Successfully Navigating the Spousal Hire

The Vetducator - married wedding rings on each hand picture.

So you want to go into academia, and your spouse also wants to work at the same institution.  There is a position open for you, you interview, you get an offer. How do you handle negotiating a hire for your spouse?  I have been successful and unsuccessful in this pursuit, so I will share my perspective with you. Realize that the spousal hire is probably the most complex, nuanced, and difficult negotiation in academic veterinary medicine.  There are no guarantees, but hopefully these notes will help.

1) Do not bring it up during your interview.  I spoke to a department chair recently who mentioned that an applicant brought up the potential for a spousal hire during their discussions and I physically cringed.  DO NOT DO THIS. The job interview is about the JOB. Don’t bring up your kids, your significant other, NOTHING that doesn’t directly relate to your ability to be awesome at the job.  You wait until you have an offer in hand to bring up a spousal hire. Imagine two identical candidates: one is single without any hassles about hiring them, the other with a spousal hire which requires significant hassle dealing with the Dean and Provost.  Which do you think will get a job offer? Even if they don’t consciously discuss it, unconscious biases can creep in. Do not discuss your spouse before getting an offer.

2) Make it your highest negotiation priority.  You may not get a higher salary, or equipment, or any of the other things you can negotiate for as a faculty candidate.  Make it clear that a spousal hire is your highest priority- don’t just tack it on like an afterthought. Open with it in written negotiations once you have an offer.

3) Some institutions Do Not Do spousal hires.  This is most evident overseas. I had a couple of offers from universities in Oceania; when I asked for a spousal hire they looked at me like I had grown a second head.  Possibly some overseas schools do offer them, but I have heard that this is Not A Thing outside the United States. Possibly Canada- can anyone comment on Canadian schools doing spousal hires?  Also, within the U. S., some schools have a moratorium on them. One school I worked at had a strict no-spouse-works-for-that-same-university-at-all policy. So even if we had two open positions which would be perfect for two people who happened to be married, we could only hire one of them.

4) Be specific.  I recommend being as specific as you need to be for the position for your spouse.  If they would be happy doing any job at the university, fine. If they want a tenure-track position, specify that.  If there is a salary range they want, specify that. The worst thing is to say, “Yes, please give my spouse a job”, they do so, then you come back with, “Oh, yeah, no, can I also have This and That and The Other Thing?”  As with all negotiations, ask for what you want up front. This also makes it clearer when the department head brings it to the Dean.

5) Be flexible.  Maybe your spouse WANTS a tenure-track position, but would they be happy with a lecturer position?  Decide exactly how important each element of a potential position is. My spouse ideally wants a teaching-heavy lecturer position, but, when offered a clinic-heavy position with some teaching, she was happy with that.  Decide AHEAD OF TIME exactly what your spouse would be content with so that if you don’t get your first ask, but the institution is willing to work with you to some degree, you will know how to navigate it.

6) You must be outstanding.  If you are just finishing a residency, or only have one publication to your name, or otherwise are just ‘meeting expectations’, you are in a relatively weaker negotiation position.  If the institution is desperate, you may still get what you want. But the more amazing your CV, the more likely you are to successfully negotiate for a spousal hire.

7) Be prepared for no.  I asked for a spousal hire after getting an offer and was told “no” and “we need your answer in under 2 weeks.”  I was caught a little off guard, because I didn’t consider it an exceptional request for this institution. I should have spent more time thinking about and talking with my SO about what we would do if there weren’t a position for her.  Most other things you ask for in a negotiation you can get at least some traction on, but the spousal hire is a rare bird. Don’t count on it.

As always with negotiations, be dispassionate and professional.  You can always ask, but realize that you may get a ‘no’. Decide ahead of time if that is a deal-breaker for you or not.  On my last round of job applications, I decided the spousal hire WAS a deal-breaker, and I was willing to wait until I found an institution willing to offer one.  I believe that fortitude was essential to my success. I wish you luck, and let me know what questions you have about this process!

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