The “Hidden Curriculum” received the following question, and decided to do some field research. Here is the question, followed by a write-up of how several department chairs (past and present) responded:
Q: How do you deal with the spousal accommodation when on the job interview?
First, our respondents all agreed that “couples” should “go solo” in the application stage. By submitting separate application, couples will maximize their chances of getting as many interviews as possible, which ultimately offers the best chance of joint success.
Most of our respondents expressly indicated that they thought it was inappropriate for a chair or Dean to raise the issue of one’s spouse during the interview. The focus of the interview should be the quality of the candidate, not any complicating factors in his/her personal situation. So – it sounds like one could avoid addressing the “spousal accommodation” entirely during the interview, in many cases.
There was also a general consensus that requests for a spousal accommodation are best introduced after a job offer has been made, as a condition of hiring. This makes sense for two reasons. First, a spousal accommodation is an important issue that will have direct bearing on whether a candidate will accept a given position. Thus, it makes perfect sense that this should be part of the negotiation in working out the parameters of a job offer. Second, if discussion of a spousal accommodation occurs during the job interview, chairs are actually put in an awkward position, because they want to avoid any appearance that a spousal situation affected the hiring decision. So – it seems that chairs actually prefer to have this conversation after hiring decision is made.
A few more thoughts to share:
One respondent mentioned that applicants sometimes struggle with this issue because they feel a bit dishonest, holding back important information from a potential employer. This person emphasized that job candidates should NOT feel any compunction about waiting until after receiving a job offer to raise the issue of a spousal accommodation. These situations are very common in academia, and let’s face it: if a chair or Dean gets upset about this, well, that says something about that department/institution, doesn’t it?!
Another respondent mentioned that these “guidelines” mostly apply to junior level hiring. Senior level hiring is a different enterprise, since academic power-couples are publicly known to potential employers. In those situations, it probably makes sense to talk about spousal hiring during the job interview, since chairs/Dean already know the situation is on the radar.
Finally – one respondent mentioned that even if your spouse is a non-academic, you might want to ask about how the University might support his/her career prospects. As this respondent said, “you’d be surprised what universities can do when they really, really want to hire someone. You’ll never know, unless you ask!”
Thanks to our anonymous respondents! Feel free to disagree or add your thoughts in the “Comments.”