Question

My husband, a manager, would like to find a good job in Washington state. We were downsized in Philadelphia, and then found work in New York, but the cost of living here is almost as bad as California. We felt that if we could get something that paid decently out in Washington, it would be better for us. We did experience several times being told by headhunters that, “The Human Resources people were really excited about getting him on board, but they just needed to get clearance from the upper management to make him a formal offer.”

I think they say this just to keep us from looking at any other jobs. This would then just drag on, and eventually turn into not hearing anything from anyone. But, I highly suspect that the headhunters are just saying that to be polite. One headhunter was honest with us and said, “If they do not make you an offer within two weeks, they are shopping around, and then you should be as well.” I sent off an e-mail to one Human Resources person, saying that we really wanted to move to the area, and wondered if he could just let us know, if there was the intent to hire, or not, so we would know where we stood. Can you help us? Can you recommend some good headhunters in Washington?

Nick’s Reply

spousal interferenceSorry, but I don’t recommend specific headhunters. This article has been helpful to many people: How to Screen Headhunters. Remember that headhunters don’t find jobs for people. That’s not our business. We fill positions for our client companies, and that involves searching through our networks, not responding to unsolicited resumes.

But this bit of oft-repeated advice is not why I’m publishing your question. Underlying your story is a cautionary example of crossing the line between job hunting and home life. I deal with people’s professional lives; not their relationships with their spouses. Sometimes, however, a spouse crosses that line, and the results can be disastrous. That’s why I believe your husband’s job search is going nowhere.

(This is reminiscent of another bizarre phenomenon, reported recently in The Hill: 26 percent of Gen Z applicants bringing parent to job interview: Survey.)

“We” are not looking for a job

I’m going to offer you some unsolicited advice. I’m going to be very blunt because this is something that I have seen hurt job hunters: Acute spousal interference. This is when the spouse gets too involved in the job search, to the detriment of the job candidate (the other spouse). I can see this throughout your note:

  • “We were downsized”
  • “We felt that if we could get something that paid decently”
  • “just to keep us from looking at any other jobs”
  • “One headhunter was honest with us”
  • “I sent off an e-mail”
  • “so we would know where we stood”
  • “Can you help us?”

You were not downsized. Your husband was. We are not trying to get a job; your husband is. We are not looking at other jobs; your husband is. No headhunter ever talked with both of you or interviewed both of you. And so on. You are interfering with your husband’s job search, and with the employer’s hiring process. This is hurting your husband, and you as well.

Acute spousal interference

I think it’s wonderful when one spouse is supportive of the other’s career. But, a company is not hiring the two of you. They don’t want to hire the two of you. They want to know that the job candidate thinks independently and is not managed or hampered by a spouse.

Sometimes a spouse gets so involved in the interview process that headhunters and employers get turned off. It could be costing your husband job offers. (You are, in a way, competing with your husband.) When a headhunter or employer sees the spouse interfering this way, they worry about intrusion into the job and inappropriate influence at work from home.

I have rejected candidates because of spousal interference. It reveals a weakness on the part of the job candidate. Your husband is half the problem. He needs to respectfully ask you to back off. He is a professional who stands alone at work, without you. That’s normal and healthy.

When “we” interferes with a job search

Your references to your spouse as “we” is demeaning and unprofessional. It creates problems. There could be many reasons why your husband has been rejected; don’t let you be one of them.

Please reconsider your role in your husband’s career, and find a healthy way to be supportive. Stay out of the foreground. Let your spouse manage his job search. Do not refer to “we,” to “our job,” to “how we feel,” or say that “we got downsized.” Do not communicate on his behalf. Let your spouse do the talking. What’s discussed between the two of you is your family business, but communications with an employer must not include you.

When I’ve encountered this problem, it’s usually been a glancing one. What can I say about a spouse who is just trying to be helpful? But, your story is clear and inappropriate interference. When you took the liberty to send an e-mail to a Human Resources person to find out “where we stood,” you went so far over the line that I had to publish your story.

You are creating a risk

Compounding the problem is that you use your husband’s e-mail account when you write — his name is prominent in the address on the e-mail you sent me. I hope you now see this is a serious risk. Discuss your husband’s career with him any way the two of you see fit. But from now on leave his interactions with employers and headhunters entirely up to him. Spousal interference is likely what is hampering this job search.

I know you’re trying to help. And, I suspect, you get vicarious professional satisfaction from managing this job search. Please find something else you can manage for your own fulfillment.

Any good headhunter or employer knows that when recruiting a new hire, the spouse is a key factor — but one that we try to handle respectfully and deftly. The only time you should be in the picture is when the employer draws you in, but nowadays that’s quite rare. (For example, if a relocation is involved and the two of you need to visit the employer’s city to find a new home.) A supportive spouse is an added benefit to any employer who hires your husband. A spouse who intrudes on the job, or into discussions and negotiations with a prospective employer, is a risk.

When is it okay for one spouse to be directly involved with another’s job search? Where’s the line?

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16 Comments
  1. If you mean Seattle then the cost of living is similar to most of the expensive places in California or New York. If you are looking to save money by moving out here Seattle isn’t it.

  2. Nick: About the survey you cite from The Hill, with the headline, “26 percent of Gen Z applicants bringing parent to job interview: Survey.” I looked at that article, and 1,428 individuals were queried out of approximately 65,000,000 Gen Zers, which works out to 0.0022%. From a statistical standpoint, the credibility and validity of that survey is “less than zero.”

    But for Gen Zers, or anyone else for that matter, who are considering getting their parents (or spouse) actively involved in their job search, as you cite here, the word that comes to mind is “don’t.”

    Just don’t do it.

    And your advice to this particular spouse is “right on.”

    PS: Folks who are interested in headlines and what this report states or that survey finds, should read this 1954 classic, How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff, found at horace.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/How-to-Lie-With-Statistics-1954-Huff.pdf

    • That’s assuming all 65MM are looking for work. I Googled it and there are actually about 69MM GenZers (born about 1997 to 2012). Then I Googled how many are looking for work and it said about 62%, which works out to be about 43MM. Also, the survey was from individuals from 18 to 27, so assuming an evenly distributed population by year, that’s about 4.33MM per year and adding up 18 to 27 year olds is also about 43MM. So, let’s say only about 43MM Gen Zers are looking for work, either actively or passively. That’s still a small percentage and is 0.0033%.

      But, that’s not the major problem with the design of this survey. If it indeed were randomly selected over the entire population of Gen Zers, it might be somewhat valid with some error range (they all have an error associated with them). The problem with any online survey is you only get the people who respond to the survey and you don’t know who they are and what bias you’re going to get. I can’t believe it’s representative of the entire population of Gen Z.

      By the way, here’s the actual source, not The Hill article and they go into how they did it.
      https://www.resumetemplates.com/1-in-4-gen-zers-brought-a-parent-to-a-job-interview/

  3. Unless it’s the kind of company where the spouse plays a role e.g. socially, and is as screened as the husband–a situation I haven’t heard of since the Big ’80s–BUTT OUT. Let your advice be to him alone and stop with the emails! Two for one went out with the Clintons, and you know how that worked out.

    More to the point–if he gets a job in Washington, what about you? Are you transferable?

    And last but not least–Seattle ain’t cheap (as an earlier poster pointed out) nor desirable, unless you want to work in a ruined city.

  4. re: “…Gen Z applicants…”

    Those of us of a certain vintage remember when everyone in high school had some kind of job. That was where we learned to fill out a job application, interview, deal with adults/authority, and show up on time (and sober).

    The high school job was where we learned the basics of working.

    In my [limited, personal] observation, the high school job is not nearly as ubiquitous as it was in my day. Meaning that many young people leave college without having practiced this basic skillset.

    So the companies that want to be competitive in acquiring talent need to consider real “entry-level” roles. As in “first-time-job entry-level” roles. For companies that only want to hire people that will start producing on day one, this will be a massive shift.

    Perhaps the pool of talent that needs no training is drying up.

    An aside: Any hint of spousal drama will eliminate a candidate immediately. Nobody wants that in the workplace.

    • @Gregory: I keep reading about employers that want only candidates that can “hit the ground running,” that have plenty of experience, that have exactly the right skills. That’s a deal-breaker for me because it suggests the company’s management is lousy. Good management can hire smart, talented people that can ride a fast learning curve without falling off because the managers are good at training and on-boarding. That’s where a company has its edge. Filling empty holes with perfectly matching pieces is a losing game because that’s how positions remain vacant while a company seeks the perfect candidate. Of course, some key positions require specific expertise, but those are relatively rare.

      What holds employers back nowadays is ATSes, algorithms and automated screening and interviewing. Managers have no opportunity to identify characteristics that cannot be captured in keywords, or by robo-interviewers that track eye movements then correlate them with those of successful workers in similar jobs. Very good candidates are false negatives — rejected out of hand for no good reason.

      One of the top venture capitalists in Silicon Valley recruits for his startups by sitting in the back of lecture halls and watching students participate in class. He looks for the oddballs. Students who ask insightful questions and think out of the box. He considers his time investment incredibly valuable because he “picks off” some of the very best students long before anyone screens them through an algorithm.

      This takes time. But so does chasing keywords with “A.I.” without putting on your running shoes to actually go find the best candidates. The A.I. turns recruiting into an armchair pastime where the failure to find good candidates is excused as a failure of schools to teach the right skills. The good candidates are out there. But where are the good managers who know what to do with them?

    • I learnt all of that at school as a kid. Didn’t need a job to teach me it.

    • @Gregory It’s true that many young people no longer work in “high school jobs” because they spend after school time and summer vacation doing various activities to enrich their applications for college. However, many of them work in internships at some point during college. When I was in college in the 80s, it wasn’t all that common to have an internship. I seem to recall that some degree programs required internships, but not all.

      Many college students are learning the “high school job” skills in those internships, many of which are unpaid. And the internships are a higher stakes situation for them because it’s a professional situation.

  5. Never ever interfere with your spouses job search with an employer YOU are not the one who will become the employee.

    While the wet (west) coast is beautiful it is not cheap. Rent is very expensive. The average house here is now in the 900k to 1.3 million range so I recommend renting first to see where you want to live longer term. . There are a lot of jobs spread all over Puget Sound. So location matters as traffics congestion and commute time are longer than you may think.

    When I decided to move here, I called in my professional network and asked them who did they know they could introduce me to and so avoided the hr traps. I joined the local groups here in Puget Sound (aka Seattle , the Eastside and Tacoma) So check out the local meetup listings to find local meeting’s for what ever your interests to start making those important face to face contacts .

    Subscribe to the local newspapers ( now online) to get a feel for the area. – check out the Seattle Freeze phenomenon. You can now watch local TV news online.as they all have apps.

    The hardest personal thing for me on the job was to learn to stop casually swearing, which was the norm in NYC, but shocked people here, so be aware there are certain cultural differences that may not be apparent so be prepared for those subtle differences.

    So my advice is to cool the overt helping and then take time to look for a job for yourself ..

    • @Anne: Excellent suggestions! And I have firsthand experience with the “cultural” challenge — transplanted from NJ to the Bay Area (long ago) I had to unlearn certain words and phrases!

    • I’m looking for a new job here in Seattle and these are great suggestions, thanks for sharing them!

      “The hardest personal thing for me on the job was to learn to stop casually swearing, which was the norm in NYC” – I had the same experience coming here!

  6. Totally agree about direct, spousal involvement. However, when my (now departed) husband and I moved so he could receive medical treatment, we faced challenges as a team, each with specific roles so I could find a solid position <- this is key.

    My job was to find a good job (I did). His role was to assist me in drilling down on the companies, doing recon as it were, on their reputations, pay scale, finding the hiring manager, interview role playing and double checking documents to make sure those were perfect to a T. (This support also helped him get through chemo).

    Now, because of our "unique" situation, it was often asked "what brought you to "region" "? Usually, the answer of "family support" would suffice. In the role I have now, family life balance was mentioned in the job description, I asked about that in the interview, which led to a discussion that was favourable about our "unique" situation.

    I've seen spouses get directly involved with job searches, interviews and the job itself (!)…unless it's a supporting role, the spouse should have confidence in their partner to land the position without direct involvement.

    • @Stacy: Thanks for a balanced, real-life approach to helping a spouse on the job hunt. Thanks for showing us how it’s done.

  7. I’m in @Stacy’s camp & others. The candidate needs to drive the bus in dealing with the application process & the job the the “company”.

    But behind the scenes the search process which entails a lot of work, offers someone who wants to help ample opportunity to do so.

    This is especially true for those who need to make a change (e.g terminated) and haven’t looked for a job in ages.

    Someone who wants to help, can do so a lot in the background. such as research, on employers, employment venues for example. The more intense the search the more work it requires.
    Having someone show up for an interview obviously unprepared by showing a lack of even basic knowledge about the company is about as bad as showing up with their mom.
    How about this question from an applicant “So what do you guys do?”

    And there’s ample other ways to help in the background that will educate an applicant, help make them look their best.

    But there is a part of the application process where involvement of a spouse doesn’t cross the line. That is when things are going well & HR is rolled in. I mean HR HR not recruiters. The benefits briefing Yes you could say that an adult applicant should be as savvy about this as with their professional space.

    But I confess from day 1, my wife handled that department. She is the business manager in our marriage. Not that I didn’t care about benefits. but ….
    So rather than being “helped” in the background by a briefing to ask this, ask this, ask this. and afterward a debriefing of did you ask? … what’s this mean?.
    I simply asked the HR manager if she could sit in on that discussion. He had no problems, she picked his brain with SME gusto. She was happy, I was happy, the company was happy & I took that job.

  8. Nick, I’m so amazed by this email that I’m having trouble taking your word for it that it’s real! I have no good reason to question that it is, but…wow. Just wow. SMDH.

    • @Susan: I understand your skepticism, but it’s real. I couldn’t make up a story like that!

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