To tell or not to tell?
February 8, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm an Assistant Professor with an upcoming job interview at another institution in the state where my spouse lives (we are currently long distance). My question: do I tell them about my spouse, and if so, how and when?

So besides being tired of the long-distance thing and the financial strain, there are other reasons why I'm ready to move on. The school I am interviewing at is not an obvious upward move, though, so I'm concerned that if they knew my spouse lives in that state, they might think I was not really interested in them, just the location. They can tell from my CV that I used to live in the area, but I did not say anything in my letter or in my conversations so far about my spouse's job.

It seems likely to come up in the conversations though, at least with respect to house hunting, relocation, etc, and if I do get an offer, I imagine it most certainly would come up. So I'm looking for suggestions as to how to breach this topic, because surely it would be weird, wouldn't it, if I get hired and arrive in the fall, and then say, oh yeah, my spouse has worked here for [x] years?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about academic jobs, but at my company, having a spouse already settled in the area would be a plus, not a minus - it's a sign that the candidate is fixed on a location and probably won't be moving back "home" any time soon. Generally someone in HR or a non-technical manager would ask questions to ascertain why a candidate from out-of-state is looking for jobs in this area.
posted by muddgirl at 9:13 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your wife is also an academic at another institution, NO!

At my alma mater, there is a tenured physical chemist. Her husband lost his job and began looking for one in the area. He interviewed at a school a few towns over. When they found out his wife was a tenured professor at a college nearby, they made him an incredibly insulting offer ---- like, significantly low pay for his field and expertise among other things.

He declined it, it was that insulting.

If your wife is not an academic (and therefore less reason in the mind of the college for you necessarily be geographically tied to their area), then it's your call based on how you think the interview is going.
posted by zizzle at 9:14 AM on February 8, 2011

Are you asking for a hire for him, too? If you were asking for that, then it would be important to begin negotiations for a spousal hire ASAP.
However, it doesn't sound like you are asking for that. In which case, you can casually tell people that you have this personal connection to the region that will make you a definite yes. However, make completely and absolutely sure to make your interest in the department, the school's programs, and what you can do for them the major focus of all of your conversations.
posted by pickypicky at 9:17 AM on February 8, 2011

I'm concerned that if they knew my spouse lives in that state, they might think I was not really interested in them, just the location.

Alternatively, they would know that you have a good personal reason to accept an offer from them and to stay in that location. If, as you seem to suggest, this isn't a top-tier university, they are more likely to worry about making offers to people who turn them down (because, for example, they are fishing for a raise at their current institution), than someone wanting to move to their institution only because of the location. I think you can let this come up very naturally in conversation, don't make a big deal out of it, and it may well be seen as a plus, not a minus.
posted by googly at 9:18 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Playing it by ear, you might say "I have some family connections in the area," and leave it at that.
posted by pickypicky at 9:20 AM on February 8, 2011

(I do apologize for the assumption on the gender --- I believe I was channeling the sex of the professors in my story.)
posted by zizzle at 9:20 AM on February 8, 2011

It depends on the school and what they think of themselves, in my experience. If they know they are in an unpopular location, they might be thrilled to find out that you would be a person who would settle permanently and they won't have to run the search again two years from now.

As for when to bring it up, you'll have to feel them out. One instance would be when they ask, "Why do you want to work here?" or some variation of this. Then you can say, "Well, three things. First, your department/school is... (insert true compliment). Second, I used to live here and I really loved it. Third, my spouse actually works at Nearby College and we would be glad to have a much shorter commute to see each other."

Now, I did this at an interview, where one of my reasons was indeed location-related ("your school is on a major interstate that would allow for easy visits from my family") and the other reasons were career-related, and as far as I know, they were fine with that because I ended up being their first choice candidate. I don't think they disliked the idea that I was willing to put down roots in their area.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:23 AM on February 8, 2011

They're not allowed to ask you anything about your marital status, but you can mention it if you want.

I'm on an academic search committee right now. We did telephone interviews last week and we asked candidates why they were interested in working here. Every one had done an excellent job of looking at our programs (on our website, and perhaps looking at faculty research online) and tied it into his or her response. If they ask you this question be sure you know what to say, and then you could simply add that you have family in the area.
posted by mareli at 9:23 AM on February 8, 2011

Unless its unusual in your field, I can see how you can have a winning answer to those questions that involves your desire to be closer to your family and how strongly connected you are to the community served by Institution X. As long as you don't give them any reason to fear they will need to replace you in the near future when you take a better job somewhere else, it should be fine. For whatever reason, your wife wasn't relocating to where you are now, and you've made the decision that State X is where you'll live. You don't need to volunteer it, but I would couch it in terms that demonstrate that your real desire to be at Institution X.
posted by Hylas at 9:25 AM on February 8, 2011

Sorry, I made assumptions about your spouse's gender. Mea maxima culpa!
posted by Hylas at 9:26 AM on February 8, 2011

Also, Zizzle makes a good point that if they think they have you over a barrel, they might make you a lowball offer. Do they have a salary disclosure law in their state? A union? Anything that would guarantee you a certain salary or startup package? If not, you might want to do as Pickypicky says and not specify that it's your spouse you are trying to be near. You'll have to go with your gut instinct on this. You've already landed at least one tt job, so you must know what you are doing.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:30 AM on February 8, 2011

You say that the new school is "not an obvious upward move". If that's right, they may well be wondering why you are interested, and whether you would seriously consider a job offer (rather than just playing them to get a salary increase at your current school -- this is, after all, the way it works in academia). The bigger the disparity between the two jobs, the more reason to tell.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:31 AM on February 8, 2011

I would also see this as a positive when I was hiring someone. I have a great employee right now that's only in the area because his SO has a wonderful job here and plans to stay for the forseeable future. Total win for us because we get someone who is way above the usual caliber for that level of position and I know he plans to stick around for at least a few more years.
posted by fshgrl at 9:33 AM on February 8, 2011

Just one thought, based on possible interpretations of last sentence; if your spouse works for the employer there's generally a box on the application asking you this. If they do, there's a reasonable conflict of interest disclosure to think about. In this case, the existence of a spouse seems like a reasonable thing to mention, and omitting it could have future consequences.
posted by pwnguin at 9:41 AM on February 8, 2011

I think that as long as you don't make it sound as if it's the primary reason that you want to work there, you should be fine.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:41 AM on February 8, 2011

I (also a new Asst. Prof) think it's a plus to mention family in the area, but not the spouse, as zizzle brings up. They'll see that you have good reason to settle but it's not a necessary move. That said, I've never heard of anything happening like in zizzle's comment, but consider me sufficiently dissuaded from ever showing my hand too much in the future!
posted by monkeymadness at 9:51 AM on February 8, 2011

If it is not looking like a lateral or an upgrade of institution or position you want to signal that you are not going through this for salary negotiations at your present institution so family in the area would be a good signal without getting into detail.

I know that search committees want to avoid failed searches so they will wish to forward truly viable candidates. In consequence, they will wonder why you would be interested in going to a lower ranked school or giving up tenure for a non-tenured position. You just need to make sure that they do not interpret your downward mobility due to fears of being denied tenure or other behaviors.
posted by jadepearl at 10:34 AM on February 8, 2011

When I was applying for assistant professor jobs, my advisor(s) told me that it would be a plus to mention an emotional tie to the area. (They had me put it in the concluding paragraph of my cover letter... something like "And, as a former XstateX resident, I am excited about the idea of being closer to my family."

Are you willing to take this job with no negotiation? I think that telling them that your spouse is there is a good idea, maybe informally at lunch or something.
posted by k8t at 10:35 AM on February 8, 2011

I think in addition to mentioning family in the area, you might also mention that you used to live there (did you grow up there?), that you really liked the city for reasons XYZ, and you're happy to have the chance to move back. I would not mention spouse specifically.

Once they get into the relocation discussion, would it make sense for you to look for a new place to live and then move with your spouse into that new place?
posted by CathyG at 10:39 AM on February 8, 2011

Having family in the area (no need to be specific, though I wouldn't go out of my way to avoid being specific either) would help them understand why you are applying. Presumably, they are wondering why you would want a job that's a step down, and if you don't tell them, they will guess. Their guesses might be that the tenure process isn't going well at your current institution or you are trying to use them to leverage for more money.

Explaining how you are truly interested in the position because of research, students, etc, is great, and letting them know you have a specific interest in the area because of family is very compelling.

Also, they may worry you will be looking for a spousal offer or something anyway. We've had candidates decline offers of late because they didn't want to relocated during a bad economy because they were worried their spouse might not be able to find a job. So knowing your spouse is already employed in the area might be looked upon well.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:21 AM on February 8, 2011

Having a 2-body-problem motivation for considering us is something we always consider a plus in a faculty search. It means that if we decide to make an offer, the candidate is more likely to accept, so we won't be wasting time and effort in making an offer.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:42 AM on February 8, 2011

Yeah, mentioning it would help explain a uh lateral career move--and if it's a department that suffers from people using it as a stepping stone to Metropolis U and leaving after two years (as happened more than once at an excellent department I've worked in, at a good university, in a famously beautiful and livable city... that wasn't London, or near it), knowing that a candidate has a personal reason for sticking around is much more likely to be a plus. Of course, this is in the UK where the salary range is part of the job ad--so it's not going to lead them to make a low offer.

We're shortlisting for a position in my department right now, and I was very pleased to see that one strong candidate has a husband in a city that is a manageable commute away, for precisely this reason.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:16 PM on February 8, 2011

Also, it is good you are thinking about it. Although it is clearly illegal, it is still remarkably common to be asked about your spouse.
posted by lab.beetle at 3:25 PM on February 8, 2011

surely it would be weird, wouldn't it, if I get hired and arrive in the fall, and then say, oh yeah, my spouse has worked here for [x] years? works here

No, not at all. Even if(when) they suss out that a large part of your motivation was that she already had a job there, it'll just be part of general backstory. Yeah, even though it's technically illegal to ask about marital status and such (in USA, anyway), they'll want to know -- one of the things they're trying to find out is whether hiring you involves the two body / trailing spouse problem. Siva Vaidhyanathan (home page) posted some interesting advice about this -- see especially point #8.

You could truthfully say that your wife wants to live and work in the area; I wouldn't advise laying all your cards on the table by telling them everything, but saying that she will(has already) secured a job in the area would probably be seen as a plus.

Also: Be confident; don't think of this as something you have to hide (because they might pick up on a vibe that you have something to hide). Knock 'em dead.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 8:12 PM on February 8, 2011

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