I'm having an upcoming phone interview for a tenure-track position and I expect that I will be asked the usual "Why would you want to work here?" question. Apart from reasons relating to the research competency and culture of the university, a major reason for me would be that moving to that institution would essentially resolve an ongoing two body problem - not entirely, as my spouse is not working at said institution, but at a place close to it.

Is it fine to mention this during the interview?

Currently I reside in Europe, whereas the institution is in the US. My reasoning is that telling them should make it clear that I would indeed be serious to move there.


4 Answers 4


There are really two ways people can take this:

  1. "If we extend this person an offer, he will actually accept." This is what you are hoping for. This can be good, especially if you are "too good" for the place you are applying to, where people might wonder why exactly someone with better prospects would choose to apply at a lower rate institution. Then again, it can backfire - if the institution assumes you would accept their offer for unrelated reasons, they might be less generous in the package they offer (pay & perks).

  2. "So... he only applies here because of his spouse?" This would be bad, or at least suboptimal. People might wonder whether you are really committed to working there. If choosing between two candidates whose portfolios both match what the institution is looking for, people might lean more towards someone who doesn't "need" his spouse working close by to apply.

I subjectively believe people will more often have reaction 1 than 2. So this argues for disclosing your motivation. Then again, note how this can reduce your possibilities in negotiation.

To be honest, I'd try to wow people with your experience, portfolio and all-around wonderfulness and keep this aspect below wraps. Unless people ask point-blank: "Would you really relocate from Europe to the US?" But that would likely come up later in the application process than in the initial remote interview.

I looked through Workplace but didn't find anything related. You may want to think about flagging your question for migration there - after all, similar considerations would also pop up for non-academic job seekers.

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    3. If this resolves his two-body problem, we can be pretty sure he won't leave before he retires.
    – gerrit
    Feb 6, 2015 at 16:51
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    @gerrit: ... unless the second body gets a job elsewhere. Feb 6, 2015 at 16:54
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    I'd reason that if both have found permanent positions, this is a strong motivation for neither of them to apply elsewhere, even if it would enhance their career; knowing how difficult the two-body problem can be to resolve. Unless perhaps it would reduce a 90-minute commute to a 15-minute commute or so.
    – gerrit
    Feb 6, 2015 at 16:55
  • There is no permanence in academics until one gets tenure. We had a 2-body team leave our university as 1-body received a tenured offer elsewhere.
    – RoboKaren
    Feb 6, 2015 at 18:16
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    I was on a search committee last year, where the reaction of the every member was (1) and we were salivating at the idea of getting a colleague "past our coverage", but both the dean's rep and the department chair also had their eyes on the "don't need to stretch the package" issue. Feb 6, 2015 at 20:09

You may want to read the answers to the question When during the application process should a candidate mention that their spouse is also looking for a job . In general, there are several positions on when to acknowledge a spouse, and none of them is clearly "the best" for everyone. The gender of the applicant, the type of school, and the particular two-body problem are all factors.

You actually have the "better" kind of two-body problem, because your spouse is not looking for a job at the school. You would want to make that clear if you mention your spouse. There are two main concerns about the two-body problem: (1) the school may not have a second position already secured, and so letting them know you need two positions makes them less likely to offer you one; and (2) the general potential bias that claims "someone who is married will be less dedicated to the institution" (this is why some people don't wear their wedding ring to interviews). In your case, the main issue is how you feel about (2).

But didn't you already indicate in your cover letter some reasons why you would be willing to relocate to their location? This is one of the things that a cover letter should always include: some reason why you not only want to be at their school, but also want to live in that area. For very prestigious schools this is less important, but for smaller schools they may take the question very seriously. If you didn't include anything like this in the cover letter, be sure that you have something to mention during the interview.

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    Are there people who apply for faculty positions remote from where they currently reside who aren't willing to relocate? Isn't the application itself a pretty strong indicator of willingness to move to the university in question?
    – Bill Barth
    Feb 6, 2015 at 15:30
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    @Bill Barth: at least in math, it's common for people to apply to many jobs - some students in my cohort applied for 80 or more. It borders on absurd: an applicant can't possibly be a good fit at so many schools. But desperation is a strong motivator... So schools sometimes have applications from people who actually don't want to live near the school - or who never even considered whether they do, in a rush to apply. Particularly at non-elite schools this can cause headaches in the search process and higher turnover of faculty. So giving them a reason to think you'll be happy is important. Feb 6, 2015 at 16:04
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    It's also my experience that many applicants have no idea what it would be like to live in our small town and work at our institution- they're just applying to every position. Many applicants seem to ignore the information in the advertisement about basic aspects of the job (e.g. whether or not its a tenure track position, the teaching load, etc.) This results in a lot of wasted time during the phone interview process talking with applicants who would never consider working at our institution. Feb 7, 2015 at 19:53

I think it's OK to mention this, but I would phrase the answer differently: "At this point in my life, I'd really like to [return to/reside in] the US, so I did my research and decided that your institution would be a great fit for where I want to go with my career". I think it's OK to mention your spouse if they press, as long as you have some other believable reasons for wanting to return (and if you don't, you may want to reconsider the move).


While it is acceptable, I'll say - why risk it? Don't tell them.

You have a good enough reason; and if you _really_must_ say something vaguely recalling your 2-body problem, either say what @twihex suggested, or perhaps: "Another reason for preferring [the university] is that I've talked about the potential universities with my family, and we feel that [name of city/town university is in] would be a nice place for us to live. [consider adding non-generic sentence about the mild climate / international atmosphere / amenities for children / etc."

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