Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When Do I Reveal I'm Half of a Dual-Career Couple?

When during a job interview do you mention that you are part of a dual-career couple? This question is a particularly important one for female scientists.


Because a recent survey of 30,000 faculty members at 13 major universities found that 83% of the female scientists had life partners who were members of their own discipline. There are a number of ramifications of this finding, which can be read in depth in the report: Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know.

So the likelihood that a female scientist will be part of a dual-career couple both seeking jobs in a scientific field is high. Deciding whose career will take precedence and other difficult decisions will have to be dealt with. It’s not easy (maybe more about my own experience later).

But when to break the news about your partner to a potential employer? Young job seekers with partners are often uncertain about when and how to mention the fact that their decision will depend partly on whether their partner will be willing to move or if there will be a suitable job for the partner at the new location. The general advice is not to reveal too soon during the hiring process that there is a partner or that this is even an issue. Not tipping your hand too soon is not being dishonest. You are not obligated to reveal this information and if you do so voluntarily, it could hurt your chances, especially if you are female.

Employers cannot legally ask about one’s marital status or children or similar personal information. I would advise young women (and men) not to mention anything about any potential issues until they have an offer in hand. I’m not talking here about something that would interfere with your ability to do the job being offered, but information that might cause a potential employer to select someone else equally qualified but without “personal baggage”. The time to bring up the issue of a spouse is after the job offer is in hand and negotiations have begun.

Most employers expect that people applying for a position will be in a relationship and actually anticipate questions about accommodating a dual-career couple, particularly universities.

I’ve found that young people I’ve interviewed for positions often jump the gun during the interview and try to start negotiating for salary, time off, perks, etc. This type of approach gives a potential employer the wrong impression—a bad one. Your goal during the interview process is to make them want you. After you have the offer is the time to ask for what you want.

The Clayman Institute for Gender Studies, which sponsored the report mentioned above, is developing information for graduate students entering the job market. The report, however, summarizes some useful advice about “what is the process, how do faculty jobs come about, how do universities work, who should I turn to, who is going to broker the deal in the university, so who should I be talking to there. And when, absolutely, should I mention a partner?”

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