exposed to new things you can’t get in the big city, like having a ski hill 10 minutes away, ice fishing, $3 beers at the bowling alley, two lakes within city limits. I had a lot of fun.

Teacher Man says:

North Bay is definitely a cool place. My buddies are more from the Fort Francis area, but I love the whole NWO scene. When are they going to get serious and become their own province (or join with us friendly Manitobans) anyway?

These are all well-formulated points I had never even thought of before. I wonder if it’s the same kind of situation in the US….I know some rural areas will even help you pay off your loans to live there (like Saskatchewan in Canada.) I can appreciate the country, but the music will never grow on me, no matter how hard it tries. :p

Teacher Man says:

Haha, come on, who doesn’t love a little honky tonk every once in awhile? 😉 I think there are similar situations in the USA, but I don’t think it is quite as pronounced as in Canada. To be honest, there are many places in Canada that are isolated to a point you couldn’t be in the USA (save for maybe Alaska). Other than that, what would be the state with the most isolated towns, maybe Montana? That is fairly normal density for Canadian prairies.

If you can’t find a job I think that is a great option. However, I started my career right outside of Washington, D.C. and started with a decent starting salary. This anchored my salary higher than if I had started in a rural area (at least in the United States). I then moved to a lower cost of living area but still managed to hold on to my higher anchored salary. People where I moved to were making as much as 20,000 less than me in the same position although I did have slightly more experience (1 year). There are benefits to starting in the city but if you can’t find a job I totally agree with you to go where the jobs are even if it is a rural area. If you have the option though make sure you make the best decision possible for you (not anyone else).

Teacher Man says:

Interesting Lance. Congrats… I think. Not sure if I would like D.C. all that much! From what I can see, you actually get paid substantially more if you go rural in Canada, so it is interesting to see that this isn’t the case in the States. The fear of moving to a rural area for work is what really gets me.

Very interesting how it is different in Canada. I can understand not wanting to live rurally but if you can’t get a job you have to do what you have to do and I’d move if I was offered a rural job…