Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Never Underestimate The Role Of A Spouse In The Hiring Process

I recently had a candidate who had had his final interview and was about to get an offer.  He and I had discussed all the pros and cons of the job and he was very enthusiastic.  Then, on the Monday I was expecting to make the offer, he called to tell me that the job was too risky and he was no longer interested. It was a totally unexpected comment.  I discussed the risks of the job with him (there were virtually none) and he would not budge.  An hour later, after I had collected my thoughts, I called him back to determine how this issue developed.  He told me that over the weekend, we decided that it was too risky.

unhappy.jpg image by jodygo

I understood that the "we" meant his spouse was involved with the decision. I also understood that I had never considered this aspect of the job placement because, honestly, there was/is less risk in this job that most that I recruit for.  It just never crossed my mind to talk to him about his spouse.   

Lesson learned.  

Recently I heard about an out of state candidate who was about to be flown to New York for a final interview.  He had been interviewing for a partnership and senior position with this company for weeks.  Suddenly, he dropped out – his wife did not want to relocate.

These situations gave rise to this post.  It is a very common phenomenon.  Spouses, significant others, even extended family can play a huge role in the recruitment process, especially when it comes to specific aspects of the job – salary, relocation, lifestyle, risk. 

Candidates who are job hunting generally set the expectations of their spouses or family at the beginning of their search. They commit to these people in terms of their own goals and expectations. I have seen worldwide account directors promise spouses and family that their next job will have minimum travel. Others promise that their next job will pay significantly more than they are currently making. Some promise not to uproot their family. Sometimes these assertions are often unrealistic in the marketplace, but nonetheless, they become engraved in stone.  When a job offer is made that is in conflict with previous assertions, the candidate has to find a way to give themselves permission to accept the job.  (That is one of many reasons why it is wrong for companies to knowingly offer a lateral move to a candidate, unless there is some other compensating factor, like guaranteed bonuses, stock, promotion, etc.)

Jobs which require extensive travel, jobs with late night or early morning phone calls (say, a foreign based client) or other issues that may affect lifestyle might impact severely on a marriage or relationship.  It is important that spouses be on board right from the beginning.

Ideally, of course, candidates will have brought their significant others or family into the loop at the beginning of the process.  But that often doesn't happen.

The problem for companies is that they never know what the candidate has or has not committed to their friends and family.  If they are there through a recruiter they cannot even be sure what the recruiter told the candidate about the job (if the headhunter has complete information).  And if the candidate was found through networking or from a direct call from someone within the company, it is hard to determine what the candidate knows or does not know about the job.

At the beginning of the process it is important re-articulate the job specs to the candidate to be sure everyone is on the same page.  It would be completely fair for hiring managers of human resources to determine what the candidate knows about the job. 

Companies habitually ignore questions about spouses during the interview process.  I think there is always an assumption that these discussions have already taken place and that the spouse knows all about the search.  It isn’t necessarily so.  It would be appropriate once the job is reiterated,  if questions like, “What does your spouse say about this job?” or, “Does your spouse know about this opportunity?” were asked early in the process.  By forcing the issue up front, it could avoid significant problems during the offer stage – in fact, the answers to those questions might affect making an offer.  And they certainly might affect a candidate's ability to accept the offer.

It is a shame for a company (and the candidate) to waste their time interviewing if the job does not match their needs or expectations.  And a lot of time can be saved by determining these things up front.


  1. Would questions like that - even if rephrased to something like "is your family okay with this?" - possibly be looked at as being too close to asking if a candidate is married? Employers aren't allowed to ask that, right?

    I think it's a great question to ask, but I imagine employers would have to be really careful about it if they're not allowed to ask personal questions like that.

  2. Bill: It is perfectly acceptable to ask marital status on an interview. Personal questions are fine as long as they are legal. Illegal questions are about age, religion or sexual preference.

  3. Marital status questions are tricky and I avoid them. Often people feel it is a back door way of expressing gender bias or bias against a person's sexual orientation. It makes understanding this part of a candidate's decision making hard. You can hope they will offer up personal factors after a question like, "what are some of the things you need to consider before accepting this offer?" but sometimes candidates are unwilling to bring in the personal thinking it will weaken them in the eyes of the company.

    1. Susan that is a fair comment. Candidates tend to be a little more open with recruiters, I think.

  4. Your writings are very good.Very interesting and informative article. Thanks for sharing.I like to read more article like this.Petter Joe

  5. This is such a great topic! I have encountered the same problem recently. I live in New York with my parents. The job market does not look so good for juniors, thus I have considered relocation However, as being the only child, I don't want to leave my parents. If I have to move to another state to get a job, I will definitely talk through this with my parents from the beginning to make sure they are okay with it.

  6. Great article, Paul! Thanks...

  7. Jin: I did not include parents in my article, but they should have been. Even much older people consult with their parents, often not for advice, but for approval. Thanks for the comment.

  8. Hi Paul,
    Knowing what a spouse wants can be a real plus. I placed a senior executive, not actively looking, for less than his current base because he saved 2 hours in commuting and was able to see his young family, at times for lunch, being only 10 minutes from home.
    Thanks for your article, it is an important perspective to focus on in the hiring process!
    Best Regards,

  9. Hey Paul. Decisiveness, preparation and communication are important qualities in a good candidate; it sounds as if the person who bailed was a little lacking in a couple, if not all. Hope that doesn't sound cold.

    1. Steve: It is a good point. Interestingly, recent college graduates and young people generally consult their families. But married people often do not bring their spouses/significant others into the process until towards the end. Don't quite get that, but it is so common that it is the norm.


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