How Your Spouse Can Cost You a Job

A meddling spouse can ruin your chances of finding new work.

Oct. 8, 2009 — -- In her two decades of interviewing potential employees, Jeanne Achille, CEO of The Devon Group, a communications firm in Middletown, N.J., said one candidate in particular stands out.

"During a final interview when I was going to make an offer, the candidate arrived with his wife in tow," Achille said. "She proceeded to grill me about our intentions and share insights into her husband's requirements."

To Achille, the flag was crimson red.

"She was his mouthpiece," the CEO explained. "I politely thanked her for joining the meeting but said that I would need to interact with her husband since he would be the person joining the organization."

Looking for career advice? Click here to send Michelle your questions and they might end up as a topic for her next column.

Although the husband snapped to and took the wheel, Achille said, his wife continued to backseat drive.

"She sat back but prompted him with questions: 'Ask about the dental insurance. What about the paid time off policy?'" Achille said.

With so many Americans worried about losing their job, finding a new one and not having enough money to pay their bills, it's understandable that spouses have a vested interest in their partner's employment prospects.

But according to those in the hiring seat, helicopter spouses who hover over the interview process aren't doing their husband or wife any favors. If anything, they're damaging their chances of landing the position.

Can't Manage Your Spouse? You Probably Can't Manage the Job

Although Achille wound up hiring the guy with the helicopter wife, she doubts he would have stood a chance for same the position in today's hyper-competitive job market.

"In today's climate, we now average at least 25 candidates within moments of a job posting," Achille explained.

"I would seriously reconsider a candidate with a helicoptering spouse," she said. "On the other end of the interview and negotiation process is someone who will interrupt the team's workday with zillions of phone calls. It's simply not worth it."

For William Gaffney, owner of Amaxa Group, a recruiting and career coaching firm in Dayton, Ohio, spousal interference is indicative of a larger problem with a job applicant.

"A non-managed meddling spouse demonstrates the candidate will have poor management skills," he said. What's more, he added, "The candidate might be easily swayed by others."

Besides, Gaffney continued, "Any potential offer is likely to blow up because the spouse will end up in the middle of it. If a candidate does make a decision, chances are very high the spouse will convince them to change their mind if the spouse doesn't like it."

To Love, Honor and Shill?

A Boston recruiter who didn't want her name used -- let's call her "Nicole" -- couldn't agree more.

At the end of 2008, Nicole, who works at an employment agency, got a resume and spoke by phone with a mid-level manager who had a job but was looking for a new position.

"The next day, I received a call and an e-mail from her husband," Nicole said. "He told me, 'My wife's very busy during the day and I'm helping her with her job search.'"

When Nicole explained that she needed to speak directly with the wife, the husband said he preferred that all communication about his wife's job search go through him.

"He explained that his wife didn't have time to make job search calls from work," Nicole said. "He also said that he knew what she was good at and how she could best utilize her skills. And that he felt she could earn more compensation-wise."

The husband then sent Nicole a revised version of his wife's resume, which he had edited himself.

Nicole was not impressed. After a month of trying to reconnect with the wife but only hearing back from the husband, Nicole wrote off the candidate, calling the experience "unproductive and unprofessional."

"I have a hard time believing nobody can talk at all during the day," she said. "If I leave a message for Susie Q, I want to talk to Susie Q. I don't want to talk to her wannabe recruiter husband. I would never have presented her to a client because it would have reflected badly on me."

Why Send Your Sweetie on a Wild Goose Chase?

But obtrusive spouses aren't just wasting the time of the recruiters and HR professionals who have the misfortune to come into contact with them. They're wasting the time of their significant other.

Just ask Rachel Rice-Haase, an HR coordinator for a landscape design firm in Fremont, Wis. This spring she interviewed a prospective employee who seemed to be stonewalling.

"He didn't really answer any questions I asked him," Rice-Haase said. "Several times he completely avoided the question altogether and asked me a question back."

After 10 or 15 minutes of this, the candidate said, "My wife wants to know when I could start."

Rice-Haase explained that she had other candidates to interview before making a decision. Then she asked how the candidate had heard about the position.

"He said that his wife applied for him and had made him come to the interview -- and that he really didn't know anything about the company," the HR pro said.

Rice-Haase ended the interview on the spot.

"It was a complete waste of my time and his. But it was nice to rule out one candidate quickly," she said.

Rice-Haase said she has nothing against a spouse helping a candidate search for a job. But, she said, as long as an applicant is physically capable, she expects them to write their own resume and fill out the application themselves.

"When a recruiter is asking questions concerning your qualifications and your responses don't even slightly match what's on the application, it raises a lot of red flags," she said.

When Meddling Turns to Embarrassing

Sometimes a spouse's professional hovering borders on the humiliating.

A software company hiring manager I'll call "Karl" can attest to this. As a board member of his kids' private school in Palo Alto, Calif., Karl attends many school functions. Last year, a woman who also frequents these gatherings began pimping her engineer husband to Karl.

Amenable to networking, Karl engaged in a little shop talk with the husband at a school picnic.

"He was pretty uncomfortable," Karl said. "He seems happy and secure at his current job and appears to be perfectly capable of taking care of himself jobwise."

Still, that hasn't stopped the wife from chatting up her husband to Karl every time she sees the technology executive -- or from shoving her husband and Karl together whenever they're in the same room, a situation Karl said makes him squirm.

"I always pretend we just ran into each other and talk about something school-related," Karl said of his attempts to put the hapless husband at ease. "He seems relieved by that."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books -- "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog,