marital status in a cover letter

A reader writes:

My husband and I moved to Denver from New York in May 2008. We are now headed back to New York due to my husband’s job situation. I am starting to send out resumes to find a job in NY, and in my cover letter I want to address why my current job is located in Denver though I’m applying for jobs in New York. Currently, I have the following paragraph, but I’ve read that you shouldn’t disclose any personal information about age, marital status, race, etc. in a job application/cover letter:

“I should clarify that I am currently in the process of moving back to Manhattan after a move to Denver due to my husband’s work. He is being transferred back to New York in early 2010. I will be in town January 14-20 and should be permanently resettled in New York shortly thereafter. I don’t require relocation assistance and would be able to start within the standard 2-week time frame should an offer be made.”

Do you think this is okay? I’m not sure how to explain the situation without mentioning my husband.

I think this is fine, but I also think it would be just as fine if you removed “due to my husband’s work” and the sentence about his transfer. You make it so clear and definite that you’re moving in a specific timeframe that I don’t think you need to get into the whys in order to be convincing.

Anyone want to disagree?

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. sara*

    I agree, just omit the details about husband because the point is you ARE moving back and they haven't asked why… but this begs the question, if you score an interview and they ask what you brought you there, is it ok to say why? I've always answered honestly in interviews that I relocated for my boyfriend, and haven't see that it was an issue, often if sets up a conversation simply about his type of work and the conversation often has a more relaxed tone… but… should we exercise caution? Do potential employers think we will up and leave again? Are we sharing too much personal info? How to answer if we shouldn't give it away…?

  2. Abby*

    After having a baby and getting a job that was actively discriminatory against working mothers, I have finally decided to just let it all hang out. I don't bring up my kids and husband but I do mention them if it comes up. We relocated to a different state a year and a half ago for my husband's job and I did tell interviewers why we moved. It might have been puzzling otherwise as not a lot of people move to my new town just because. Interestingly, it did work in my favor in the end because people are impressed that my husband works for his company. It is known for only hiring the best of the best and I think people thought that I must be good too by association.

    However, in a really competitive market and if I didn't have kids, I probably wouldn't mention a husband unless there was no way around it. And, although I understand that many people are fully committed to a relationship even if they aren't married, I think some employers see boyfriends/girlfriends as more likely to change and thus may not want to hire someone who moves because of that. Unfair and unreasonable but I think it happens.

    But, I think the question always is, do you want to work somewhere if they eliminate you for a reason like that? It is why I don't worry about mentioning my kids anymore because if someone doesn't want me because they perceive working mothers as less productive or less committed or whatever then I don't want to work there. This is a luxury however as some people need a job no matter what.

  3. SubKnit StarryJuliet*

    I also moved due to my husband's location, and when I was looking for work there, I said it was due to "a change in my family's situation." That seemed to work fine, as it explained why I was moving and didn't disclose more than the hiring managers needed to know.

  4. Anonymous*

    I moved to a Chicago because my fiance was about to start grad school here, but I phrased my cover letters as AAM suggested: conveying certainty that I was going to move, and a timeframe, but not giving a reason.

    As Sara mentions, it was inevitably asked in every interview, and I answered honestly: "I have visited Chicago several times and really enjoyed it, and my fiance has just been accepted to an XX program at XX University, so we're very excited to move here."

    While I did have some concerns like the ones Abby noted (will employers take me less seriously because I'm "following" a partner around the country?), I also found that there was a huge upside to citing my real reason for relocation: it shielded me from having to provide any OTHER justification for wanting to leave my previous role. I didn't have to wax political about a "better fit" or "new challenges" or anything like that… my story got to be that I was very happy and thriving at my last company, and I'm now looking for a similar role at a similar organization in a new city. I didn't have to talk about any dissatisfaction I'd had with my last job, which was very freeing. In this way, I consider the "husband excuse" to have been a net benefit.

  5. Anonymous*

    I have never mentioned marital status in cover letters or interviews. What I have said (in my one relocation under such circumstances), instead, is "I'm relocating to be closer to family."

    I didn't explain that the family I was referring to was my spouse and children. Likely they assumed that I was referring to some large family tree that would provide me with roots and connections to the area.

    It is a little deceptive I suppose, but then, i think it is deceptive for an employer to pretend they care about my reasons for relocating when really they dont care about anything in my personal life.

  6. Anonymous*

    I agree that the "why" should be omitted. I did the same thing when living in the U.S. and applying for jobs in a European country. I left it at "looking to move to ___", but saying "moving to ___ within the next three months" is even better. I was asked about why I wanted to move in every interview that I had, though. But I felt better about explaining it in person (I wanted to move in with my partner) than leaving it in a cover letter.

  7. Anonymous*

    I don’t think there is a clear right or wrong answer to this question, but I’d be inclined to advise against providing information on your marital status before a hiring decision is made.

    Making a hiring decision based on marital status is almost always illegal discrimination. Employers asking questions about marital status may not be technically illegal, but the courts have found that such questions can be used as evidence of discriminatory intent by employers.

    I personally strongly support the idea that hiring decisions should be made based solely on information directly related to suitability for a position. (Humans are emotional creatures. We sometimes form judgments, even unconscious ones like, “What a loyal and faithful spouse! She is willing to relocate for her spouse’s career. She will likely show similar loyalty to me/our company.” OR: “Hmm… Does her husband have the kind of career that could take him to another city/country often? I don’t want to hire and train someone who might take off again at any moment!”)

    In the writer’s case, she is not being ASKED about potentially “personal information not directly related to a rational and non-discriminatory assessment of her suitability for a position,” but rather is making a decision about whether to voluntarily supply such information.

    Some (very “careful”) hiring decision-makers, especially those who receive frequent and highly-expert training from lawyers and risk managers, and people in some organizations with “deep pockets,” or who have faced discrimination actions before, will do everything they can to preserve “blindness” to any information if a person may later claim that such knowledge resulted in an adverse decision.

    Even when there is no discriminatory intent, organizations face considerable demands of time or resources to present defenses or legal answers to discrimination claims. If someone sues or files a complaint against Company X, let’s say for discrimination on the basis of marital status, a negative finding may be made based on statistical evidence, even if there was no deliberate intent to discriminate (a company or a department may just happen to have x% single female employees, and if it’s much higher than average, a court or enforcement agency may find enough evidence of discriminatory practices and award damages).

    I once received a cover letter with a statement that the applicant had relocated to care for his seriously ill parents. I returned the letter to the applicant, with a polite and warm explanation that I would like to receive another copy of the cover letter before forwarding it to the search committee, to avoid even the possibility that someone would be concerned that his family obligations might detract from his attendance or performance. (He was actually eventually hired.) Some would say that this is crazy, but I have been through two agonizing and expensive situations of defending against (groundless) legal actions around this type of thing. (I have also witnessed very high-level and experienced businesspeople directly stating that they don’t hire women in a certain age range because they might get pregnant, and that they don’t hire people from x racial group for y kinds of positions.) There is no neat place to draw the lines in such complex situations, and there are seemingly ridiculous extremes on either side, but I generally think one has a higher chance of appearing more professional by refraining from mentioning such information.

  8. Jennifer*

    I am applying for a spa job in Bermuda. Right now I am happily employed for one of the top spas in Vancouver,BC. My choice to apply in Bermuda is because my bf recently accepted a position there. Is the following ok for a final paragraph in my cover letter before the closing?? :

    My boyfriend recently accepted an IT position for Capital G Bank where he will start work in April. In May/June I will be visiting Bermuda. I will also be using that time to check out prospective places of employment. Rosewood Tucker’s Point is my first choice. It meets my expectations of exactly what the spa experience is all about: fulfilling dreams of internal guests, external guests and owners. I consider myself a team player and would be committed to providing a 5 star customer experience.

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