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At Some Companies, You Can't Hire One Spouse Without Helping the Other Job Hunt

A couple looking at their finances on a laptop in the kitchen.

Situated in northern New Mexico, 34 miles from the state capital of Santa Fe, the Los Alamos National Laboratory often faces challenges in attracting and keeping talent.

"Our remote location made it imperative to find jobs for partners of our employees," said C.J. Bacino, HR manager for diversity and strategic staffing. "We'd sometimes lose candidates because their partners wouldn't move." As a result, the federal national nuclear laboratory, with 11,200 employees, launched a dual-career program in 2015 that helps the partners of new recruits in their job hunts. 

According to the Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, funded by Allied Van Lines, 80 percent of respondent companies report that a "spousal employment situation is a probable obstacle to a candidate's relocation." The top three issues affecting relocation, respondents said, are a spouse's employment situation, children's plans or schools, and selling a home/mortgage.

Dual-career services can be especially appealing to younger employees: According to an EY study, 78 percent of Millennials are likely to have a partner working full-time, compared with Baby Boomers at 47 percent.

Unmet Need

So far, despite the research, many employers have been hesitant to offer dual-career services. Mary Lou Cohen, the co-founder and president of Relocation Today Inc. in Minneapolis, includes dual-career assistance among a menu of options she offers to employers, but she says few request it. The ones who do include General Mills and Select Comfort.

Nestlé is one large company that helps employees' partners find employment inside and outside the company. "The partners of mobile employees are crucial for a successful assignment and provide a valuable and easily accessible talent pool for any company," said Stephen Leach, manager of diversity and inclusion for Nestlé USA in Los Angeles. 

Nestlé helped to found the nonprofit, fee-based International Career Development Network (ICDN) with Philip Morris International and EY, among others, with locations in 12 cities worldwide, including New York and Los Angeles. The mission of ICDN is "facilitating the job search for mobile employees' partners and providing member companies access to a turnkey pool of talent." Corporate members, which include NGOs and nonprofits, are required to sponsor workshops and other events, including teleconferences if participants are remote.

In offering career help, companies are following the lead of many colleges and universities, which pioneered efforts to help partners to find jobs, whether in the university or out in the local community. Bacino says that one reason he uses dual-career services is that Los Alamos looks for top professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and often competes against colleges and universities for talent.

Bacino said that Los Alamos used the University of Minnesota as one of its benchmarks in creating its dual-career service. The university established one of the first dual-career programs in the 1990s, said Mary Everley, director of its relocation assistance program and the director of the fee-based Midwest Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, whose members share a job board and other resources.

New Role for HR?

Dual-career specialists within the HR or talent acquisition department typically have three essential tasks:

  • Fostering introductions, networking, and promoting candidates for jobs inside and outside the organization and following up.
  • Making sure that the candidates' cover letters, resumes, CVs and interviewing skills are sound.
  • Helping employees learn about their new community.

Additional services may be offered for partners who are not seeking positions or cannot work, such as information about volunteer opportunities and educational programs. Some specialists assist with finding language classes, obtaining work authorization, locating schools and other community-based resources, participating in social events, getting housing assistance, and researching special interests (hobbies, for example). These may be done one-on-one and in workshops.

Dual-career assistance can be very individualized and hands on. Professionals "conduct an intake assessing skills and experience, asking partners their passion, reviewing the resume and other documents, and doing a lot of digging to arrange networking meetings," said Moira Grosbard, the principal of Network Careers Inc. in Minneapolis, whose clients include 3M and General Mills.

Of course, partners of new employees are rarely guaranteed jobs. "Dual-career assistance does not mean placement, nor is it executive search," Grosbard said. Nor are they recruiters hiring partners for specific jobs. "Some of the partners may have done more research than others, and it works best when they have," she added. "Millennials will give [us] a list of 20 companies, and we will set to work." 

"We guarantee ongoing support throughout the job search," said Sara Ermeti, a 20-year HR veteran now serving as the dual-career assistance program manager at the University of Notre Dame. She describes herself as a navigator who focuses on developing leads and building networks of area employers.

Ermeti and Everley created networks with local employers who offer to review resumes and may meet with and shepherd candidates. The employer liaison is usually in HR. Ermeti said working with HR liaisons provides a personalized approach to the candidate and also serves as an inexpensive way for the employers in the network to find talent. One client who landed a job at Target told Grosbard that he would not have known where to start in his job search. Ermeti cited successes including new jobs for a psychiatric nurse at Oak Lawn Medical Center, a director of combined sewer overflow product management at the City of South Bend, and the executive director at the Studebaker Museum. Dual-career professionals may not work with all relocating employees. Ermeti and Everley provide full services to faculty and staff, but many universities limit the resource to the partners of tenure-track faculty. Los Alamos offers a two-tiered approach, providing general information and assistance to all employees and more hands-on help to those specially designated as critical hires or retention issues.

More Ammunition in Competition for Talent

Dual-career and other policies are leveling the playing field as lesser-known organizations successfully vie for talent by being creative, flexible and family-friendly. The highly regarded but lesser-known New College of Florida beat out the well-funded University of Chicago for a hire by offering a prized candidate teaching flexibility that accommodated the candidate's and partner's dual-career needs.

Bacino cited a recent success: a high-potential physics post-doctoral employee that Los Alamos was in danger of losing when her relationship with her husband, a chemical engineer, became strained due to having to commute. His resume was shared with hiring managers at Los Alamos, and his transferable skills became evident in meetings with them. He was hired as a safety engineer, and both partners have been described as exemplary. "This is not nepotism," Bacino said. "You have to have rigor and the hiring manager must sign off. Instead of one employee, you get two great hires."

Phyllis Brust, Ph.D., works with individuals as a career counselor and with employers to help them become more competitive in attracting talent. She is a former college career and dual-career director and the founder of Career Tactics in Chicago and Gainesville, Fla.


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