can a spouse contact an employer?

A reader writes:

I am an HR Generalist at a health care facility in a semi-rural area. I wanted to get your opinion on having spouses involved in a candidate’s job search. Specifically, calling to check on the status of an application, asking why the candidate did not get an interview, hired, etc.? I typically thank them for calling, and then ask to speak with the candidate directly. I consider this a negative for the candidate because it seems like they do not have the motivation nor the desire to conduct their own job search. When I lived in a major metropolitan area, I never encountered this phenomenon.

A spouse should never contact an employer or a prospective employer. Not unless it’s to say the spouse is in the hospital and unable to come to work or make it to the interview.

There are no exceptions to this.

It looks unprofessional and, as you said, it raises questions about why the spouse isn’t bothering to make the call themselves.

Why do people do this?!

I have a theory, actually: I’m convinced anyone who does this is in one of those unsettling relationships with no boundaries, where they share an email account and never see their friends without the other one there and almost definitely aren’t allowed to stay in touch with exes. And if that’s your thing, great — but don’t assume the rest of the world wants to play by your rules, because we don’t. (And that’s the weirdest part of it, actually — the assumption that other people will accept and embrace this boundary-less world they’ve created between the two of them. That’s their deal, not ours.)

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Erica*

    I have no idea what goes through people's heads.

    When the OP gets in touch with the candidate, does she ask them why they had their spouse call?

    Is there ever a good answer?

  2. TheLabRat*

    To be fair, sometimes the job seeking spouse may not be condoning the behavior from the other. Which, now that I think of it, makes it even weirder.

  3. Anonymous*

    I was thinking the same thing as TheLabRat wrote above. Perhaps being unemployed has left me watching too much Dr. Phil, but there are some controlling spouses (moreso husbands on his show) out there. They might just be that controlling on the job search too. There's pressure to bring more money into the household, and that's what might be happening. The calling spouse might think that the job seeking spouse isn't doing enough and he/she ends up taking matters into his/her own hands.

    Of course, there can be the chance where the spouse condones the behavior although I don't see what they think are the advantages of that.

    I can see spouses giving each other advice, but let the one spouse take care of his/her own business in this regards.

  4. Marsha Keeffer*

    This behavior is an opportunity for the employer – and it's instant reject? Why?

    Because you, Mr. or Ms. Candidate didn't set appropriate boundaries with your spouse – which means you probably won't on the job.

    And your choosing someone who would contact an employer for you tells me that you're not a fit for our company.

  5. Anonymous*

    What if it's a long-distance relationship? I'm currently looking for a job for my girlfriend (Brazil) here (Europe) so she can legally move in with me. Is that more appropriate or should she really call every number from over there?

  6. Deirdre*

    There have been times that I have worked with the spouse but it's mostly when I have been initiating contact. There have been a couple of hires where the candidates have been difficult the reach during normal business hours (like police) and I have coordinated interviews/meetings with the spouse. And have then received follow up calls from the spouse about process, etc.

    Our policy is that anyone can check on hiring process so I guess I am not as concerned about who calls. I don't give any specific information on who has applied but if people just want general information, I don't mind the call.

  7. Jane*

    I'm not sure that I'd go as far as Marsha on what it says about the candidate, but I'd likely reject just because if the spouse is comfortable calling now, imagine how much spouse-fielding there'll be if this candidate actually gets hired. It's signing on for a time sink.

  8. Christine Witt*

    I wonder if this happens because the applicant is too shy to call themselves? I don't know.

    No matter the reason, it's odd behavior that is most likely not going to be rewarded with a job offer.

    For the person whose SO is in another country – I'd rather receive an email from the applicant than a call from the SO. If email isn't possible, the call needs to be made by the applicant.

  9. Anonymous*

    I've had a candidate's MOTHER call throughout a promising candidate's interview process. I politely explained that I had explained to her adult child that we were still interviewing other candidates. (More than I should have had to tell this "Nosey Rosie." )

    When a more suitable candidate was indentified (and subsequently hired), this woman called and attempted to grill me as to why her adult child was not selected for a position.

    I explained that we made our selection based on a candidate's qualifications and experience and thanked her for her interest, but I would not discuss the matter any further.

    This isn't junior high! Seriously, how mature and professional is a person that let's their mother call and check up like this?

  10. Ask a Manager*

    Wow, Anonymous, you were nicer than I would have been! I would have told the mom that I wouldn't speak to anyone but the candidate and that I was confused about why anyone else would be checking in.

  11. Anonymous*

    My husband has been at his current job for over 12 years now. I've contacted his employer on his behalf exactly once – when he was having an allergic reaction and couldn't speak clearly, and I was driving him to the ER. I think that one was appropriate. But other than that, I wouldn't even think about calling an employer or potential employer on his behalf!

  12. Anonymous*

    As someone who's been supporting a partner who's been out of work for three years, take it from me, you start doing ANYTHING to get them a job. I started email accounts in his name so I could send resumes, I write cover letters, go on all the job websites, etc. If I didn't do it, it wouldn't get done, and I can't afford any more time paying for all the rent, food, bills, cars, etc.

  13. Anonymous*

    Never have called an employer for my spouse but I have checked job postings and filled out applications for my spouse. I have even sent emails to setup times for interviews (from my spouse�s account). I don�t see anything wrong with that.

  14. Anonymous*

    I wonder how many of these applicants realize their spouses and/or (as mentioned above) their parents are making these phone calls to their potential employers. Is this prevalent or are these extreme cases?

  15. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous at 3:26 p.m.: Hmmm, as an employer, I wouldn't be pleased to find out that when I thought I was emailing with the candidate, it was really the candidate's spouse. Frankly, I pay attention to those emails because they tell me things about the candidate — is she sloppy with her writing, is she professional, is she timely… and you could be giving an impression, good or bad, that isn't accurate. So I think you're doing something that employers would take issue with if they knew.

  16. Anonymous*

    Ugh. I've got a mentally ill mother, and if I were to let her know where I applied for work, she'd DEFINITELY call and attempt to control the process (I'm in my late twenties, but she still views all her children as extensions of her). It is simply not possible to set boundaries regarding appropriate behavior for her.

    So I simply tell her nothing about my job searches, because it people would judge me based on her behavior. So some of these people may not be co-dependent, but simply lacking the wherewithal to conceal dangerous information from their um, "unusual" loved one. Which is still someone you don't want to hire!

  17. Anonymous*

    I recently had the same experience happen to me, and I concur – it is an automatic rejection. I can understand that people need to feel like they are helping, especially with the unemployment rates, but it backfires in my book. Occasionally I have wondered why the inquiring spouse just didn't apply for the position. (It seemed like they were the ones on the ball anyway)

    Verification: Apologul – a new way to say you're sorry.

  18. Anonymous*

    I agree that spouse contact is a red flag, but your theory is unfair. Most likely your just dealing with a candidate that has an overbearing spouse. Sure you question it and unfortunately they almost always get passed over because you don't want to deal with the pain in the ass spouse, but I think it's immature to speculate about all of the other stuff.

  19. Brian*

    BAD: Writing their resume & cover letter for them.
    GOOD: Reviewing their resume & cover letter AFTER they write it.

    BAD: Contacting prospective employers on their behalf.
    GOOD: Doing mock interviews with them.

    BAD: Sending out their resume, cover letter, and or e-mails impersonating them.
    GOOD: Staying positive and providing encouragement and moral support.

    BAD: Searching through job sites and applying for jobs for them.
    GOOD: Helping with chores/kids/pets/cleaning so they can spend more time job-hunting.

    Not trying to be mean, but if your partner's been out of work for THREE YEARS and job-searching doesn't get done unless YOU do it for him…
    (besides, if he can�t find a job on his own, how long do you honestly believe he would last at a job you found for him?)

  20. Anonymous*

    Hon, I understand all that….that it probably means he doesn't want a job… but knowing that fact does NOT pay the rent. If I apply and line up interviews for him, it's a lot harder for him to fake trying to find work. It's easy for someone to claim they're "looking" while they're actually not looking. It's a little harder for them to avoid job hunting when you can tell them "you've got an interview tomorrow".

    1. Dianamh*

      There are a couple of problems with the solution you’re using. Number #1: When you write his cover letter, resume, and e-mail’s, the employer will expect your writing style, use of language, etc. and select him for the interview when they really want you (or a version of you with his skillsets and experience).
      Number #2, From reading AAM, you should look up the company’s “about me” page, know the job listing thoroughly and practice, practice, practice your interviewing skills. If you tell him “you’ve got an interview tomorrow” is he prepared for the interview or will he bomb it?

      You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. If your SO is not thirsty enough for the job he won’t put in the work it takes to get it no matter how many interviews you lead him to.

  21. Anonymous*

    One exception > The only time a spouse should be involved/contact an employer is dire emergency. And I do mean dire.

    Anything else I refuse their entry or end the call with an obvious "I can only speak with the employee/applicant."

    When they carry on (they always do – the purpose is to be involved or argue and intimidate) I thank them, restate the obvious, advise I'm ending it, hang up or call security.

    I'm not a priest, shrink, counselor or therapist – and the overinvolved need to learn boundaries.

  22. Anonymous*

    "I have a theory, actually: I'm convinced anyone who does this is in one of those unsettling relationships with no boundaries, where they share an email account and never see their friends without the other one there and almost definitely aren't allowed to stay in touch with exes."

    …and they share a toothbrush, have no problem being in the bathroom while the other is doing their business, etc. My biggest pet peeve is when a spouse calls the employee out of work sick. There aren't too many ailments that would prevent the employee from calling in sick themselves. ARRGHHH…

  23. Anonymous*

    I was an HR for a large retailer and hired mostly college students. I dealt with parents all the time by reminding them that everyone I employ is at least 18. I refused to discuss with the parent why I wouldn't give their child a month off from work so they could come home for Christmas break.

    One applicant was confused when I asked him where he learned to drive a forklift since he indicated he had done so on his application. He replied "oh,yeah, my mom filled that out since I was out of town last weekend." I told him to go home and tell his mom she just cost him a job.

  24. Anonymous*

    If I were the hiring manager, I would be worried that the person calling does not have the permission or acknowledgement of the applicant. A person like an abusive spouse. Or abusive ex who might be stalking the applicant and hacking their email or stealing their mail to get the names of employers and other contacts.

    Anonymous at 2:28 represents another type of unhealthy relationship, wherein the caller would be the enabler for someone who quite obviously has no intention of getting a job so long as someone else is paying for their lifestyle.

  25. Anonymous*

    "Anonymous at 3:26 p.m.: Hmmm, as an employer, I wouldn't be pleased to find out that when I thought I was emailing with the candidate, it was really the candidate's spouse."

    Can't disagree with you, but my spouse's old job made it impossible for contacting future employers during reasonable hours. My writing skills are much better, but my spouse still had to do all the hard work with interviewing and such. In the end, my spouse got a really good job so I am happy!

  26. smith17*

    Not quite the same thing, but when I worked at an employment agency, we would get wives calling to find out where their husband had been employed – usually with a story about needing to get in touch because of a sick child. I was given to understand that this was actually so they could get an attachment of earnings set up for child maintenance – presumably the husband/partner was putting off the moment when he would have to start paying.

    I would never divulge such information, but I think some of the staff were taken in by the sob stories.

    I might feel sorry for the wife, and I suppose she might be telling the truth, but confidential information is confidential.

  27. Anonymous*

    Anonymous 10:26: I am anonymous 2:28. How, exactly, am I being an "enabler"? Enabling would be to say "there, there, dear, don't worry about getting a job…I'll pay for everything". I'm trying to _avoid_ a situation like that by getting him working.

    If I present him with scheduled interviews, he has to fish or cut bait; he either goes on them and eventually gets a job, or has to come right out and say "no, I refuse to work". Enabling would be to allow him to continue his half-a$$ed effort at job searching, claiming he's sending out resumes, claiming he's reading ads, and drawing it out forever and ever, blaming it on the economy.

  28. Anonymous*

    Repeat Anon, my sympathies to you and your tough position. I'm starting to think "cut bait" may be something you need to consider thinking about maritally, though. What you're doing hasn't gotten him employment, and it's not going to. It's just taking you more time to deal with his unemployment. As long as he has a place to live without paying, he will always have more excuses than you have workarounds. It may feel like a victory to prove him wrong about nothing being available, but unless that's every bit as satisfying to you as his actually bringing some money in, that seems like a pretty hollow win for the energy. If you knew for sure he was never going to get a job, what would you do? Because I think it's time to think about doing that.

  29. Anonymous*

    To 4:05: You write, "It may feel like a victory to prove him wrong about nothing being available, but unless that's every bit as satisfying to you as his actually bringing some money in, that seems like a pretty hollow win for the energy."

    But the "victory", as you put it, of proving him wrong, _does_ bring the money in. I mean, I'm not sending out his resume to just make an academic point that he wasn't trying hard enough; the whole point is to have resumes lead to interviews lead to paychecks.

    I'm also intrigued by your question, "If you knew for sure he was never going to get a job, what would you do?" I had a friend ask something similar, namely what was my "plan b". This amazes me…are there really people out there who end relationships over their partner not being able to get a job? I'm not saying I'm happy with the current situation, but I also can't imagine giving someone you love a deadline and telling them to "land a 35K job in the next 3 months or I'm walking."

  30. Anonymous*

    But, according to what you've said, it hasn't resulted in his bringing in any money. So if that's what it's for, it hasn't worked.

    And I don't necessarily mean that somebody has to leave a spouse because s/he's not bringing in money–there are plenty of single-earner families, after all. But it sounds like you're considering yourself in a dual-earner family with one paycheck temporarily suspended–what would you do differently if you knew yours was always going to be the only paycheck? Cut back, change domestic responsibilities so that the stay at home spouse picks up proportionately more, use the time applying for jobs for him for something else?

    This is way off topic, so I'll let it go now, and if you're happy with the situation, I definitely apologize for sticking my nose in. But it sounded like you weren't, but that what you were doing wasn't really going to change that. My best wishes to you either way.

  31. Anonymous*

    I have a situation where my boss is has crossed the line with me and been unprofessional on several occasions i.e. called me very inappropriate names, used my personal information to manipulate me, etc. This has made my husband furious, especially the 3-4 times a week I come home crying. My husband wants to ring his neck.

  32. Chad*

    Anon 3:08

    You need to contact HR if you are called names. No one should have to deal with that. In most companies the HR will side with you, there job is to keep the company from getting sued and a badmouthing employer opens them up to a lawsuit from you.

    Your spouse can support you in this, but he has no place contacting them himself. It is understandable he feels that way, sounds like he is protective of you and wants you to be happy, but really only you can make the situation better.

  33. Anonymous*

    My husband was offered a job position where I work. We got into a huge argument today bc I wouldn't do him a favor & call my boss to say he accepts the position. I was telling him how unprofessional & how bad that looks. My husband has not been consistently working since 2002! I just want validation that I made the right call. Thank you.

  34. Ask a Manager*

    Wow. Uh, yeah, you made the right call. You should each handle your own relationship with your employer independently of the other. That's crazy.

  35. Anonymous*

    Thank you for validation! He is away this weekend volunteering @ a tournament where he can play & stay for free. So we left the weekend on a sour note. Anyway, when he gets home, how should I follow up with him (what would you say)? I feel like my right advice might come out the wrong way! Ugh! He ended the argument with, "fine, I don't want the job!" He loves to go to the extreme when we disagree.

  36. Robyn*

    I have a specific situation:
    My husband and I live in Hawaii. He’s a car guy and has been looking for car-related (non-mechanic) jobs with no luck. He was finally contacted by a car parts manufacturer out in Utah. He spent a week there as a “job interview” of sorts. At the end of the week, they talked about him working there for a few months, and if it works out, getting a job there.
    The job I have in Hawaii is good and solid so we would be doing a long distance relationship for a while, which we both are completely okay with.
    Now the employer out in Utah is saying how they don’t want to ruin our relationship. We both were so upset when we heard this. Me, because I don’t think our relationship and how we handle it is anyone’s business and that was always the case so why did they make us spend money to send him out there in the first place. A flight to Utah with only one working spouse is no easy task. And him, because he’s been unemployed for so long and this was finally our light at the end of the tunnel.
    I am so tempted to go on the employer’s website and write them an email in the form of a thank you. Such as “thank you for allowing my husband the time to spend at your company. He’s been looking forward to this job opportunity for a long time and we both hope that he will be able to offer his skills to any position you have open”.
    In the back of my mind, I know this is a bad idea and I need validation because it’s going to hurt me so much to see my husband depressed by another lost job opportunity.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Don’t do this — it will look unprofessional and could hurt your husband. This is his matter to negotiate with the employer; if they’re like most, they’ll be uncomfortable at being contacted by the spouse.

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