www.asktheheadhunter.com | November 6, 2007
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Acute spousal interference

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."

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-- Nick    

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
Sorry, but I don't recommend specific headhunters. This article has been helpful to many people: How Do I Find a Good Headhunter? 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. Your story is one that I've encountered many times, but I've never written about it because we're 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.

I'm going to offer you some unsolicited advice that I hope does not offend you. I'm going to be very blunt, because this is something that I have seen hurt a great many job hunters: Acute spousal interference. This is when the spouse gets too involved in the job search, to the disadvantage 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.

I think it's wonderful when one spouse is helpful and 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. (Your husband is, in a way, competing with you. It's bad enough when job candidates compete with themselves.) When a headhunter or employer sees the spouse intruding 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 sweetly ask you to back off. He is a professional who stands alone at work, without you. That's normal and healthy. Your references to your spouse as "we" is denigrating 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. If a company calls at home and you answer the phone, do not refer to "we"; to "our job"; to "how we feel"; or say that "we got downsized." Just take a message and let your spouse do the talking. What's discussed between the two of you is your family business; but discussions with an employer must not include you.

When I've encountered this problem, it's usually been a glancing one. That's why I've never written about it. What can I say about a spouse who is just trying to be helpful? But, this example 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. 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 as a serious problem -- but one that you can correct. 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.

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, even after your husband is hired and on the job. 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.

Nick Corcodilos
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