How To Make a Two-Career Household Work

Both of you want careers. A look at how to maneuver all this.

Published: Jun 25, 2019

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One of your career goals should be getting to know the recruiters who specialize in your industry. The fact that recruiters specialize in certain areas-technology, retail, financial services-really isn't understood. They also zero in on specific functions, such as legal, human resources, or chief executives. As with any networking relationship, it's best to be introduced by someone, particularly if that person has been successfully placed in a job by that recruiter. Coming with a "stamp of approval" from a recruiter's past client is a real positive for you.

Many people, when starting out, are weary or confused as to how recruiters work, or why workers need them. The best way to think of working with recruiters is to stop thinking of them like real estate agents, who have listings on multiple houses for sale and are waiting for you to make an offer and move in. Instead, think of them as being able to help you put your best foot forward, knowing how to distinguish great candidates from very good ones. That's what Korn Ferry, as a top executive search firm, is known for. Here's a primer on the three basic camps recruiters fall into, categorized by how they work and the level of talent they specialize in.

Contingency recruiters.

These recruiters work for companies on a contingency basis. That is, they only get paid if a candidate they identify is hired. Thus, contingency recruiters have a big incentive to cast a wide net and identify a large number of potential candidates. This also explains why they're often referred to as "headhunters." Within the contingency recruiter category is a subgroup of mostly junior people, who typically are tasked with searching online to identify potential candidates who will then be passed on to more senior recruiters. If you make less than $100,000, most likely the recruiter who contacts you is working on a contingency basis. These recruiters' need to identify candidates creates a networking opportunity, even if you may not be interested in the position they're searching for. That's why it's a good habit to always be responsive to a recruiter's email or call. Over time, you can develop the relationship by keeping the recruiter informed of job changes and promotions-and keep your information up to date in the recruiter's address book.

Partners don't want to feel as if their role is to pick up the slack for the other's grueling schedule.

Some of what makes the two-header so hard, of course, is guilt. Guilt over notspending enough time-or spending too much time-on one thing over another."I went through internal struggle about my professional ambition coexisting with motherhood," says IrinaBalyurko, a former vice president at Goldman Sachs who now owns a Salt Lake City-based e-commerce consulting business. In her case, she saysshe realized she needed to accept that she was just as driven on building an empire as she was on being a great mom-and then things started to fall in place."My life has gotten a lot smoother once I realized that I will not be a good mom if I also don't strive for high professional goals," she says.

But guilt reduction is only part of the partner game. Here's what we learned from other experts:

Have along-term plan.

It sounds simple, but one of the keys to making two careers work is to figure out what you value as a unit and what your goals are, career consultants say.Is the aim for you to both earn a certain amount of income to send the kids to college sans loans andretireby 60? Or do youhave vaguer goals, such as wanting to just feel satisfied in your job, whetherworking at home or in a corner office?Once you're able to identifywhat you both want, then you can piece together how your careers fit intothosemutual goals.

Throw away the idea of perfect balance.

Faceit: Therewill be times when one partner is working more and the other is caring for the home or children more.But oneof the best ways to try to achieve balance is to take turns in career development, says Evelyn Orr, vice president and chief operating officer of the Korn Ferry Institute. If one partner just started a full-time job with benefits, the other perhaps can focus on building a business. "Two people can set each other up for greater achievements by alternating between holding up themelody and harmonizing over the top," Orr writesin her career-advice column. That way, both people feel supported while also building up their careers.

Balance compromise.

Yes, we just said there's no such thing as perfect balance. But you can be mindful of making sure compromises are going both ways, to ensure resentment doesn't build up, organizational psychologists say.If that means you've moved twice for your partner's career advancement, maybe it's time to have an honest conversation about his next move being a lateral one so you can make a vertical jump.

Go independent.

According to one study,63% of executives said they would switch to being an independent contractor if the right opportunity arose. "Freelancing is no longer a weigh station for people who are between jobs," saysRobert McGuire,publisher of Nation1099, agig-economy website. In fact,for employers, thesingle biggest risk to employee retention isn't another employer but the flight to self-employment,McGuiresays. While contract work doesn't automatically mean a better work-life balance, it does provide greater control of your schedule-and you and your partner more options to work with.

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