MilspouseJD

The How-Long-Will-You-Be-Here Question and How (or Whether) to Answer

interview door

Summers bring change for military families, and MSJDN families are no different. Our private member groups have been buzzing with the typical summer PCS season drama — well, the MSJDN version. On top of moving houses, states, and even countries, on top of finding new schools and new grocery stores, our members are filling out Bar applications, wading through complex and varied reciprocity rules,  completing new NCBE reports and applying for jobs in their new legal communities. With job applications come job interviews, and job interviews for lawyers can be their own special kind of painful.

But interviews in any field can be daunting, and handling interviews as a military spouse takes fancy footwork. Fair or not, questions about your permanence in the area will almost inevitably come up, and our members’ strategy for answering these questions ranges from the direct to the redirect to the downright snark (which holds a special place in our hearts):

  • “I appreciate your interest in my spouse’s profession, but I can assure you that he/she is not qualified for this job. However, I am and will be a great asset.”
  • “I’m here serving my country with my spouse, but I don’t know if it’s temporary or permanent. Our extended family is also here so it’s possible we’ll end up staying long-term.”
  • “With all due respect, I’d rather be judged on my own professional merit rather than my spouse’s.”

Though not illegal to ask about your frequent moves or employment history, openly asking you about your marital status is inappropriate. Confronting an interviewer asking questionable questions can be difficult, so it’s good to have a strategy. Take control of the situation, keep the focus on the job, your abilities and accomplishments, and how you’re a strong fit. Counter obnoxious questions by turning the tables:

  • “That’s an interesting question. I’ve never been asked that in a job interview. Can you tell me why you asked?”
  • “I’m happy to answer that question. But can you help me understand how that relates to the job?”
  • “There is nothing in my family life that will get in the way of doing the job.”

The added fact that 95 percent of milspouses are female adds an added layer of nuance to these questions. Last week, accomplished Washington Post food critic Phyllis Richman responded to a letter she received in 1961 from Harvard, asking how she would balance a desired career in city planning with her “responsibilities” to her husband and possible future family. Reading it, we felt a sense of deja vu, like this question hadn’t been asked in 1961 by a grad school to a qualified applicant, but perhaps last week by a potential employer to a qualified milspouse. Ms. Richman wrote:

“To the extent, Dr. Doebele, that your letter steered me away from city planning and opened my path to writing, one might consider that a stroke of luck. I’d say, though, that the choice of how to balance family and graduate school should have been mine.”

And that’s what much of this discussion boils down to: we humbly request that we be masters of our own destiny and be measured by our merit, not our marriage. No one knows what the future holds — even civilians can’t accurately predict what the next two to three years may bring. The difference with our military world is that change is our constant; we work with it, we manage it, we make it our friend. Now if we could just do the same with our interviewers.

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