My Biggest Professional Mistake

It was the summer of 2016.  My wife had gotten a faculty job 3 hours away from our home.  After a couple of months of just seeing each other on the weekends, we decided we didn’t want to live apart, so we started looking for other jobs.  At this time, I told my department chair what was happening and asked that they talk to the Dean about the potential for doing a spousal hire for my wife.  The college had recently done a spousal hire for another faculty, so I knew it was a possibility.  I also knew it would be better if I had an alternate offer in hand.  So off I went onto the job market.

I applied primarily for anesthesiologist jobs overseas.  I didn’t realize at the time that overseas universities don’t do spousal hiring.  But I got a lot of experience with video interviews!  I applied for a variety of non-veterinary faculty positions around Columbia, SC and got nowhere.  I applied for department chair jobs in the U.S., of which there were only a few.  I got an interview and eventually an offer at another university.

This all happened when I was away on locum.  I emailed my department chair the offer I had from the other institution and my wife’s CV.  The other institution only gave me 2 weeks to make a decision, which was a small red flag I wish I had paid closer attention to.  They also did not offer a spousal hire for my wife.  Where I had been working for 15 years apparently made no progress on a spousal hire for my wife, so I took the job at the other institution.

Why did my home university not put together a retention offer for me?  I’m still not sure.  It may be because I wasn’t talking directly with the Dean and my chair wasn’t able to make them understand my situation.  Maybe they thought I was bluffing, which I never do.  Maybe I wasn’t as valuable to the institution as I thought.  Maybe the Dean was already on the way out and didn’t want to saddle the next Dean with a spousal hire.  I’m still not sure, but here’s what I would do differently now:

1) Talk directly to the Dean.  I should have met with the Dean as soon as I started looking elsewhere so they knew my situation.

2) Push back against the hiring institution for a 2-week timeline for a decision.  It’s possible they had another choice after me, but I suspect this was just a high-pressure tactic to minimize the chance of my home institution giving me a retention offer.

3) Hold out for a spousal hire offer.  I should have never taken the job at the new university ‘hoping’ they would find something for my wife.  This was another red flag I should have picked up on.  Their spousal hiring policy (that is, no spouses ever hired at that institution) is disastrous and actively makes it hard to recruit faculty there.  I should have continued to apply for positions and waited until I got an offer from somewhere that would also give my wife a job.  This is the strategy I employed when searching for a new job in 2018 and it worked out very successfully.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes and avoid making the same ones yourself.  The biggest thing in life is to keep learning and getting better- no one is perfect!

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