can my significant other and I apply for the same jobs?

This question is timely, because I just created a new category in the archives: spouses and significant others. In it, you’ll find past questions about everything from dating at work to not using your ex as a job reference and more. Now, on to our question…

A reader writes:

My significant other and I are planning to relocate back to our home state, where the job market is fairly small. We currently work in the same industry, and have the same job title and responsibilities, but have different specializations. There aren’t a ton of jobs in our field in the location we’re hoping to move to, but there have been a couple of postings that we’d both be a good match for, and we’re wondering if we improve or hurt our chances by both applying. We are fine with it — we’ve talked it through we just really want one of us to get a job there — it doesn’t matter which one of us — so the idea of competing with each other doesn’t bother us. But I’m wondering if the employer receiving both our applications will (1) notice, and (2) think it’s weird.

We don’t share a last name, but our address is listed on our resumes, our employment history is very similar (same titles, different orgs), and we graduated from the same school at the same time. Ideally, we’d like to both apply for these jobs, on the thinking that we don’t know exactly what the employer is looking for, and the differences in our experience might be just the thing that makes one of us a better candidate. But I can also see the employer thinking this was odd enough not to bother with either of us. Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

I think you should both go ahead and apply.

Some employers will notice and think it’s … interesting. Not quite odd, but unusual. But if one of you is perfect for the job, it’s unlikely to stop them from interviewing you.

I had a married couple apply for the same job once, and I did notice it and wonder about it. Mainly I wondered whether they were comparing notes about their experiences with the hiring process — for instance, if I got back to A three days before I got back to B, were they reading things into it? I moved one forward to an interview and rejected the other without an interview, but if I had interviewed them both, I would have wondered if they were comparing notes and how the person interviewed first might have prepared the one interviewed second. But none of that would have deterred me if I’d been truly interested in both; it was just an interesting thing to think about.

Do make sure, though, that your cover letters and resumes don’t look like you prepared them together. Some couples help each other with resumes, and so their formatting, etc. looks identical, and some borrow ideas from each other’s cover letters. Obviously, you don’t want to do that here. Approach your applications independently of each other in that regard and make sure they don’t look more similar than they have to.

{ 29 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    The only danger I see here is if your formatting/language patterns/whatever are similar enough that the hiring manager thinks the two of you are actually the same person applying with slightly different resumes to increase your chances of getting an interview. (Though I’m assuming a gender difference would make this pretty difficult to pull off. As would the eventual ID requirement.)

    But I can hardly see that being a significant obstacle. Because seriously, who would be that crazy, right? (Although, just the fact that I’m asking makes me think that it must have happened somewhere…)

    1. Anon*

      They’d probably think it was one of those sociology studies where researchers send similar resumes to employers – one female, one male (or with names associated with various ethnicities) – to measure gender or race discrimination. (Not that those studies involve multiple resumes to one employer, I don’t think, but still.)

        1. Your Mileage May Vary*

          Yes, of course. But if they are a same-sex couple, would they need to do more to differentiate since they couldn’t rely on obvious male-female names to help set the resumes apart? I suppose the question could be the same if one of a hetero couple had a gender neutral name.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think so. They’re two separate people with two separate names, and the content of their resumes and cover letters will be different (despite having some similarities).

      1. Josh S*

        I phrased that poorly. I recognized the possibility of a same-sex partnership, and tried to say that I was assuming they were hetero. It came out funky though. I blame my extreme exhaustion.

  2. Stephanie*

    Within the past two weeks, I interviewed 10 candidates for 2 open temporary positions. Among the applications, there were two resumes with sections that were identical in content and formatting. The most recent as well as current experiences were the same between the resumes. One name was male, the other female but they did not have the same last name. The woman was interviewed by phone in the morning. Soon into the interview, she explained that the male applicant with the matching resume was her husband. That lowered my red flag over the matching resumes a bit. Two hours later was the time we had scheduled for the interview with the male, now known to be the husband. He let us know that he was in the car driving with his wife to a doctor’s appointment. For a while we were on speaker phone but that made the quality of the connection too poor. They were both qualified and given the industry, their age and the position it wasn’t extremely odd, but odd enough. Ultimately, other candidates that interviewed well and with more experience were offered the positions.
    In this case, I would mention in the cover letter that my spouse, So and So is also interviewing and that you both seem well-suited for the position, as a couple you are eager to relocate and join this employer, whomever is the best fit etc.

  3. Anonymous*

    This isn’t at all unusual (but not common) in Academia, especially at the professor level. The exact sub-sub-sub field may be different, but applying to the same department and even the same listing isn’t. Of course spousal hires (we like you so much, we’ll give a job to your spouse) are pretty common too.

  4. JT*

    “He let us know that he was in the car driving with his wife to a doctor’s appointment. ”

    It seems strange (and a little alarming) that he’d do an interview while driving.

      1. sparky629*

        Yes. But isn’t being in the car with your spouse during a phone interview the equivalent of bringing your parents to the interview?

  5. Clobbered*

    There is no problem with this, and if you have close but not totally overlapping skills you are actually increasing your chances since you may not know which matter most to the employer. As always you want to differentiate yourself from the other candidates and that also means each other.

    I assume since you are considering it that you are mature adults that can handle one of you being offered the job (and not going “nah nah nah nah nah”).

  6. Paralegal*

    My SO and I both interviewed for the same job. During my SO’s interview the interviewer realize that we had both gone to the same school and been part of the same campus club, and asked if we knew each other. He gave a somewhat vague “Yes I know who she is” answer. We were both concerned that it might affect the decision (it was down to us and one other person). I would be curious to know what your recommendation is for situations like this in the future – should he have acknowledged the relationship in the interview?

    (As it turns out, he got the job. It was certainly an odd feeling being so excited for him but so disappointed for myself. It was a bit difficult when he started working and would want to talk about how much he loved his job, while I was spending hours a day sending out resumes. It worked out in the end, though. I got a job a few weeks later, and we’re both very happy where we ended up.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “I know who she is” was basically dishonest — it sound like he’d seen you once or twice. He should have just been honest! It’s far weirder if they find out later what the relationship actually is.

      1. Paralegal*

        He did end up explaining our relationship to his boss a few months later, and luckily his boss was very understanding. Hopefully we won’t run into this situation again (but if we do, we’ll be more honest).

      2. COT*

        I once turned down an applicant (not for a job, but for a college service trip) for this kind of omission. When you’re traveling with a very small and intentionally formed group, it’s helpful to know if applicants are dating, friends, or otherwise close. We knew his girlfriend was also interviewing with us, so we asked him if he knew her. He basically said they were distant friends. That lie hurt his chances much more than the truth would have, because it didn’t make him look very honest or mature. (Though I did understand that he may have thought otherwise.)

        Glad it worked out for you! It’s definitely an awkward situation.

        1. Anonymous*

          This seems like a vastly different situation. The Paralegal probably wasn’t going to be hired in addition to the spouse, so it’s not like they risked bringing relationship drama to the workplace.

    2. Another Job Seeker*

      I don’t like the fact that the interviewer asked if your SO knew you during his interview. If I was in a relationship, of course I’d tell my boyfriend (or husband) I was interviewing for positions. However, I would not want a potential employer talking about me to someone he/she was interviewing. I am very selective about the people who I tell I am interviewing because I do not want it to get back to my current employer. I’m glad you posted this; it’s something to consider.

  7. starts & ends with A*

    We were hiring for contractors and received 2 resumes and 1 cover letter from a woman applying for herself and her husband. Taken separately, either of them would have been a good fit, but the way she applied for them together was an instant no.

    1. Jamie*

      Did they have one of those adoreable (/sarcasm) shared email addresses?

      I get that there are a lot of nuances to job hunting, but you’d think not applying as a team would be pretty intuitive.

      Donnie and Marie Osmond, excepted.

      1. starts & ends with A*

        I’ve been blowing up work computers so I can’t find the original right now, but the second I read it, I said “NO.” They did not share an email address and it was kind of unfortunate, because they (either or both of them) may have been a good fit but the obliviousness and lack of professional judgement was a problem. She wrote the email, I don’t even know if he had any involvement in it either.

  8. Kat*

    This happened to me a little over a year ago. At that time, we had very similar career goals (although different) and past work experiences (non-profit development). Our resume and cover letter formats were also pretty similar as he has no design abilities, and I have past experience with doing layouts. That being said, it never hurt us. As a matter of fact, we only had one position that we both applied for mention anything, and they were so desperate that they called everyone that applied for the position.

    I do recommend that you have a rule that if one of you requests the other to not apply, you have to follow that request. This rule saved us both a lot of issues with jealousy. There were just some positions that came up that appealed to one more than the other (because the mission of the organization was closer to one of us or the job would help one of us a bit more over the other with some career goals, etc.), and this rule saved us on a lot of issues and from one of us having hurt feelings. When you loose a job you really want to someone you don’t even know, it’s a little easier to handle than watching the person you live with happily go off to work at a position that you really, really wanted. The position I am in now was one of these situations. He was forbidden from applying which was difficult for him because we both love the organization, but this specific position applied more to what I love about my career path (data analysis! woohoo!) vs what he wanted out of his career path.

  9. Nancypie*

    I always look at the address on the applicant’s resume, because I’m curious if they’re local, or would be relocating, etc. I don’t usually get that many resumes that indicate someone would be a good fit, so a duplicate in a town (let alone the same address) would stand out to me. I think I would be confused by two people with the same address and may not have come to the conclusion that it’s a couple. I recommend one of the couple get a PO box (or mailboxes, etc. style) alternate address.

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