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I have been in a tenure-track position for 3 years and am going back on the job market. Would I be expected to "explain" why I am leaving, especially when it is pre-tenure? I suspect that a search committee might think I'm leaving because I felt in danger of not receiving tenure -- that is not the case here. However, my reasons for leaving stem from a two-body problem that I'd prefer not to disclose until after an offer is made.

A more concrete way of asking: how should the application cover letter look different, coming from someone currently holding a faculty position compared to a newly minted PhD?

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    Faculty move all the time. Sometimes it is because of personnel issues, sometimes because of divorce, and sometimes people just get sick of the town they're in and are convinced the grass is greener on the other side of the country. You don't need to give a reason until the job talk dinner when you'll be plied with alcohol and encouraged to reveal all. Remember: most schools think that they're the best, so from their perspective you're applying UP. :-) – RoboKaren Jul 30 '14 at 20:11
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It's not uncommon for people to move because of two-body issues, and if you're not comfortable disclosing the specific reasons, one possibility is to mention (at interview time) that you have non-academic constraints that force your departure from a place that you like.

Having said that, you're not going to get an interview call unless you're a superstar and everyone wants you OR you have some positive argument for why you're interested in a particular university. So in your cover letter you'll at least need to provide some positive reasons.

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    Thanks Suresh. My impression is that it cannot help me (and can possibly hurt me) to reveal a two-body constraint before an offer is made. – anonymike Sep 13 '12 at 2:33
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    That depends on the two-body situation. If you're applying for a position in the same city as your partner who already has a stable position in that city, that's a reason for moving that wouldn't create any issues for your new employer. If you're trying to create a situation where the new employer hires both you and your partner, then yes, you'll want to avoid revealing that until you have an offer. – Brian Borchers Apr 20 at 15:45
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Just watched a friend do this, with a two body problem. His line: the place he was at was a good fit, tenure was all but assured, BUT he was convinced the place he was interviewing was enough a superior fit to consider a pre-tenure jump. He would always fall back to that line of flattery. He and his husband were hired, after the usual two body drama; meaningless counteroffers, offers of a later position opening, etc.

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