Negotiating the Spousal Hire

[This post is based on parts of last week’s post “How To Negotiate Your Tenure Track Offer.” Since some readers focused on the spousal issue may have missed that post, I am publishing this under this new title here.  I welcome comments on any aspect of spousal hiring from both the institutional and candidate perspectives, both happy endings and horror stories.  Comment away!]

The dreaded spousal issue…this is the hardest negotiation of all.  In general, wait until you have a firm offer before you bring up the spouse. Any mention earlier than that could well work against you in the minds of the faculty, consciously or unconsciously. Once the offer is in hand, mention your spouse to the Department Head. Be aware that this is the one and only chance that you will have to negotiate for a spousal hire, so DO NOT WASTE IT! Push as firmly as you can for the actual tenure-track offer, and don’t be put off with the range of one-year, two-year, three- year, instructor, adjunct, and visiting positions that they will try to pawn off on you.

They may say something like “oh we can revisit your husband’s tenure case later, when this contract is up,” but DON’T BELIEVE IT. It is never, ever revisited after you lose the leverage of the initial offer (that is, until you gain the leverage of an external offer, and that’s a pain and time-consuming to manage).

Accept nothing in negotiations, but absolutely nothing in the case of spousal negotiations, that is not in writing. Any “informal” agreements or understandings that you may have with the current Head or Dean are meaningless if not in writing, because Heads and Deans change, and with no written agreement, all arrangements are void.

Make sure that your spouse is debut-ready. His or her cv should be spit-shined, the dissertation finished, and a polished research and teaching statement prepared.   The spouse should have refereed journal articles published or in press, and overall,  a record as strong and competitive as anyone on the market.

The spouse needs to be personable and agreeable, and should take every opportunity to appear a potential asset to the institution.  I speak from personal experience here with my ex-husband, but a crabby, negative spouse who resents being characterized as “trailing” will likely derail the process entirely.

Be clear about the full range of departments the spouse would be eligible for an appointment in, and the full range of positions for which he/she is qualified.  Be flexible about any offered position that is tenure-track. There are many painful and difficult negotiations that have to take place to line up a spousal hire, and some departments and department heads will play ball more than others. Some Heads are incompetent while others are savvy. To some extent you are at the various Heads’ mercy.

Be aware of how spousal hires are paid for. Generally, the original department will pay one third of the spousal hire’s salary, the Dean’s office will pay one third, and then the spouse-receiving department will pay one third. This obviously can have a great deal of appeal for the receiving department, especially if they are cash-poor, as they are getting one full line for 1/3 cost. However, they may resent being forced to accept a faculty member whom they did not go out and recruit on their own, and they may fear that the spouse hire will derail the prior hiring goals they had in place (ie, the Dean says, “since you got this full line this year, we can postpone your original search requests”).

Thus the initial department may have to knock on several doors to find a department willing to take this “free gift,” and may well find it impossible, in the end, to accomplish.

The important thing, once again, is to hold firm and politely repeat, “My biggest priority is a position for my spouse,” without any escalation or emotionalism or drama, day after day, to person after person, until you either get the spousal offer, or get a flat-out NO that you read as unmistakable. As long as they are still talking to you about it, don’t waver.  Realize that this goal will very likely, unless you are some kind of super-star, take many other negotiable elements of your offer off the table, such as substantially higher salary, research funds, etc.  The spousal hire is the big-ticket item, and when you count its value to your family in terms of added income, retirement benefits, and domestic peace, it takes precedence over all other perks.

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Negotiating the Spousal Hire — 47 Comments

  1. Thanks Karen.
    From what you say I am guessing that a spousal hire in the same department is going to be more difficult to secure than one in another department. Does anyone have experience with this particular issue? Should we be focusing on something else?

    • You can’t really assume that it will be more difficult.. it might be easier, if it’s a well-funded and powerful department that gets what it wants. In a department of 50 faculty, adding one more is not a huge step. In a department of 5, it’s massive, and thus controversial.

  2. I was offered a TT position at an R1 this spring and negotiated to have a spousal hire as part of the package, but I’m commenting here because the way that I/we did so is completely counter to all of the advice I have ever heard, including that supplied above. Since it is counter, it might not be of further use to any one, but it can at least be included in our mental lore for the future? I had a phone interview for the above position, which went really well, and was followed within 24 hours with an e-mail offering an on-campus interview. I happened to have an offer in hand at the time…but it did not represent my ideal academic situation, whereas this new possibility seemed almost ideal. Deciding, “what the heck”, I replied saying that I thought this department was a much better fit and that I would love to come interview, but that I needed them to know that I had an offer in hand already, and as such, I would need to interview ASAP, I would need to be offered the position before the deadline for my previous offer…and that I would need a spousal hire (I still can’t believe that I actually said these things.) I did so very, very courteously and while making it clear that I was tremendously excited to interview, that I was very grateful to be asked, and that I realized that all of the above might not actually be possible, but that they were my needs and I was going to approach this entire process as honestly and transparently as I could.

    And do you know, it worked! I was offered the position at the end of my interview, my spouse’s CV was vetted alongside mine during the interview process, and while my printed offer was being worked up, we traveled back so that my spouse could interview. With the Dean and the Provost’s approval, a position was made for my spouse (that roughly fit the specifics we had laid out and all of us had negotiated over). We ended up within the same department (which is small), and research institute. In this case, it helped that we were in the same discipline, because everything was absorbed and negotiated ‘in house’. I am certain that it would not have worked so well if we had differing foci.

    I will also note that our university is amenable to spousal hires as there are limited employment opportunities in the region, but there are certainly not tons of academic couples on campus. We were very fortunate, but I think that sometimes, given all of the subterfuge that is a part of modern academic hiring and negotiations, being very straightforward can be very refreshing to all involved (and sets a nice precedent for what you will be like as a future colleague). I think that suddenly bringing up, “oh yes, and I’m going to need a spousal hire” after the department and the Dean have scraped the funds for one line together could potentially be really, really frustrating and irritating for administrators.

  3. One takeaway from Jasprann’s story that aligns with my own observation: competing offers help a lot with spousal hire negotiations.

  4. I know that this is an older essay, but I have a further question about spousal hires: is it appropriate to request one for a future spouse? As in, if you interview when you are engaged, but you will be married by the time the job begins, can you negotiate a spousal hire? Do you recommend disclosure of engaged/married status at job talks, or should we leave the ring(s) at home?

    Also, generally speaking, do you think it is a plus or a minus to be married on the job market, as an academic couple? I don’t like the idea of rushing into marriage just to be assured that my partner and I can live in the same city/state, and I’ve heard that it can actually be a liability on the market.

    • I think the hard truth is that the spousal hire is such a pain in the ass for institutions to arrange that without the imprimatur of actual marriage they will balk (when this is possible–the same rule doesn’t apply to gay couples).

      Don’t disclose the spouse who needs a job until a firm written offer has been made. If you have a spouse in a different line of work, you can mention him/her during the visit!

      The plus/minus of being married on the job market is impossible to answer. I don’t think it’s a liability. I think it’s a STRAIN on you as a couple until you get work for both of you in the same location, but in terms of your standing for a job, I have not noticed that marital status has played a role in hiring, in the departments I’ve been associated with.

      • Interesting. It’s something my partner and I are currently debating, as we are both in academia. We are a bit on the younger side (entered grad school right out of college), so we are not sure we want to rush to get married – especially because the thought of getting married only to immediately be separated due to the job market makes us both miserable. However, if marriage means spousal hires, it’s a point to consider, although since we are in different fields, there’s no telling how it would shake out. The problem is, it’s going to be an emotional liability either way.

        Thanks again for your excellent advice!

        • I know that this is an older post, but for future readers, I will share my experience. I negotiated a TT for my long-time (heterosexual) partner (to whom I was not then married) when offered my first TT position. I consistently referred to him as my partner and no one ever asked if we were officially married. Because we were in a deeply committed relationship, this actually felt entirely natural to me and I didn’t think much about it.

          • I am grateful for your post as my “partner” and I also do not have marital status.

          • Late to the party, but seconding EE’s remark. I was also brought along as a “spousal” hire by my partner, to whom I am not married.

  5. Very useful post, thank you! Would you have any insights on whether it is also possible to negotiate a spousal hire at a European University?

  6. Have you ever seen a sposal hire notiated when applying for a professional position? I am considering applying for a director position which is considered professional, but my husband would like to teach in the same department.

  7. Dear Karen,
    Thanks for this post. I know that I’m coming to the table late (this is an older post) but I am in the early stages of interviewing for a position at the assistant level. My spouse is an associate (recently tenured) at an R1 with an extraordinary record (and I am as unbiased as a spouse can be about their spouse): her book just published on a top university press in a highly estimable book series, she founded & edits a UP book series squarely in her specialization, she is on the editorial board of several journals (and at least one is extremely well respected across several fields), and she has a name in here field and subfields. In short her star is rising.

    I received my Ph.D. at the R1 where she is tenured and the school at which I am interviewing is a rising school (in the area of research) with a strong endowment but not an R1.

    We are looking to “change our stars” for several reasons but, in short, would it be harder or simpler for me to negotiate a position for her (and I could in the dept. that I am interviewing in or two other, different, departments) if I succeed in the interview?

    Thanks in advance

  8. Hi Karen,

    I know this is an older post but I have a question

    My partner is a (tenured) associate professor at an R1 and is very accomplished; a rising star. I don’t want to go into too much detail but (some highlights) my partner recently published an important book (in my partner’s field and across a few sub-fields), is on the editorial board of several important journals, and is the lead editor on a UP book series in her field.

    Now, if I were to be offered a job at a large public SLAC (not R1) could I confidently negotiate a tenure track position for her at the hiring institution? What might the hiring institution’s concerns be?

    Also, would it matter that I could negotiate a position in the dept. into which I would be hired (because I could)?

    Thanks so much.

  9. Karen,
    Thanks for this incredibly helpful post. A speculative question: I am on the job market, my partner has a job. He doesn’t love the place he is at, and I don’t want to make my career there – it is not a research institution, it is remote, and the faculty that I could work in doesn’t do research in my speciality field at all. I’d be alone out there.
    I am on the market, and am concerned about spousal hire for one particular reason. I am also newly pregnant. In interviews one could not tell, but by the time of the job’s start date, I would be having a baby. Therefore, if a firm offer is extended I need two things: 1) a later start date (winter, as opposed to fall semester) and a spousal hire (for my spousal to whom I am not married).
    Is it possible to negotiate both of these things? And if so, which do I bring up first…

    • It is possible to negotiate for both of these things although it’s not guaranteed you’ll get them both. The later start date will likely not be a problem; the spousal is more of a challenge. Don’t bring them up at the initial interviews, or even the campus visit. Wait until a firm offer is made.

  10. I’m abd. My spouse is abd. Seems very unlikely that, should one of us get a job offer, we would be likely to be able to negotiate a full second TT position. If I were on the search committee, I wouldn’t do it.

    Some have advised on another possibility: split the position. Split teaching and split the salary. But be evaluated for tenure separately. I’ve known a few academic couples who did this, and were able to either find outside offers later to get two full positions, or were able to get a second position, post-tenure, at the same university. What is your advice on this ? And is there a way to propose this during negotiations, or is it up to the university to propose it?

  11. I second Natasha’s question. My husband is not in an academic job and also does not have a college degree. But the campus visits I have had are very far from our current location, and both of us are concerned about job possibilities for him. Being a single-income family just isn’t an option for us at this time. How do I go about negotiating a spousal hire for a non-academic spouse? Are there other services on campuses that work with local businesses to find jobs for spouses? Who do you talk to about this, and at what point?

    • I second this, however, my spouse will be obtaining his BA. However, to finish his degree he has to do an internship for a semester which would be the first semester at the University where I accepted a TT position. The university was made aware of this, they gave us some contacts in the area, he had a meeting with them, but thus far nothing has really panned out. What do we do next? They know this problems exists because it is a relatively small town – I’m not really sure who I contact, what we do, or what a proper timeline is.
      Anyone have any advice? I’ve never been in this situation before

  12. I have a question about a spousal hire and it being in two different departments. For example, I am in education and my husband is in science. He has applied for a non-tenure track position in a department in the college of arts and sciences and I’ve interviewed (on campus) for a job in the college of education. Does the fact that he has applied for the non tenure track position already benefit us if I got offered a tenure track position in the college of education?

    • It’s hard to discuss spousal issues in general; every one is unique so working with me directly should an offer arise would probably be the best idea. But in general, I’d say that it *does* benefit you that he has applied for this position. It means his material is already there and has been evaluated, and will speed up the process. Of course, if he’s been evaluated and not shortlisted, then things get dicey.

  13. Hi Karen,

    thank you very much for this very helpful post (and the awesome website, which has been a great source of advice and inspiration).

    On two out of three of my recent campus visits the department chair has asked me directly if there are two-body issues, well before an offer has been made. Given your advice on not to bring it up, do you have advice on how to respond to that question during interview? I’d be really uncomfortable saying that I didn’t have two body issues and then going back on that if an offer is made.

    • Oh if you’re directly asked of course you can’t lie!! That doesn’t typically happen and I’d consider an inappropriate-ish question. But everyone with a two body issue should have some crisp and well organized verbiage prepared for this eventuality.

  14. Lets assume, husband and wife are applying for advertised vacancies in different different departments of the same university. Should they mention that his/her spouse is applying for advertised vacancy of other school? ‘It will be great if we can work together in the same university’ ……and so and so…….before getting any offer?

  15. Hi,

    Thanks for all the info! I have a question. My husband was offered a tenure-track position at a close-to-R1 school and he mentioned me in the negotiation process. We are in different fields and in my field a post-doc position is typical (needed). I’ve not held a post-doc position but I am currently a visiting assistant professor at a SLAC.

    So my question is this…my husband signed his offer after they said a job for me would be possible (they took tenure-track off the table immediately but said post doc was likely very doable), I received a post-doc offer but the salary is about 75% of what I currently make: can I negotiate? Or do I not really have room to do this because they found me a position and we should be grateful?


    • you don’t havve much negotiating room now. the salary should have been negotiated before he signed. You can try for a 10% increase and see what happens.

  16. Hi Karen,
    Thank you for the informative post. I am wondering if you had any advice on how spousal hires may work at European institutions, or if you have any advice on where to look for this sort of information. My husband and I are trying to figure out how to best secure positions Europe, but worry that we need to have them both secured prior to moving abroad so as to not have to worry about visa problems. Thank you!

  17. Pingback: Conditionally Accepted | Advice For Preparing For The Job Market (For Scholars On The Margins)

  18. Hi Karen,

    Thanks for the useful information as always. There have been a lot of comments reflecting that many are dealing with the two body problem, so I wondered if you or any have advice on how to negotiate when there are two separate negotiations going on: that is, can one use their spouse’s offer as leverage in negotiating their own? I.e. “My spouse has been offered a position elsewhere, and I can only entertain your offer if it might make room for him too”. (Not that exact phrasing, but that sort of negotiation). Is this sort of thing possible or advisable?

  19. I have a campus visit in a few weeks and my academic husband is coming with me. If the school makes an offer, I will need to negotiate for a spousal hire for my husband who is already two years into TT at another institution. Would it be appropriate for him to meet with faculty in his field at this school to discuss his potential in their dept while I am interviewing for my position?

  20. I’m in the middle of campus visits for TT jobs and *hoping* to get an offer. If I am given an offer, I’d like to take my partner with me. We are not married. I study linguistics and am interviewing in foreign language departments. He is currently finishing a masters in literature in the same language, but would like to leave the PhD program at our current institution to move with me. Also, I’m a US citizen, he is not. He could work as a lecturer and/or continue his graduate studies in the department I go to, but would likely have to work at the university since his current immigration status would make any other employment very hard to find. Anyone have any related experience or advice on this topic?

  21. I’m currently getting ready to interview for a new academic position and I appreciate this great advice that I wish I was aware of earlier. Coming right out of our Phd’s my wife was hired and I fell for the “two years of support and we’ll reassess later” offer. I’ve gotten 3 NSF grants, mentored more undergraduates than anyone in the department, developed a study system and published without having move than an office, and taught courses and the goal post has always been moved. I agree that you MUST not fall for the idea that accommodations will be made later as I have seen this with other colleagues as well that are now looking for a new home. We look forward to leaving this institution.

  22. I’ve been quietly told that an offer is about to be made to me. The school remote, in a tiny city. The sole industry is the university, which is very large. My spouse is not an academic, but a highly skilled legal professional. He has been unemployed since we had to move to an isolated location for my postdoc. Is it possible to negotiate a job for him through this hiring process? This is not a scenario I see described often. I’m wondering if the process would be similar given the money for the position would likely come from a single source.

  23. Karen, thanks for the great website. Although I understand the “two body problem” one issue I haven’t seen discussed here is the question of whether spousal hires are even ethical, especially in an economy where many couples would be delighted for one full time position. Spousal hires are a form of discrimination against the unmarried, and against gay couples in areas that do not recognize same sex marriage. It is incredible that in the 21st century jobs are still given out based on to whom one happens to be married. Plus, with half of marriages ending in divorce, an argument could be made that the spousal hire is a relic from the past. When there’s a divorce, the ex-wife or husband still has a job that would have gone to a more qualified candidate.

  24. Would just like to comment that I recently interviewed for a position at the Associate level. I was advised by people already at the institution (whom I knew beforehand) that if the spouse was going to be an issue, I should tell the chair earlier rather than later. The reasoning was that, by the time an offer is made, the clock is ticking, and they have to reach out to different departments (and sometimes across schools) to make things happen. This can take a lot of time and effort on their part. Maybe it is different at the Associate or Full levels, because you have a track record and, if they want you, it is a different kind of search and negotiation.

  25. Lyn is absolutely right, and not just at senior levels. I am a department chair at a large R1 institution. I love the two-body “problem”. I’ve found that many great candidates are married to other very talented people, and it is easy to get two positions if (a) both are up to the usual standards for hiring at the institution and (b) there is plenty of time to work the academic politics. Of course there are difficulties when (a) is a problem with one or the other partner, but this requires honesty between the partners (not always easy or comfortable!) and targeting the right institutions.

    • I agree that at the Associate level it makes sense. At the Asst level, it’s a contested issue, and I come down on the side of not disclosing for the reasons I explain in the post and other comments.

  26. I am in the process of accepting a TT position in a midwest university (negotiation is pending). The move is due: 1. the university is better 2. it is a R1 university. Now my spouse also a TT faculty in the present university where I work. I do notice an add in one of the departments in the university where I am planning to accept position has an ideal position which matches my spouse area. She is applying for that. Now when I am negotiating for my position, how can I bring about this issue of my spousal hire? The catch is that position starts only in Spring 2016. Can I negotiate this for Fall 2015 so that both of us can move there together? Any help is much appreciated.

    • As policy I don’t provide advice on negotiations unless someone has signed on as a client. Here is the info on that; please email me at if you’re interested.

      Negotiating Assistance is $400/first week, and a week is virtually always sufficient (it goes down to $300, and then $200 for subsequent weeks in the extremely rare event that this is necessary). I count the week as 7 days of work, and they don’t have to be sequential. We can start immediately, and I make myself available by email and gchat for the quick turnaround of responses required by most negotiations. While I technically don’t work on weekends, for NA clients only I check in to keep up with and respond to urgent updates. I assist you in evaluating the offer, clarifying your requests, crafting email and verbal communications, interpreting responses, and knowing how hard to push and when to stop. Most clients increase their offer by thousands of dollars in salary, research support, travel support, moving expenses, etc. Most clients increase their initial offer by thousands of dollars. (An R1 Humanities tenure track offer can gain $10-20,000 over the initial offer; at a small regional SLAC it may be closer to $2-10,000. An R1 Science offer can sometimes gain $20-50,000 over the initial offer). If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll invoice you today. I also have all NA clients sign a contract acknowledging the nature of the work, which i will attach to this email for your reference.

      For a client perspective, I will share one recent testimonial:

      “I increased my offer (R1 Social Sciences) by $12,000 conservatively. Another major benefit was that I was confident I wasn’t asking for anything crazy, and I wasn’t missing anything obvious. Since this was my first go-around with a U.S. job offer I would have been much more uncertain about it, particularly in my situation where my advisor was unavailable due to a medical condition. Particularly when I had done the interviews and was waiting for an offer, which is a tense time, the fact that I had this service helped make that easier.”

      Let me know if you’d like to move forward, or have questions!

  27. Wouldn’t it be best when being interviewed for a dean’s position to bring up the eventual necessity of considering the spouse when an offer of an interview is made?

  28. I’m about to finish my Ph.d, (Physics) start my postdoc this fall (2 years). I’ve been married to my wife Amanda for 2 years, she is a professional artist. Would I be shooting myself in the foot in negotiations if I said my wife is content outside academia? Another question: she will be our eventual gestational mother. How do I negotiate my schedule for those semesters?

  29. In your experience, does being hired as a spousal hire impact salary? I have a good chance of getting a spousal hire for a TT position that a department has already posted (i.e. the position wouldn’t be created for me). I’m wondering whether I would have less bargaining power and thus end up with a lower salary as a spousal hire than I would if I got the position after going through the regular search process.

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