Best label for job applications: "wife" or "partner"?
January 21, 2014 10:25 AM   Subscribe

When applying to jobs, is it better to refer to my wife as "my wife" or as "my partner"?
posted by Eiwalker to Work & Money (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That totally depends on why you're referring to her and who you're applying to. 'My partner' reads as 'gay' to a lot of people, which may help or may hurt your application depending on who's reading it.
posted by Jairus at 10:27 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]

I think you'll need to elaborate: I can't think of any reason why you'll need to refer to her at all, so I don't have any context within which to answer.
posted by ambrosen at 10:27 AM on January 21 [38 favorites]

In what context do you have to refer to her in a job application? I don't think it makes much of a difference. Are you a same-sex couple? As a lesbian I for some reason find it a little strange when married straight couples use the term partner, but it happens so often I barely notice it anymore.
posted by anad487 at 10:28 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Is your wife your business partner?
posted by KogeLiz at 10:29 AM on January 21

If you're a hetero man and applying somewhere that might be homophobic, "wife" if you want to avoid that issue and/or weed out homophobic workplaces early. Otherwise there is no difference, go with what you'd call her normally.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:30 AM on January 21

Since it's technically illegal for companies to inquire about marital status during the hiring process, I'm not sure why you'd want to include the information at all. If it's for an academic position and there are spousal job opportunities that might come along with your job, then okay, and if you're legally married, then indicate that.

I think it's really dependent on field and context. I don't think I've ever needed to mention a partner in any part of a job interview process, until we got to the negotiating-benefits portion.
posted by rtha at 10:32 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]

Ambiguity in a job interview is bad and "partner" is ambiguous enough that you wouldn't want to use it unless you have a reason to use it. If your wife is your business partner, and the conversation is in that context, then say "business partner." If you are just casually referring to your wife, say "wife" to not leave people confused

(NB: Employers, at least in the U.S., should not be asking your marital status during interviews. They do, but it's a really, really basic anti-discrimination rule and if they're asking, it's a red flag for how their HR department is run.)
posted by griphus at 10:33 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]

1) you should not refer to her at all unless there's some specific reason

2) if you are legally married, she is your "wife" and legal marriage affects your tax status, so.
posted by tel3path at 10:33 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]

If you're moving to a new area because of your wife's job, you might find it helpful to refer to "family reasons."
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:34 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]

And yes what griphus said.
posted by tel3path at 10:34 AM on January 21

If you need to do it, use "wife." My boyfriend is in a traditionally female field, and has encountered a lot of homophobia from employers, so he has used "girlfriend" in his cover letters before and gotten interviews/jobs based on those cover letters.
posted by jabes at 10:36 AM on January 21

Can you tell us more? What jobs?
posted by bearwife at 10:36 AM on January 21

In a job interview I always take off my wedding ring (female) and do not refer to my wife in any way shape or form. I am pretty honest once I get the offer, but I want to be evaluated on my performance and work history NOT on my relationship.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:36 AM on January 21

I've definitely brought up my wife in job interviews. "Why'd you move out to _______," for example. "Oh great," they might say. Interviewers are human beings with families too.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:39 AM on January 21

If you want to refer to her call her your spouse.

"Partner" to me says "unmarried" but to others might read as either gay or confusing (like, why are you bringing up a business partner at a job interview?). Spouse is gender-neutral and egalitarian.
posted by phunniemee at 10:41 AM on January 21 [11 favorites]

Nthing that this shouldn't come up. But if it does, "spouse" is another gender neutral term.

On preview, what phunniemee says.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:41 AM on January 21

Thanks for the replies. Here's some more info. I am applying for tenure-track teaching positions. I want to convey, in my cover letters, how enthusiastic I am about the positions. The rationale for mentioning my wife is that this way I can emphasize, not just my interest and competence in the work-aspects of the positions, but that my wife and I are both excited to live in that part of the country. Presumably they will prefer to hire someone who would like the weather, social climate, etc.
posted by Eiwalker at 10:41 AM on January 21

Based on your update, I would use wife.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:42 AM on January 21 [5 favorites]

In a cover letter, I'd go with the formality of 'spouse' over 'wife' like mentioned above (definitely still stay away from the ambiguity of 'partner') but I can't imagine the word 'wife' itself would hurt you (assuming the sentiment you're expressing wouldn't hurt you either, regardless of word choice.)
posted by griphus at 10:47 AM on January 21

You could use the very generic "family" in your cover letters, which would convey what you're trying to emphasize, but without any actual or implied reference to married/unmarried status or sexual orientation.
posted by augustimagination at 10:47 AM on January 21 [30 favorites]

I agree with augustimagination, use 'family'.
posted by Jairus at 10:50 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]

The rationale for mentioning my wife is that this way I can emphasize, not just my interest and competence in the work-aspects of the positions, but that my wife and I are both excited to live in that part of the country.

Nope. Don't do it. Say that you are excited to live in that part of the country, sure. But don't refer to your wife at all. By law, it is none of their business -- don't make it their business.
posted by Etrigan at 10:50 AM on January 21 [20 favorites]

I suspected that this was for an academic job.

This is just some anecdotal info from my time during interviews for faculty positions at colleges and universities ~10 years ago. If people talked about families and partners (and they will, you will likely be interviewing for a few days and they volunteer info about the community and day care, etc.), 90% of the people that I talked to used the word "partner." This included colleges and universities located in very conservative parts of the country.

I never responded or provided info as to whether I had a partner or not (I did not), but I do think that the academic community is a bit different. If I were in your shoes, I personally would not bring it up in a cover letter or in the phone interview,but YMMV. Instead, I think things like how excited you are about your research/their research and your classes/their classes, etc, would be a way to approach this, but again, YMMV.

If I were on campus, which is the last interivew that you will have, it is up to you. People were helpful in volunteering how their partner's and/or children found the community. IT is also at this time that you are truly evaluating whether the job/community/location is a good fit. But again, YMMV.
posted by Wolfster at 10:59 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]

You might want to ask someone in academia for their thoughts. Should any employer be asking about it? No. Could mentioning your family be helpful in getting a tenure-track position? Possibly.

My impression from working at a well-known research university as a research assistant is that family, particularly spouses, are much more integrated in the "office" than they are in other sectors, since work often includes social engagements and hours that go beyond 9-5.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 11:00 AM on January 21

'Spouse' will attract an inquiry; and with that the opportunity to sell yourself and your 'spouse' as the potential employer wants.
posted by buzzman at 11:19 AM on January 21

Don't mention your marital status in a cover letter, some employers make a policy of rejecting all applications that mention the applicant's status in regards to federal discrimination categories.

They may reject you so as not to be seen as discriminating in favor of those who have a spouse.
posted by yohko at 11:19 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]

I've seen recommendation letters for faculty positions. If anything, they highlight that the applicant has a strong desire to live/work in that part of the country for personal reasons. Employers either don't care or are satisfied with that.
posted by supercres at 11:21 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]

It is quite common in academia to understand "partner" as applicable to either opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

That said, use the term that you use. If "wife" sounds a little too cozy to your ear for this cover letter, go with spouse. (Unless "partner" is what you would typically say.)
posted by desuetude at 11:37 AM on January 21

Just use the word spouse.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:51 AM on January 21

Bringing up the partner/wife/husband/etc in a cover letter in academia can be bad-- usually it's a sign that the faculty applying is hoping for a job for their trailing spouse. If your wife is NOT in academia you might mention that this is not part of your reason for mentioning her, like "we are excited to live in $foo because weather and climate, and also because wife has gotten her dream job doing $Explicitly not an academic job."

I would recommend not mentioning climate, unless this is in the serious boonies (like, above the arctic circle, in the radio silence zone in appalachia, etc.). They know why you want the job-- you've got a degree in X subject and you're applying to be a professor in X subject. I am an academic librarian who reviews job applications and when I see stuff like "I'm interested in living in California because of the weather" I think they are really fishing hard to come up with a reason to work here. They could have spent five minutes in our web site and come up with something substantial like "I want a job at your library because research in area Y is cool and I see you do many presentations on that," but instead they picked something totally banal based on our ZIP code.
posted by holyrood at 12:14 PM on January 21 [11 favorites]

What kind of T-T job is this? 99.9% of the time it's not important to put on a cover letter.

It might make sense at some tiny college in rural Idaho/Nebraska/Alaska but if you're applying to a decently well-known place, the reason you want the job is specific to the job and department and university (and the desire to be employed) and not weather or partner reasons.

In conclusion, it would seem bizarre and amateurish for the vast majority of TT applications.
posted by barnone at 12:19 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

If you are a man with a wife applying for tenure track positions most hirers will see this as an asset. Being a married man means you have stability and may want to start a family in the area. At least that is how I have heard it discussed by many of my colleagues.

If I were in your shoes I would mention my wife during the on-campus interviews, and not earlier. Just as a throwaway comment. Don't make a big deal out of it, but it will likely be viewed as a strength that you are married, so I would take advantage of it - not by mentioning it in the cover letter, which seems inappropriate, but by saying it offhand during the three days that you are there for your on-campus interview. I promise you'll have an opportunity then.
posted by sockermom at 12:27 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

In my husband's non-academic partnership (meaning, business partnership) the happiness of the spouse is essential information due to the long lead time for replacing a partner, the high cost of bringing in a new partner, and the significant business cost to losing a partner. This is quite similar in academia. Thus although it is entirely not legal to ask about a spouse's happiness, when such information is offered, it is highly valuable. And although it is not legal to consider it either, it is quite hard for actual human beings to entirely ignore it, particularly where all the candidates who are interviewed are entirely qualified and the purpose of the interview is to weed out the people who will be tough to work with. Again, this is similar in academia.

In your situation, therefore, discussing your wife's happiness during an interview would be quite welcome by the interviewers, and you're likely to have an opportunity to do so in a casual way, i.e. without being asked for that information.

I'd call her whatever you call her most naturally. Choosing a term that sticks in your mouth will make the whole sentence seem false, and thus might make the listeners think that you're actually telling them the opposite - that she'd actually be unhappy at the new location. So since you appear to refer to her as your wife, I'd use that term.

(And sockermom has it right: being happily married is a good sign of stability, and as tenure is the ultimate career stability, this is a good thing in most eyes.)
posted by Capri at 12:31 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

"For family reasons, I am excited to live in that part of the country".
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:43 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

A hiring committee could view "spouse" as "spousal hire for whom we will need also to find a university position." But spouse is better than wife, for sure. In academia, mentioning a wife or husband in a cover letter is just odd, in my opinion.

LobsterMitten has it right, I think. "For family reasons..."
posted by quixotictic at 1:58 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

I am not in academia but I'd leave it out entirely. If I read a cover letter that said someone wanted to relocate somewhere for "personal" or "family" reasons it wouldn't help and it might hurt -- I would wonder e.g. if they had a family member nearby they need to care for, or a geography-specific hobby they wanted to pursue. Basically it'd tell me the location is a plus, and I'd rather the *job* be the plus.

I'd wait for the interview. Then, I'd make a point of saying, near the end, that my wife is happy and supportive about the move.
posted by Susan PG at 3:23 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

Having worked in academe for over a decade, I agree with many of the other posters...mentioning your wife in a cover letter is not a good idea at this early stage.

List YOUR reasons for wanting to move to an area: for example: I have family in the region and wish to move back (your wife's family is your family...), I enjoy visiting the region/town/state etc..

Listing the reasons you want to move there without mention of your wife will be seen positively; mentioning a wife/spouse/partner Before an actual interview will just be one more way they can eliminate you from the pool of candidates. Of course the committee will be interested once you get the interview--but any mention before then may indicate to them you require an offer for your spouse (or at least consideration) at the very onset of applying.

If other candidates look equally as good and do not mention their spouse, the odds may be in their favor.

(ps: the only time I would mention your wife in a cover letter is if you are applying to an extremely conservative religious university...i.e. Liberty University or Bob Jones University or someplace like that. )
posted by bessiemae at 3:24 PM on January 21

Don't mention her. There is nothing to be gained from it and much more to lose. I wouldn't talk about how you excited you are to live there in the job letter. Save that for the campus visit, if you get one. Talk about how what an excellent contributor you'll be to whatever special research center they have there instead (if this is in fact true).
posted by synecdoche at 5:33 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Speaking as an academic --- and one currently on a search committee! --- mentioning your interest in a community in your cover letter is good. I don't honestly look at people's mentions of spouses one way or another, so to my eyes mentioning your wife specifically is neither a plus nor a minus. However, figuring out a way to work in your interest in the community is good, and if there's no way to do it without explicitly mentioning your wife, I'd rather you do that than not. It's not as good as indicating a specific interest in the employing institution, but a lot of places (outside of R1 universities, who know their own worth) want to see a good answer not only to the question "why is this candidate good?" but also to "and why would they come here?". They've got a finite number of interview spots, and they don't want to waste them on people who aren't really planning to deliver.
posted by jackbishop at 6:15 PM on January 21

In conclusion, it would seem bizarre and amateurish for the vast majority of TT applications.

I'm an academic and I agree with this. Bringing up your wife in a cover letter comes across as unprofessional. LobsterMitten's phrasing is the way to go, it's code for "even if you think I don't want to live in your area I really actually want to live there". There's no need to include such language when applying to locations widely seen as desirable, like the bay area.
posted by medusa at 7:28 PM on January 21

Wife, partner, spouse, doesn't matter. But:

(1) This only matters in locations that are generally seen as undesirable, and even then it matters very, very little. Maaaaybe if there's one last spot on the interview list and two candidates who are pretty identical otherwise, it might help.

(2) Only concrete reasons like family or origins matter. If you say that you're super excited about moving to Flint or, well, Buffalo because you really like the weather and social climate*, it'll come off as just random noise. If you say that you have family in Flint or are from Port Huron, that's different.

(3) Most of the time you can just say that you have family in the area, even if its your wife's family. The only time I'd mention your wife is if you both have family in the area.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:04 PM on January 21

I'm an academic, and I also think you should avoid mentioning your wife. If it comes up during the interview, fine. But don't feel like you are somehow lying if you don't mention your wife. This is a professional situation; keep it professional on your part as well.

Also, are you applying someplace where lots of folks want to live? If so, maybe avoid mentioning that and do mention something specifically about the department, program, and/or university. I live in Portland, Oregon, and I'd much rather someone tell me why they are interested in my specific place of employment than tell me they have always wanted to live in Portland. I already know lots of people want to live in Portland. I want to hear from folks who have an interest in the job beyond the location.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:49 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

I am applying for tenure-track teaching positions. I want to convey, in my cover letters, how enthusiastic I am about the positions. The rationale for mentioning my wife is that this way I can emphasize, not just my interest and competence in the work-aspects of the positions, but that my wife and I are both excited to live in that part of the country. Presumably they will prefer to hire someone who would like the weather, social climate, etc.


Don't do this.

This is what a) a preliminary conference and/or phone interview is for and b) what the campus interview is for when you meet with a gazillion people, some of whom will gauge your interest in living in that particular area as part of your intentions on remaining in the area for, well, life if at all possible.
posted by zizzle at 5:35 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]

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