Quintessential Answers:
Q&A's with Career & College Experts


Questions and Answers with Career Expert Michelle Fleig-Palmer


Please note: On a somewhat infrequent basis, Quintessential Careers asks noted career experts five questions related to their expertise and publishes the interview in the current issue of QuintZine, our career e-newsletter. Those interviews are archived here for your convenience.


Dual-career expert Michelle Fleig-Palmer, MBA, is the Director of the Dual Career Program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK).


Q: What, in your view, are the three biggest challenges that dual-career couples face?
A: Here's a typical dual-career couple scenario. One partner comes home and says, "Guess what, honey! I got a promotion and we're moving!" To which the other partner responds, "I don't want to move. I'm finally at the point in my job where I'm successful and everyone knows it! I don't want to start over. And we can't move the kids in the middle of the school year."


This scenario represents the top challenges that dual-career couples face. Namely, to balance career fulfillment for each partner in the same geographic location while often juggling family concerns as well.


The balancing act is tough because dual-career couples are trying to manage two careers, not just one. Questions faced by dual-career couples include:
  • Whose career takes priority? When?
  • How long of a commute should each partner make?
  • Who leaves work to care for the sick child/pet/parent?
  • Who runs the grocery/dry cleaning/ household errands?


These challenges are met successfully by dual-career couples who are committed to a long-term relationship. They recognize that nurturing their relationship is as important as pursuing their careers. Despite setbacks (that happen to everyone), they work together to help each other find fulfilling careers.


Q: What ideas or techniques can you offer for dual-career couples to help them manage their careers simultaneously?
  1. Be clear about goals, both as a couple and as individuals. Effective communication with each other about career aspirations helps dual-career couples to consider each career move in light of its long-term impact on the relationship. Continue to communicate as plans to achieve career goals may change and evolve over time.

  3. Be creative in how you view yourself. Each partner in a dual career couple must be able to identify his/her "transferable skills" and understand how those skills apply to different jobs. Then a partner can more easily make the inevitable adjustments from job to job and career to career, especially if the move is precipitated by a partner's career decision. Those partners who take responsibility for their career by identifying and understanding their talents are better at managing their careers.

  5. Don't accept a job transfer involving relocation without negotiating job-search support for your partner. Key to this benefit negotiation should be specific examples of the networking opportunities a company will provide your partner. One business in a small town in Ohio paid for a breakfast meeting so the relocating partner who is an artist could meet other artists from the community. Networking opportunities for relocating partners should help them become connected in the new community so they can quickly resume their careers.

  7. Find a mentor who understands your commitment to your partner and your career. Observe dual-career couples whose partners have both found fulfilling careers. Ask them how they nurtured their relationships while managing career transitions. Advice from a seasoned mentor is priceless and can even help partners avoid some pitfalls.


Dual-career couples can manage two different careers simultaneously. Strong communication about career goals along with solid advice from a mentor facilitates this process. In addition, knowing your "transferable skills" and negotiating wisely when relocating will make the inevitable job transitions easier.


Q: What do you feel is the most exciting or hopeful trend in job-hunting?
A: One of the most positive trends is the expansion of services at college career centers to alumni. In the past, college students had access to many resources to assist them in their job search; however, as soon as they graduated, they were unable to continue utilizing those resources.


Now, colleges are recognizing that a valuable service they can offer their alumni is continued access to the career-development center. Providing alumni with the tools to manage their careers successfully could ultimately provide a college with a solid base of potential donors as well as mentors for students.


For job-seekers who have graduated from a two-year or four-year college, one of the first networking contacts should be the director of the career center. I recommend sending a resume and cover letter, followed by a phone call one week later. Ask about services that are available to alumni, especially networking opportunities and access to job postings.


Q: What's the one job-hunting secret you share with clients but that may not be widely known?
A: No doesn't mean no, it just means not today. The following anecdote illustrating this is from my personal experience in job searching.


I was one of the top two candidates interviewing for a position but did not make the final cut. I was very disappointed because I really liked the hiring manager and felt that I could learn much from her. So I wrote a letter to her. In the very first sentence, I said, "I am disappointed that I was not chosen for the position, but as a former manager, I understood the difficult decision that you had to make." Then I discussed what I admired about her knowledge of her area of expertise and stated that I would still appreciate an opportunity to discuss this expertise at more length. One week later I called her secretary to arrange an appointment.


The director offered me a temporary job involving a three-week special project, which got my foot in the door. Successful completion of the project led to a full-time job offer in the same organization.


The moral of the story is that if I had accepted the first no as a final answer, I never would have discovered the other opportunities that existed.


Q: What techniques -- beyond assessments -- do you advise for really getting at a client's career passion?
A: I recommend creating an "IDEAS" folder. You start by doing some general reading of newspapers and/or magazines. As you read, clip anything you find interesting. Then drop the clippings in the "IDEAS" folder. Add notes of conversations you've had or something you heard on the radio that you found exciting.


Soon the "IDEAS" folder will have enough information that can be shared with a career counselor. It provides a real springboard for a fruitful discussion of career options.


For someone who doesn't know what they want to do, it is an inexpensive way to begin to explore what they are passionate about. It is also valuable for someone who has put their career on hold. One mom said the "IDEAS" folder allows her to continue dreaming about her career and provides a ready-made resource for when she is ready to re-enter the job market.



Michelle Fleig-Palmer, MBA, is the director of the Dual Career Program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK). She developed the Dual Career Program for UNK in 1998 to assist the relocating partners of new employees in securing employment. Fleig-Palmer speaks on dual career issues to professional and academic conferences and community groups. Her recent publications include a resume in Best Resumes for College Students and New Grads as well as articles in Resume Writers Digest and Career Masters Connection. Her successful career transitions include jobs in marketing, accounting, human resources, and training at manufacturing, service, and non-profit organizations. Ms. Fleig-Palmer is a member of the National Resume Writers' Association (NRWA) and Career Masters Institute (CMI). She can be reached at fleigpalmerm@unk.edu.



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