You’re not doomed! But you’re right that finding a job long-distance can be a lot harder, and take longer, than when you’re in the same location.
And yes, since you’re getting interviews locally but not out of state, it’s pretty likely that that’s the explanation.
If you’re getting interviews locally but not out of state, it’s almost definitely about location. It can just be a lot harder to find a job when you’re not local to the area you’re applying in. (Fully remote jobs are a different story, of course, but they’re not the ones you’re targeting.)
There are several reasons employers are hesitant to interview nonlocal candidates. A lot of it has to do with convenience: They assume you won’t be able to come in for an interview with only a few days’ notice or stop by for an impromptu meeting with a decision-maker whose schedule just had a rare opening, and that you probably won’t be able to start as soon as a local candidate could. It’s also more expensive for companies to interview out-of-state candidates (at least it is if they’re covering your travel expenses, though not every employer does). And while virtual interviewing has made distance much less of an issue than it used to be, a lot of non-remote workplaces still rely on face-to-face interviewing since that’s how they’re used to conducting business.
Employers may also worry that you’ll expect them to pay your relocation costs if they hire you, which might not be something they’ll do, depending on the circumstances. And because you’d be moving to a new area, some managers see out-of-town candidates as more of a risk. They don’t know if you’ll end up adjusting well to the new city or whether you’ll end up missing home and moving back.
Since any one of these variables can be a hassle, if an employer has plenty of well-qualified local applicants, they often don’t have incentive to consider remote candidates. If they can make a strong hire without any of the drawbacks of long-distance hiring, it can make sense to just focus locally.
Of course, this isn’t true for every role. If you’re looking at fairly junior positions without specialized skill sets, distance is more likely to be an obstacle because there are probably plenty of local applicants who meet the requirements. But as you become more senior — or if you’re in a field where your skills are in high demand — employers often will care less about where you’re located. Whenever an employer has limits on their candidate pool, they’ll generally broaden the group of applicants they’re willing to consider.
But it’s not entirely out of your control. Here are things you can try that might improve your chances:
Explain your reasons for moving in your cover letter.
In doing this, it’s important that you don’t just sound willing to move to the employer’s area. You want to sound like you’re actively seeking to, because companies are likely to feel more confident about your potential relocation if they think you have reasons beyond just work for making the move. “I hear you have beautiful beaches” won’t be as convincing as “I have family in the area and am excited to join them” or “My partner recently accepted a job there” or even “I’ve visited multiple times and have long planned to make my home there.” (And while I’m not encouraging you to misrepresent your situation, the reality is they’re unlikely to know if you do.)
The more you can make your move seem like a done deal, the better.
Ideally, you’d be able to say your move is already in progress or give a time frame by which you expect to be living in the new area. That doesn’t sound like your situation, but you can fudge it a little by, for example, listing the new location on your résumé. I don’t mean you should make up a fake local address, but there’s no reason you can’t put “(relocating to Boston)” directly below your contact info. After all, you will be relocating if you get this job; it’s not stretching the truth too much for your résumé to reflect that.
Alternately, don’t list a location on your résumé at all.
It’s really common these days to see résumés with no mailing addresses on them. That used to be a red flag to hiring managers that the candidate was trying to hide their location, but it’s such a common practice now that it’s unlikely to raise alarms. Keep in mind that your location will probably come up at some point in the interview process, and the idea here isn’t to pretend throughout your dealings with the employer that you’re just down the street when in fact you’re across the country. (And if you do try that, it can backfire if they ask you to come in tomorrow, leaving you no time for travel.) But leaving your location off your résumé can help you get through the initial screening. (Of course, many jobs ask you to fill out electronic applications that require you to note your city and state, so this method isn’t foolproof, but it’s worth a shot to see if it changes your response rate.)
Make it as easy as possible for employers to interview and hire you.
In theory, employers should pay travel expenses for out-of-town candidates. But when they have plenty of local candidates they could focus on instead, some will choose not to bother with the expense of flying in other applicants. So if you’re willing to cover your own travel costs and relocation expenses, state that up front in your cover letter.
Similarly, be as flexible as you can about a start date. Employers sometimes assume that hiring an out-of-town candidate will mean waiting weeks or months for that person to be able to start, since they have to move and find housing. Be aware of that when talking about your timeline — and think about how you might manage to move quickly if it’s a sticking point for them. (Good employers will wait for the best candidate when they can. But sometimes they’ll have two “best” candidates or will have legitimate reasons for needing someone to start more quickly.)
Lean on your network as much as you can.
It’s always helpful to search your network for connections to companies you’re targeting, but it’s especially important when you’re searching from afar. Having an insider flag you to the hiring manager can get your application attention when it otherwise might have been passed over.
Doing all of the above can go a long way to countering the disadvantage your location otherwise puts you at. That said, sometimes long-distance job searches can be really hard, and people end up having to move to the new area before they can secure employment. That’s not always possible financially (and I realize you said it’s not an option for you), and it’s especially tricky when you don’t have a specific place in mind beyond “just not my current city.” But sometimes that’s the reality of it. I don’t think you’re at that point yet, though. Try the advice above first and see if it changes your results, and good luck!