Spouses on academic interviews?
February 7, 2010 8:27 AM   Subscribe

The search committee encouraged Mr. Anonymous to bring me on his campus interview. Huh? Do I go? And if so, how do I handle it gracefully?

Mr. Anonymous has been invited to a campus interview at a doctoral intensive institution. The chair of the search committee suggested that I come along to to scope out the area. Now, I know I have no business being at any of the interview related events. I have searched the forums at the Chronicle, and can't find any answers relevant to this situation, one where the SC has instigated the spousal accompaniment.

We are certainly very interested in the school and in the area. I would love to have the opportunity to look at neighborhoods, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, etc. But I also don't want to jeopardize Mr. Anonymous' candidacy in any way. Should we go a little early and pay for an extra night in the hotel? Should we tell the SC chair that I'll be there? If I go, I figured I would leave early. All of this is complicated by the fact that I know someone in the same department, (but who is not on the SC, and not even in the same field as Mr. Anonymous), whom I would very much like to visit. Is this ethical?

I am also an academic, but planning on leaving the tower. Will my presence in town be construed as a possible bid for a spousal appointment? I'm NOT interested in one, and Mr. Anonymous will make that clear at the appropriate time, but we all know how people like to read motivation where there isn't any.

TIA for the sage advice.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Might you be overthinking it? It sounds like a casual invitation to "look at neighborhoods, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, etc."
posted by wrok at 8:37 AM on February 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't have any direct experience but I think you're probably overthinking it. They presumably want to attract your spouse to their program and having you see the area and potentially like it can only help.

When one of my former roommates was choosing a phd program her fiance went along on a couple trips and I think some of the programs were even prepared to help him find a job. I think during the trip he was basically on his own except for having dinner with her potential P.I. and his wife.
posted by ghharr at 8:39 AM on February 7, 2010

From my experience in job interviews that involve relocation, it's not at all unusual to fly the spouse out to look at apartments or whatever, but the spouse isn't involved in any of the job-related parts.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:48 AM on February 7, 2010

They've invited you along because they know they need to sell both of you on his relocation. It's pretty common (and probably a good sign). Generally the spouse will be invited to attend a lunch/dinner that's more "casual" and "social" (but is, of course, an extension of the interview in a less formal setting) that gives you a chance to "interview" them as well and decide "can I stand these people for ten years"? Then the spouse is left on his or her own to look at real estate, explore shopping, or sit miserably in the hotel room reading a book. Sometimes they'll have someone show the spouse around.

I'd think of a few spousally-appropriate things to say that show YOUR interest in the area (about how excited you are about jobs in the area for you, or, pretending you're a radiologist, asking about their senses of the cultures of the local hospitals, or talking about your interest in 1860s houses and OMG this town has thousands of them!), but not fake things, something about the area that honestly intersects with your interests that you could discuss with enthusiasm and draw people into a conversation about.

I recently did some (non-academia) interviews for an executive position where we brought the spouse along and, really, we knew we needed to get the spouse as excited about the move as the candidate and wanted to make sure that the spouses had a chance to have THEIR concerns addressed -- about family, about jobs, about climate, etc. However, the spouses' behavior did not enter into our deliberations, since they were all basically normal individuals. The candidates did all assure us they wanted to move to where we were, so a red flag would have been if the spouse showed no interest, or had a job that they could ONLY do in Washington DC and here they are looking the Midwest -- that would have seemed suspiciously like our job was a stop-gap. But primarily we were just looking to sell the spouse as well as the candidate on the awesomeness of our job and our area.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:51 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, another dynamic I found is that the candidate was often staying on "business" behavior and not discussing personal or family issues, while the spouse would bring up issues like schools for the children, real estate, recreational opportunities, etc. (It didn't matter which spouse had the higher-powered job or what the genders were; the non-candidate was always bringing these things up.) So that may be another thing to think about.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:54 AM on February 7, 2010

My initial reaction is that you're overthinking this one. The unusual nature of the invitation extended to you as the spouse may be more common than you think. The invitation seems sincere and would be totally especially understandable (and laudatory) in certain circumstances. Like, the university is in a relatively remote or rural area and the SC believes that having the spouse's support for the job change makes for a happier and more committed professor.

Or, they want to preserve and promote a sense of community among the faculty families, and a spouse who would "fit in" can add some luster to an academician's candidacy. They may also be feeling you out about whether you want a job there or if that might be an important factor when your spouse weighs any job offer they might make. To test that out, you could post a question to the Chronicle forums and see what other spouses think.

So, there may be nothing sinister or untoward in their invitation. It sounds like you find the offer pretty attractive as well, since it would give you a chance to check out the area and visit your friend. And no, that is not unethical in the slightest. It is perfectly appropriate and surely consistent with their intentions in making the invitation, unless it takes precedence over any specific event the SC wants you to attend or you make a big deal about having "connections" that might help your spouse's candidacy.

I would expect that the SC means for you to spend a fair amount of the time on your own. They would likely include you in a dinner and/or reception, and perhaps pair you up with another faculty spouse for a lunch engagement or an afternoon seeing the sights. If they ask you to attend the seminar or any of the interview related events, you should politely decline and make sure they know you won't be at loose ends on your own.

It goes without saying, I hope, that you should conduct yourself with the utmost decorum during the visit. Don't risk being seen as too flamboyant or out of step with the values of the more conservative faculty and SC members. You want to strive to be an asset or a neutral to your spouse's candidacy. This advice sounds straight out of the early 1960s, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
posted by DrGail at 9:02 AM on February 7, 2010

The search committee knows that if they offer a job to Mr. Anonymous, your opinion of the location and of the institution are going to be extremely important. To that end, they want you to see their lovely town and all the wonderful scenery and great restaurants. You probably won't be asked to any of the interview events except for the social ones - meals and maybe a department gathering, and maybe also to the talk that Mr. Anonymous gives. There may or may not be someone assigned to show you around.

Your presence will not be construed as a bid for spousal appointment. It is perfectly ethical to visit your friend, and will take some of the burden off the committee of making sure that you have something to do while you are there.

Take advantage of this offer. If you want to take an extra day to look around, do so. Offer to pay for that extra day, but don't be surprised if they just pay for it. The cost of making sure that you are comfortable is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost to the department of the two of you deciding two years later that you are not happy there.

On preview, what Eyebrows McGee said.
posted by Killick at 9:02 AM on February 7, 2010

They precisely WANT you to check out the town, schools, etc. They know that you will be part of the decision-making process about what job to take, and want you to like the area. Go! Not weird at all.

But DO plan to spend all of your time on your own, and just reconnect with your partner in the room at night. You should not go to the dinner after the talk, unless it's made really, really clear that they really, really want you there. (They will still be talking shop at dinner. I've never been on either side of a campus visit dinner that involved a candidate's partner.)
posted by kestrel251 at 9:33 AM on February 7, 2010

I was the spouse in this situation. The university went a little out of their way to make my visit nice: they picked a hotel for us to stay where I'd be able to have easy access to the city, they invited me to one of the dinners (or perhaps to both?), etc. This was after the job had already been offered, however, so I didn't have to worry at all about the impression I was making on them.

This is, in fact, an appropriate time to be thinking about your own job prospects in the area. If you're all set and don't need anything from the university, great -- you can let that come out in conversation. If you will in fact be needing or wanting help from them, your greatest leverage is this period while they're still trying hard to recruit your spouse. Don't automatically assume that you should just "ask for nothing".

If for some reason the university is really concerned about whether they'll have to offer you a position, somebody will find a way of bringing it up in conversation, either with you or your spouse. You'll then get a chance to say "no, we're fine", if that's truly the case. I wouldn't be too worried about needing to bring it up yourself. I certainly wouldn't worry that your coming along for the visit is implying something about your needing a position.
posted by wyzewoman at 10:39 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yep, you're overthinking it. It's a good sign for Mr. Anonymous that you're being welcomed on this visit. Visiting your friend in the department is fine, it doesn't need to be a secret.

Go be a charming, gracious spouse who is enjoying the opportunity to check out the community and Mr. Anonymous's future place of employ.
posted by desuetude at 10:57 AM on February 7, 2010

Especially since you won't necessarily be on your own (since you have a friend you can/want to visit), you should go, if Mr. Anonymous is at all serious about the job.

My husband and I picked up and relocated from PA to Alaska last summer for academic jobs; I can't imagine one of us having agreed to move without seeing where we were thinking about living, if the option was available.

To me, it seems like the search committee is serious about being interested in Mr. Anonymous. Your coming along would also signal that Mr. Anonymous is serious about them.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:14 AM on February 7, 2010

nthing the way over-thinking.

Relocating is a family event. An organization worth working with understands this, and brings the spouse out during the interview process to sell them on the area. It shows they are taking his candidacy very seriously, if anything.
posted by Edubya at 11:37 AM on February 7, 2010

When I was a grad student, I was told about the married couples, and how a good indicator of the student's success was how well the spouse dealt with the change in geography.

Maybe thats all they want you to do. Check out the neighborhoods, places to live, etc. I'd definitely call up the graduate center (or something similar) and get some resources about being the SO of a grad student and acclimating there.

Good luck to you both!
posted by hal_c_on at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2010

As for meeting your friend. I would go ahead and contact them independently. Let them know that you will be in town for your partner's interview and ask whether they would like to have lunch. If Mr. Anonymous were being interviewed at a nearby school, it would be perfectly natural to contact your friend, right? I don't see this as being any different.

Being upfront and honest about everything should avoid any hint of conflicts of interest.

If they feel that this is somehow inappropriate they will let you know.
posted by oddman at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2010

That thread is different in that the department is specifically inviting you to come.

But let's imagine, for argument's sake, that the department's invitation was actually part of a double-secret ploy to see if you and your husband would take the bait, and that if you accept their offer and show up, they'll know not to hire such a nefarious cad, mwuhahahaha.

In which case you wouldn't want to go there anyway unless the alternative is slow, horrible death. Or unless you are eat-your-own-poop, howl-at-the-moon bonkers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:09 PM on February 7, 2010

I think they're interested in Mr Anonymous. They want to impress you with the area, and get you to buy into Mr. A's move there. Their general thinking is: Mr A. will be much happier and therefore more productive and useful if you support him. They're not making any judgments about you or Mr. A., just going by past experience and/or accepted wisdom of hires and their spouses.
posted by carter at 8:26 PM on February 7, 2010

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