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Finding a Job In a Tough Market

Finding a jobIf you haven’t figured it out by some of my recent posts, I’m mildly obsessed with San Diego. Ocean living without humidity, sign me up! After a recent trip, I started checking some of the optometry job boards and chat rooms to see what was available in that area. It surprised me, but it seems that most of the optometrists in California are struggling to find gainful employment. This made me wonder what I might do if I was struggling to find a job in a tough market.

Everyone Wants to Live in California

I grew up in the South. I went to optometry school in Memphis. Believe it or not, the South is pretty progressive as far as what optometrists are allowed to do. In Tennessee, optometrists can give Botox injections. In Kentucky, they can use LASERS. Not that I want to do these things particularly, but it certainly gives you more freedom in how you practice. As a result, private practices are pretty common, and everyone I went to school with seems to be doing well. Of course, most of them live in the South or Midwest. In Colorado, it’s much of the same. We certainly have commercial opportunities, but most optometrists that I know work in private practices or with Indian Health and are pretty happy.

In California, it seems that most of the private practices belong to older doctors. The laws are very restrictive medically, so optometrists have to refer many of the cases we are capable of treating to ophthalmologists. Recent graduates come out of school and are finding they have to work in 2-3 different commercial places, like Wal Mart or Costco, to make ends meet. If you read the online forums, you would think people are qualifying for food stamps by the pessimism and talk of working long hours or weekends to barely make enough money for house and student loan payments. What’s a broke optometrist to do?

Realistic Expectations

My first thought was to be a bit scared. Couldn’t this happen anywhere? Too many applicants for a limited number of jobs sounds like many other professions I know of. My next thought was to tell them to quit whining and take control.

I think many students graduate with a degree in whatever and expect there will be a line of employers standing there waiting to pay them a six figure salary with full benefits where they will put in the minimum amount of work necessary to maintain their jobs. Maybe this was the case in years past, but it’s a whole new ball game now. There are tons of ways you can make a living in a tough market, but you have to be smart

Consider Student Loans

Before you even start school, you need to be looking at where you want to live and what the job prospects are. If you want to live in San Diego, you’d better not run up $150,000 in student loans. Pick a school that is more affordable. I’m sure it’s fun to go to school in Berkeley or Chicago, but those schools cost lots more than somewhere like Memphis or Birmingham.

Market Yourself

Unless you are super lucky or have connections, likely, no one is going to be handing you a job. Before you graduate, start looking for places you might want to work. In the case of optometrists, there are many older doctors who are thinking about hiring an associate to eventually take over the practice. The best opportunities lie with those who are not actively looking. Write them a letter. Make a phone call. Connect on Twitter. Volunteer with something they support. Make your own connections. It works. It worked for me and for many other doctors I know. I think this applies to any career.

Realize that your personal brand is going to be a constant work-in-progress. Once you conceptualize the identity of this brand, you can work on creating a niche that is congruent with your passions as well as the needs of your intended target audience. Aside from this, it is also important to ask trusted peers for feedback along the way. Not only is this a humbling process, but it makes you sharper and more efficient as well. Also, broadcast your brand identity via social networking. Most social networks are free to use, and are thus an excellent form of free advertising.

Be an Expert in a Specialty

Any optometrist coming out of school can do basic eye exams, but there are shortages of those can do specialized tasks. Vision therapy for kids with learning disabilities and low vision for partially sighted individuals are two that come to mind. It might take some extra effort and hours on your part to become proficient, but it’s something you can market. Develop your skills to be able to do things others don’t, and you’ll find a job.


If all else fails, move. Wouldn’t you rather spend 10-15 years thriving in Mississippi or New Mexico than struggling in San Diego? You could retire early or own a business that employs others to do the day to day work while you have tons of time off. You can visit California all you want without the high taxes and restrictive laws. Living in paradise sucks if you have to live paycheck to paycheck.

Reading troubling online information does make me worry until I think about where the information is coming from. The people who are busy working, marketing themselves, and learning new skills don’t have time to sit around whining in a chat room. The choice is yours. Keep complaining or do something about it.

Would you move in order to find a better job? What connections have you made that have helped your career?

Image Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net/Ponsulak

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I think your last option is exactly what my wife and I plan to do. We’ve often said that after our kids grow up and our parents pass away, there is really nothing holding us back here in Michigan. We’d gladly move to someplace warmer without the snow and temperamental seasons.

    That is so true about people expecting to graduate and make six figures right out of the gate. I think just about every industry out there has figured out a way to make you “prove yourself” before they officially pay you anything even close to what you’re imagining you’ll make. The best thing people can do right now is take a big dose of reality and understand that they will have a long hard ladder to climb if they really want to be successful.

    • Agreed. I was happy with my resident’s salary the first year out. I am surprised by people who expect to be rich right away with little work on their part.

  2. I would definitely move to get a better job. If the job market is so tough in California then why not try to find a job in a neighboring state that makes visits much easier. Like you said, work 10-15 years pay off your debt, save some money, do retirement investing and then move back to California and you’d be fine with a lower paying job.

    • I actually would probably be fine to just visit now and then. I’m sure the traffic would kill me. Here, your only chance of a traffic jam is if you get behind a tractor.

  3. You are right and many students after grad struggle to find work. Marketing has always helped me especially after I moved to Canada and graduated. I got out there and met people, volunteered, pretty much did what I needed. That is how I landed the role I am in now and encourage it to anyone. It’s good to look around to see what the market holds for your skills, it may make some appreciate what they have. Thanks for sharing Kim.

  4. I would definitely move for work. My wife and I have always stated that we like to keep our options open and not be tied to any one location.

    • We like where we live and will probably stay until our daughter finishes high school, but we really have no ties and could certainly leave if the opportunity arose. Right now, the best opportunities are here, so we are happy to stay.

  5. I would definitely move to find a better job if my wife was on board and she was able to pursue her career goals in the area. Thankfully we are rooted in an area that is great for young professionals, as well as an area that has a lot of masters programs for psychology for my wife and a good MBA program if I decide to pursue one. It’s so easy to fall in love with a location, though, and to refuse to move even if moving is a better short- and long-term choice.

    • That would be great to love your place and have good opportunities. I don’t hate where we are now, but I do miss doing city things sometimes.

  6. I would definitely move to find work and to lower our living expenses as well. We did both actually when we moved from San Diego to Omaha. We LOVE San Diego, but you’re right, everyone wants to live there and the pay does not always make it worth it to live there. We’ve discussed and even looked at moving back, so we can be closer to the in-laws, but it just isn’t right for us right now.

    • I can’t imagine trying to buy a house for five people in a nice area. Omaha sounds like a smart choice, and Warren lives there, so it can’t be all bad.

  7. I couldn’t move to California. Too many freakin’ people! I HATE traffic too so it couldn’t work for me!

    • The traffic is certainly a downer. I want the perfect life of living by the beach within walking distance of everything I need. I guess I’ll stay where I am a bit longer!

  8. Love this, Kim! We would absolutely move if we had to for a job. Not our first choice, but we’ve got to be able to care for those babies!

    • Absolutely. Indian Health is always hiring in places like Barrow, AK. I think it would suck to live there, but you could do a 6 month shift and make a year’s salary if you had to. I am not one to sit around and do nothing. I would certainly move if it meant the difference between paying the bills or not paying them.

  9. I wouldn’t mind moving for a better job, especially to a lower cost of living area, that is double the benefit for your money. I read recently that small town radiologists and specialty doctors usually made more than in big cities and found it surprising, doesn’t big hospital mean big money? But if you are the only one in a 50 mile radius you can also ask for higher rates.

    • I think that is absolutely the case. Surgeons charge more here than in Denver. You can get a cataract surgery done there for $800, while the doctors here charge $3000 minimum. Also insurance reimbursements are higher in doctor shortage areas.

  10. I had no idea that it would be tough to find a job in your field in san diego! I would move to get a better job, but I wouldn’t just move anywhere. At this point it would have to offer something that would enhance my lifestyle, as that’s pretty high up there for me now. If I was just starting off and younger I’d probably be more open to try living anywhere.

    • Apparently everyone wants to live there! California also has two optometry schools. States with schools are often overcrowded. I really believe I could find a job if I wanted to, but there are tons of reasons it just isn’t realistic to do right now.

  11. I would definitely move for a job but it would have to be for the right job and to the right place. I live in New York so there is alot of opportunity here but unfortunately, the cost of living is sky high. I also live close to most of my family so it’s difficult to up and leave but they would be supportive if I ever decided to.

    • If you are a New Yorker, it would probably be hard to move somewhere small or very different, but I would if it meant a good opportunity or something that got me toward my ultimate goals.

  12. I would move for a job if I had to. One of the best ways I’ve found for job searching is networking.

  13. Many (40) years ago, I moved West from New York. There was a recession in the Northeast and I looked for an opportunity that would take me to California. I went through a training program and transferred to California. It is much easier as a new graduate to consider relocation.

    • Absolutely! It would be very hard to uproot a spouse and kids who are in school. I would probably never have moved out west if I’d had a family when I graduated.

  14. If it came down to it, yes I would move to find a job. Yes, living near family is important, but you need to make money to survive also.

  15. I really agree with your networking suggestion. Contacting folks directly even if they’re not looking may work better than applying to an open position. Maybe in the back of that person’s mind, they were thinking of taking time off or reducing hours and your email made them realize it’s the right move.

    I haven’t been to San Diego for over 18 years but I do remember when I was there last that I LOVED the zoo and Old Town San Diego. But then, I was 10 years old so who wouldn’t love that stuff?

    • Sometimes people don’t know they need help until you show them how well it would work. I found they buyer for my Telluride office when she walked in one day and introduced herself. That was a few years before we actually finished the deal, but it certainly planted the seed that got the ball rolling.

      I think you’d love it at 28 as well.

  16. I would move for a better job, Infact I did it in the past.

  17. The job market is improving in California but it’s still tough, unfortunately. California is where I grew up and will always be my home. With that said, my husband and I left California for DC because he got a great job not long after we got married. Our goal was to always come back home, which we did but it took us a few years before we were able to do so. And I agree – stop complaining and do something. If you need to relocate in order to come back to Cali like we did – than do it.

    • Agreed. You probably also made the most of your time in DC, even if it wasn’t your top choice in location. We have people who come here to work for Indian Health who have over 100K in student loans that get paid off in exchange for working here a few years. Some of them sit around and complain all the time about how much they hate living in a small town, but if you can make that much money in a short time and be free of loans, what do you have to complain about?

  18. I would (and have in the past) move for a job, but with the caveat that it has to make sense in the grand scheme of the rest of my life. CA is hard to justify because my pay would be getting an automatic 10% haircut due to income taxes, but I’d also have to balance against Mr Pop’s prospects and plans after move. It would really need to make sense for everybody. =)

    • Even if I found a killer job somewhere else, Jim just got the position he has been working toward for years, so it would not make sense to move unless both of us were in a really good position. Colorado is actually a pretty sweet place to live. If only we had an ocean….

  19. Moving would certainly not be my first choice, but if it came down to providing for my family’s needs it wouldn’t even be a question. I think that the networking component is so key because it can help with the other things, such as finding out what specialties are out there for you to hone in on. Doing it before you need it is also crucial. The better your network is, the less chance you have of actually facing a difficult job situation.

  20. No way–you’re looking into San Diego huh? I’ve lived here for about 2 years. Let me know if you ever need any help breaking in!

  21. This is really great advice, Kim! It’s funny how different the job markets can be for specific fields given your location. Like you say, you can thrive in a different city and retire early or live pay check to pay check in San Diego. I know we’ve thought about living in Vancouver more than once (one of the most expensive cities in Canada) – our earning potential and spending power would both fall significantly. I’d rather just visit!

  22. You certainly need to keep your skills up to date.. The world isn’t static and the job market is always changing. Find out what skills are in demand, and spend your “job search” time mastering those skills ..

  23. California is definitely expensive. And traffic like you wouldn’t believe! But I’ve lived here all my life so I’m used to it. But, I know people that moved here expecting the world to be their oyster, so to speak, and they were in for a rude awakening. Some moved back to where they used to live because of the cost of living 🙁

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