AMY LINDGREN: Getting on with the locals

If you’ve recently moved to a new town or state – or specifically, if you’ve relocated to my home state of Minnesota, you might identify with one of my readers who described a recent job search that lasted more than a year after coming to the Twin Cities.

Although this higher-level executive put forth a significant effort that included both local and national networking, as well as skills classes, professional association meetings and contract work, she felt stonewalled in her attempts to break through in her new location. She did land well but says of the 12-plus months that it took, “I attribute some of that stretched-out time to a culture I’ve encountered in Minnesota that I’ve not experienced anywhere else.”

She went on to write, “What I’ve learned in the most honest conversations I’ve had with locals is that Minnesotans are not “warm” to outsiders, that without a local network and places on a resume that people recognize, most folks won’t take the time to interview you.”

I wish I could say that I’d never heard this before but, unfortunately, it’s part of Minnesota’s reputation. We’re known for being friendly, but only to a certain point. When it comes to inviting someone to our homes, or even to an outside event, we balk.

It’s not that we’re insincere in our initial warmth – we really are as nice as we seem, I promise. You’ll never see another place where people smile at you as much, hold the doors for you as often, or help you push your broken car to the curb with more enthusiasm.

But we don’t spend much time socializing, even with each other. Although outsiders from the coasts think we’re passive aggressive, I think that assessment is in itself a bit…aggressive. To find a better explanation, you have only to look at the wall calendar posted in a typical Minnesota kitchen.

For years, Minnesota has been at or near the top for numerous statistics that demonstrate our busy-ness, whether that’s the most volunteering hours per person, the highest number of people holding second jobs, the highest number of women in the workforce, the highest workforce participation overall…no matter how you slice it, Minnesotans like to keep moving. When you add hockey practice and religious activities for the 2.3 kids, not to mention Sunday dinners with the grandparents, there aren’t many free spots left for coffee with a new acquaintance.

Our weather probably doesn’t help the situation. In winter’s short days, we’re commuting both ways in the dark, bundled up against the cold. And in the summer we’re leaving work early for long weekends up north, with nary a thought for anyone outside our inner circles.

So, that’s the explanation. What’s the solution if you’re new to town and want to break in? I have five suggestions, at least one of which I hope works for you.

1. Do as the natives do and join a committee. There are multiple benefits to be had from adding a substantial volunteer activity to your calendar, ranging from making new acquaintances to putting something local on your resume.

2. Sign up for a sport. Minnesotans are crazy about sports, as demonstrated by the number of professional teams we host. We’re just as nuts about trying to play the sports ourselves, which provides an opening for you as an outsider: We need your body to complete our roster. Whether you play or you volunteer to lug the equipment, nothing unites people quite as quickly as trying to win a game together.

3. Find other new-comers. Have you met someone who is also new to the area? Join forces to share your contacts and commiserate about the struggles you’re having.

4. Raise your profile. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, letters to the editor, a personal blog, contributions to the newsletter of a local professional group, sessions you volunteer to lead for the Chamber or a Rotary chapter…all are ways to be seen by the locals.

5. Invite yourself along or do your own inviting. When someone recommends a professional group you should attend, try responding “That sounds like great advice. Can we go together for my first meeting?” Conversely, you can reach out to someone with a direct invitation: “I just heard about this speaker presenting on our profession; would you like to join me?”

There’s no guarantee that any of this will work. But if you do some or all of these things, you might be too busy to notice that you’re feeling shut out. Soon enough, you’ll be on the inside, possibly not realizing just how Minnesotan you’ve become. And if you hang onto enough of your native culture, maybe you can help the rest of us break out of our shells as well.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.