Introduction to the Dual Career Services: How a dual career office may support your job search

 Erin Burns   July 23, 2019  Career Advice

From HERC: In a dual career couple, both partners work or are searching for employment. For HERC’s purposes, at least one partner in a dual career couple works in higher education. To accompany HERC’s Dual Career Job Search, this Dual Career Blog Series supports dual career couples in planning, preparing for, and executing successful higher education job searches and career transitions that work for both individuals. HERC supports dual career couples as a matter of intersectional justice and gender equity.

From the author, Phyllis Brust, PhD: In the first blog of our series, I will review some of the basic aspects of dual career services. In the future, my colleagues and I will write tips and advice, give the insider’s perspective, and answer many of your questions.

Two hypothetical yet accomplished PhD students fall in love and live happily—until they get multiple academic offers 1,500 miles apart and must decide what to do. Sound familiar?

They are contemplating their options: Accept both offers and commute; accept the best offer (and hope the partner’s turn will be next); or put both offers in a hat and pick one randomly. They briefly considered dropping their academic dreams to start a craft beer business called Profess, but ruled it out. Their families advised them do what makes them happy, which doesn’t help at all.

As they ponder their futures, the chair of the hiring committee at one university told them that dual career services can handle their “two-body problem”* (borrowing a physics term). They thought they had opportunities—or at worst a dilemma—but they weren’t a “problem.” A two-body problem sounded like something in need of punishment (or antibiotics). And what, the couple asks, are dual career services?

They are not alone. In 2008, the Clayman Institute of Gender Studies at Stanford University wrote the classic, oft-cited research study, “Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know.” The authors surveyed 9,000 full-time faculty members at 13 universities. Seventy-two percent of the faculty surveyed had employed partners (half were in academia). From the report: “A full 88 percent of faculty who successfully negotiated a dual hire at their current institution indicated that the first hire would have refused the position had her or his partner not found appropriate employment. Slightly more than 20 percent also report that they or their partner have taken a job at a less prestigious institution to improve the couple’s overall employment situation.” This is especially the case when the lead partner is a woman or from an underrepresented group. Employer dual career assistance is a diversity measure.

What are dual career services?

Dual career services help the accompanying partners of faculty candidates (known as the lead partner) find employment, whether at the recruiting institution or elsewhere. Institutions vary greatly in the resources they offer and the procedures they use. Colleges and universities may have a dedicated dual career department, dual career services may be integrated through other offices of the college, or they may be outsourced. Services commonly include, but are not limited to, career counseling; bridge funding (explained below); housing assistance; resume, CV and cover letter help; and networking leads. Some schools also consider job sharing and other creative staffing solutions to the two-body opportunity.

Dual career services take some of the weight off department chairs who move heaven and earth to convince faculty recruits to accept their offer. Dual career specialists form a partnership with the family being recruited.

Are my partner/spouse and I eligible for dual career services’ support?

Institutions have guidelines regarding who may use dual career services. Some institutions only offer resources to upper level administration, departments with retention issues, and the accompanying partners of lead partners with tenure-track offers. Other institutions offer services to all employees and those still interviewing. Post-docs are usually excluded, as are accompanying partners without work authorization, but there may be another mechanism for their getting help. Each organization decides its services based on its staffing, mission, and need. In my experience, dual career services did not differentiate as to whether the couple was married or not.

Always ask what resources you can tap into. If you aren’t sure whom to ask, start with the chair of the hiring committee.

Besides career and housing support, what other services can dual career specialists provide?

Some colleges and universities will be more hands-on than others. Dual career offices may also act as clearinghouses answering specific questions critical to a couple’s particular situation. For example, my former role as a dual career director, I’ve identified the best school districts for students on the autism spectrum, pre-school options, and Japanese cultural centers in the suburbs. Further afield, my former colleague and I identified rental options for a family with an elevator-phobic dog, amateur jazz bands for a clarinetist, and gymnastics clubs for kids who aren’t good at gymnastics (harder than you think). Colleagues at other schools have fulfilled similar requests. These were critical issues for the families contemplating university offers. Some schools will have more of a capacity to answer such questions than others.

My partner and I are both considering employment opportunities at the same university. What support may be available for us?

Schools have different weapons at their disposal. One of the most popular is bridge funding, a time-limited (most often three years) appointment for the accompanying partner, usually at the lead partner’s hiring institution. Generally, the cost is shared among the provost, the hiring department of the lead partner and the hiring department of the accompanying partner. Occasionally, institutions do create positions for a talented accompanying spouse or partner. Bridge funding can be utilized for not only faculty positions, but for administrative positions as well. It’s hoped that this opportunity will enable the accompanying partner to gain experience and contacts and will lead to a full-time position (but that is not always the case, which can lead to job hunting and renegotiation later).

Accompanying partners unaccustomed to this level of attention may be awed. Others may be skeptical of what the office can do, especially if the accompanying partner is seeking a tenure-track position.

What don’t career offices do?

Dual career specialists do not guarantee you a job. They offer contacts, career guidance, support, an understanding ear, resume/CV reviews and more—your tour guide in a new world.

What’s next for the HERC Dual Career blog?

I’ll cover tips and preparation in the next post. HERC has compiled articles and other dual career information you may find helpful hereYou may find the Clayman Report here. I suggest at least reading the summary. Upcoming blogs will help our hypothetical couple and you understand and navigate the process to your best advantage. You are not alone.

*Some institutions feel that this is a disparaging term, implying that the couple is unequal. For the same reason, “trailing partner” is no longer used by dual career offices. We will use “lead partner” and “accompanying partner.”

Photo credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection

Disclaimer: Since dual career support varies widely from institution to institution, do your due diligence. The content and advice may not apply in your situation. We try our best to avoid, but cannot be responsible for, errors.

About the Author: Phyllis Brust, PhD, is a writer and career counselor. She was the first director of the dual-career office at the University of Chicago. Previously, she was career director of the public policy school at UChicago and Muhlenberg College and assistant director of the Yale School of Management. Her articles include “What I Learned from Being Laid Off” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2018),  “At Some Companies You Can’t Hire One Spouse Without Helping the Other Job Hunt” (SHRM.org, 2017), and a co-written chapter in Advancing Women in Academic STEM Fields Through Dual Career Policies and Practices (Information Age Publishing, 2018). She created careermutt.com for people looking for pet-related careers.

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