As a grad student, the job search can be a very overwhelming and daunting task to undertake.  More often than not, I find myself searching endlessly on job search sites, trying to navigate the vague rhetoric of job descriptions and qualifications to find out what they are really looking for in a candidate, and if I qualify.  Now, for the purposes of this blog, multiply that by two, and add into the equation the following variables:  different jobs, different pay grades, and different expectations for regions, locale, and accommodations.  You have just created the equation for the dual job search that partners have to solve.

My fiancé and I have just spent the past 6 months trying to tackle this career conundrum.  As we went though this process, there were certain things that worked, and others that didn’t.  Below, I will share a few take-away’s that have helped us along the way, and share our experience so that it may help others in a similar position.

Now, to provide some context, I am an ABD grad student currently about a third of the way through my dissertation.  For me, my first “job” is the dissertation, followed by the need to gain “real world experience”, whether it be teaching, research, or publishing (side note: quotation marks tend to be sarcastic).  My fiancé just finished her Master’s degree and is more officially on the job market than myself.  So, right off the bat, we find that we are at differing stages in our professional life, in different fields, looking for different types of jobs.  My fiancé is looking for full-time jobs with benefits and all the perks, while I am looking for something that won’t completely overwhelm my writing, but still provide a steady income.

With this in mind, tip number one:  you and your partner need to be very clear whose job search takes priority. It was very clear to us what my priority was at this time in my life (writing) compared to what her priority was (job).  Therefore, my fiancé took the lead on the search.  This allowed her to find and apply for jobs that she truly wanted and was a good fit for, without having to compromise.  When she found a job that she really liked and applied for, I would then begin my search in the same area.  The take-away from this is to be very up-front with your goals, and set your expectations early…individually first, and then formulate a team plan for the search process.  Or as my fiancé says, “teamwork makes the dream-work!” (Insert sappy 80’s music and a jumping high-five)

Tip number two has to do with location.  I come from a long line of auto workers, where generations of family lived in the Detroit area and didn’t have to move far for jobs.  But, with the economy like it is, and with both my fiancé and myself being in academia, we knew we were looking to make a major move.  You have to go where there are jobs.  Back when jobs were abundant, people could say, “I want to move either here, here, or here”.  We were left saying “Of all the places, we don’t want to move here, here, or here”.

Furthermore, I am from the Midwest, and she is from the west coast, so of course family and friends played a big part. There are so many variables that play into location, such as general interests, hobbies, the type of institutions in the area, climate, urban vs. rural. Even how liberal or conservative an area is can have a big impact on you settling on a location.

This may be the biggest compromise of the process: where do we want to end up.

My fiancé started applying to jobs in several areas, which when placed on a map, looked like a scattershot across the U.S.  From Virginia, to Hawaii, to the west coast, our job search area was huge.  At first, this was very exciting, and in a way liberating knowing that we aren’t limited to a certain area.  But we quickly became very overwhelmed.  It felt as if we were throwing darts at a map.  We also quickly learned that certain jobs my fiancé was after were hard to find, and she had to alter her search a little.  After a few months, one region in particular started proving more productive in terms of job openings and interviews, and several looked very promising.  As we began to hone in on this area, I also learned that my advisors and professors had connections in the area, so things were looking up for my search as well.  The take-away from this: you do have to go where the jobs are, but don’t have too big of a search area.  Also, don’t have too small of a search area, such as a specific city of area of a city.  Sometimes, even a single state may be too small (sorry Rhode Island, that is not a jab at you).  Find a good compromise in an area that you both will enjoy, and be flexible!

In the end my fiancé got the job, and in an area that we are both very excited to move to!  She is happy with the job, the region, and the institution.  And yet, I didn’t get a job.  But that is okay, because from the onset, we were very clear about our expectations (see tip one) and being that I need to be focused on writing, it was understood that her job comes first.  The feminist in me is glad to have her as the breadwinner, where I can now focus on finishing my degree. I am still looking however, and have some good leads, but ultimately, this was still a success.  It was a success because we didn’t settle.  It was a success because we are both happy with the area, and I have good prospects for a job.  This was a success, well, because we are still together and didn’t kill each other!

This wasn’t all just one happy process though.  There were tears, there were arguments, and there were those days that nothing worked out and everything seemed to just be a dead end.  In this case, you have to be able to take a break and walk away from it for a while.  The whole process is a give and take between you and your partner.  For this to work, you have to trust each other, have a good game plan, and be very flexible in both your expectations and the end result.  But above all, you cannot do this without supporting each other.  Ultimately, this was a success because we worked together, stayed very honest to each other and to the process, and came out the other end a better couple with a stronger relationship. (Next time: Making the move cross-country without killing your partner!)


[Image by Flickr user RoamingAcademic of the GradHacker team, used under Creative Commons license]

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11 Responses to Navigating the Couple Job Search

  1. shelby says:

    great advice! glad things are working out well. my husband and i just moved cross country after a dual job search, so i’m excited to hear more in your series! 🙂

    we also used for our job search quite a bit because they have a new “dual career search” feature that was helpful to search two completely different fields for jobs within a certain distance of each other.

    • Chris Stawski says:

      Excellent advice! That is why I decided to write about this topic, because there are so many people out there have experienced this same ordeal, and have their own bits of advice. Thank you so much for sharing you story!

  2. Stephanie Hilliard says:

    Glad to hear that you used good sense and good communication and the situation worked out well. I have seen the flip side – a couple who both got their Ph.D.s, married, and then ended up split up a year later. I don’t know them well enough to say for sure, but I suspect they did not communicate about their expectations and which partner would have priority in the career search. Sounds like you did NOT make that mistake and you’re on your way to a good career (and a good relationship!). Best wishes.

  3. […] on hacking your committee meetings, coming to grips with not knowing the answers anymore, and the dual-career job search. While it seems that the authors thus far are mainly in the humanities, the issues discussed are […]

  4. Terry Brock says:

    Chris – this couldn’t sound anymore like my experience. The only difference was that we limited our search to the geographic region I needed to be in for my research, but within that area, her job was the priority. It has worked out well so far. Stephanie is right: communicating is the key, and with that comes setting up a plan, but be willing to modify it.

  5. cory.owen says:

    What a great post! While I’ve just started my PhD, my husband’s work is very specific and we can only live in a large metropolitan for his career to flourish. We’ve considered doing a few years apart until I’m ABD.

    @Shelby: I had no idea did the dual search! That is incredibly helpful to know!

  6. Sound advice! I could relate to this as my husband and I are going through this as well but with the added complication of having a daughter in high school. I totally agree about working out which partner has priority in the job hunt. In an ideal world there would be loads of suitable jobs in different fields in the same locality but we live in reality. I am the one whose job search is secondary, but this restriction will mean that I might end up with a job that I would not normally have considered. The unexpected can throw up opportunities that I would not normally be open to so I am looking forward to the ride!

  7. Danielle Helzer says:

    excellent advice! thanks for sharing!

  8. Brian K says:

    Excellent advice. I am in exactly the same situation as yours (though we are not from the same niche) and would look forward for more posts from you.

    I also came to know about something called the 30-60 plan and it was quite an interesting read. I used it on one of my interviews and it really did the job for me.

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