I’m frustrated that my company won’t hire my husband

A reader writes:

My company encourages candidate referrals with hire-on bonuses. So far, I’ve referred three candidates to my job function, the most recent one being my husband. We are a huge, international company with a few other partner couples working here, so that’s not frowned upon. Also, we have several teams of people like me, so if he were hired on we would work on separate teams under different managers, on other sides of the floor.

My husband’s experience and skills make him a fit for this job, more qualified than even me! He interviewed and felt the interview went really well, but ultimately, his interviewers (one of whom is my manager) were split on hiring him for this role; one thought he’d be a great fit, one thought he’d excel in a different job (sales). Since they were divided, the decision was made to not offer him the job, but to put his resume in the hands of the sales director.

Before referring him, I did a lot of soul searching on what it would be like working with him. We discussed strategies on making sure our work and personal lives were kept separate and that our colleagues viewed us as independent, professional people and perhaps coworkers who didn’t know us wouldn’t even know we were a couple. I’m trying really hard to maintain this division of “involvement,” but it’s hard because now I’m discouraged and frustrated. My other referrals were also not offered the job, and I’ve heard similar experiences from many other colleagues on the floor. If they’re all not good candidates, then who is?

But I recognize my bias here. Maybe he tanked interview and this is their nice way of dodging that explanation. But why encourage but then decline our solid referrals? Is there any way of professionally expressing this frustration? Is there a way to get him reconsidered for that job? Right now I’m trying not to let this aggravation color my work interactions.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. Lilo*

    That’s tough but you really can’t take it personally. I was on a committee for a guy’s third time interviewing with our company. The manager explained that they liked him a lot, he had just always been edged out by someinenwhose qualifications were just a little more on point. The guy, to his credit had since done some volunteering and taken classes in the field (the job was a bit of a pivot for him) and we ended up hiring him.

    On the other hand I interviewed a guy for the second time and he spent all his question time pushing rather aggressively as to why he wasn’t hired before. It actually switched me over from a yes to a no on him.

    Getting rejected sucks but you can’t take it personally. Sometimes you just get edged out.

    1. Agile Phalanges*

      Yes, and this was an epiphany I had from reading this site and seeing things from the hiring perspective rather than always the interviewee perspective. Not getting selected doesn’t mean you “failed.” We’re used to starting life via the school process, where if you follow all the instructions and do all the tasks as you’re supposed to, you “pass,” often with a good grade. If you half-ass it, you’ll likely pass, just with not as good a grade. And if you fail, it usually means you missed a critical component somewhere.

      However, in hiring, you can “pass” every single qualification, do every single thing “right,” and still not be selected. Why? Because there’s (usually) one opening, and they have to pick just ONE person. Someone else might have edged you out on one tiny criteria, quite possibly one that wasn’t even listed in the job description. Does that mean you suck and you “fail”? No, not at all, especially not at all the way it does if you “fail” a test or a project or a class in school.

      It’s more like getting a silver medal at the Olympics. It’s not what anyone is hoping for when they go, but it means that not only do you excel in your sport, you qualified for the Olympics, and you did really REALLY well, possibly even breaking records! Just someone else did better than you, possibly by a thousandth of a second or a fraction of a point or whatever. It doesn’t mean you suck, you’re actually quite awesome to have made that accomplishment, someone else was just THAT much better than you this time.

      1. Fikly*

        Slightly derailing, but I have always been struck by the typical happiness of the gold medalist, the disappointment of the silver medalist, and the thrill of the bronze medalist.

        1. just passing through*

          The gold medalist is happy to have won, the silver medalist is disappointed they didn’t win gold, and the bronze medalist is just thrilled to have placed. Silver medalists compare themselves to the gold medalists; bronze compare themselves to fourth place.

  2. Goldfinch*

    My company begs for referrals, yet the hiring process resembles continental drift. 95% of people offered a job have already taken something else, so the process starts over unto infinity.

    One of my colleagues was bitching just this morning about how his freshly-graduated son was in a job for four months before our company called him back for a second interview. Son finished school in May, interviewed with my company in June, got hired by a competitor in August, then heard back from my company in the first week of December. This is for an entry-level engineering job, not an obscure skill set.

    1. Health Insurance Nerd*

      Four months for entry level is bananas! I know that for the C-suite it’s a long and drawn out process, but outside of that the second interview should take place within a couple weeks of the first interview. Yikes.

      1. Laurelma01*

        Possible the candidate they hired didn’t work out. They are going back to the original applicant pool versus reposting.

        1. Health Insurance Nerd*

          That seems somewhat doubtful. And even if that were the case, it shouldn’t be positioned as a second interview.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          If that were the case, they’re still failing to make it clear why there’s a long stretch.

          I’ve had people circle back to me awhile later because their fist choice didn’t work out, heck I got my long term job that launched my career that way! Their first choice…was awful but had slightly more school. They were straight with me about it each time.

          But this doesn’t sound like the case here. It sounds like a company that is disorganized with hiring and has a drawn out process that’s probably personally inflicted somewhere. Unless it’s government and then there’s a million hoops set up strategically that take them months or even a year to hire at times!

          1. Mama Bear*

            Likewise, I once had a company circle back 2 months later and hire me. But they were lucky I didn’t have anything FT by the time they did. Sounds like it would benefit Goldfinch’s company to find out where the long pole is. Outside of federal service, that’s a very long time to wait between interviews.

      2. Amy Sly*

        One Friday, I interviewed for a in-house counsel position at my church’s headquarters in the morning and at an appraisal management company that afternoon. This was my second go-round with the church; they’d had an opening a couple years earlier that I’d interviewed for but didn’t get. They couldn’t even give me an estimate of when they’d be doing the second round of interviews. The appraisal management company told me I could start on Tuesday. Four or five months later I got a callback for a second interview — that’s how terrible their processes were. (It really was a blessing — I got so sick of that church for other reasons I left, and working there while attending a different denomination would have been incredibly awkward.)

        1. Ann Nonymous*

          I just wanted to comment on this: “working there while attending a different denomination would have been incredibly awkward”. I work at a church where I am not a congregant. Heck, I’m not even a Christian! I was up front about this when I interviewed. The woman I replaced had worked there and attended there for 27 years and she ran out with her hair on fire! It took her 2 years to come back as an attender. I think it’s *much better* for a church to have professional staff that doesn’t attend. There is another part-time worker who does attend so she knows more what is going on among the congregants. As I am the financial person/office manager, it is even preferable – for them and for me – that I am not a congregant as well.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Yeah, our synagogue’s administrative staff has mostly not been Jewish, and among other things it means they don’t have to spend their own major holidays figuring out what’s wrong with the sound system and making sure we have enough paper plates :-)

      3. She's One Crazy Diamond*

        When I was interviewing for the entry-level role I had at my current organization, I applied in November 2017, was offered a phone interview in February 2018, and then was finally hired in April 2018. For the mid-level position I’m in now, I applied, had an interview a week later, and then was offered the job another week later, but maybe it’s because the posting was internal only.

      4. Serial Interviewer*

        I’m 10 years into my career, definitely not c-suite but into manager/director-level titles. I was laid off in October, and it seems like the number of interviews for every job keeps increasing. I’ve interviewed four times with two different companies, and three times for another job–and both of these jobs have more interviewing to go before they make a hiring decision as not a single one of those interviews has been in-person yet (lots via phone and Zoom). I haven’t heard back about an interview I had on October 22. For one company, I talked to two different recruiters before finally having a phone interview with the hiring manager, and they expect me to meet with leaders from other departments as well as more from that team before they can proceed. I applied for *part-time contract work* and had four interviews spanning a month before being offered the contract.

        In any event, my point is that while I agree that four months for entry level is completely bananas, I’m starting to think that 6-8 weeks for any job is optimistic these days. Maybe I’m just applying for competitive roles? Maybe it is the holiday season? Who knows, but this has been a slog. I have had one in-person interview out of almost 20 in the past two months, and I feel no closer to being actually hired anywhere. Glad it took me a month to land a part-time contract, too! hah

      5. Elizabeth West*

        It’s happened to me. Twice, after I started at Exjob, I received calls from two places where I’d applied for entry-level jobs and completely forgot about them. It gave me great pleasure to explain to them that I’d already taken another position. You snooze, you lose!

    2. Jamie*

      I worked at a company once that begged for referrals and had insanely slow hiring process as well. Add the fact that more often than not they’d decide not to hire anyone and I stopped referring people. It was embarrassing.

      1. Quill*

        I hate it when they ask for referrals or put up a job and then just… decide not to go through with it.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Or hire someone at another location after saying it *must* be at the X-city location so we didn’t suggest excellent people who are looking for a new job close to the Y-city building.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Husband’s day job was as a referral. He was basically hired after the first in-person interview (after two phone interviews) and started within about five weeks. But they are a great company…so theres that.

    3. Dan*

      That sounds like government TBH. I applied for a fed job that I was well qualified for, but given that I was unemployed, I (ahem) employed the “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” strategy and took an offer that materialized much sooner. Queue up first week at New Job, and I get a call asking if I “had time to talk”. I said sure, I was having lunch at New Job and had a few minutes. He said that was his next question, congratulated me, and ended the call.

      Back in the day, I had a co-op with a well known defense contractor. It was the college co-ops and a bunch of “married with children” types. I inquired about the lack of recent college grads at the company, and I was told that they made offers to new grads all of the time, but they took forever to do it, so when the offers went out, everybody had already accepted something else.

      1. Goldfinch*

        You would think gov with that timeline, right? *shakes head* It’s a privately-owned manufacturer of industrial goods. Worldwide employee roster is ~4,000.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Screaming into the air.

          And then cackling because…wow that’s absolutely hilariously bad.

        2. RabbitRabbit*

          I laugh every time I see one of those “value yourself and your priorities because your company doesn’t and could replace you within the week if you dropped dead” posts. I’m like, where the hell do you work that hires that fast?

          1. Quill*

            I’ve been in labs where they absolutely could have found another candidate in a week but the onboarding process would take a month…

            Verusus current job, where the previous person in my role apparently left late last winter and I started in May…

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Oh, the fed. My husband works for a federal agency, and he was laid off from his non-government employer, had an interview a couple days later with them, waited a couple weeks for the offer, and then actually started a month later. And I understand his hiring process was fast because it was a term and not a permanent position!

    4. J*

      Here’s the key point: “got hired by a competitor in August”

      The competitor got the candidate because your company couldn’t move fast enough. I’d be wondering if the company is routinely missing out on the best-qualified candidates, and what else the competitor does faster and more efficiently.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I worked somewhere that was short-staffed, in particular in its low-wage, part-time positions. Once they got an interested candidate in for an interview, getting the details sewn up (job offer, background check, reference check) took months and on top of that, you couldn’t start working until you did a half-day Onboarding/Orientation at our administrative headquarters, which was 30 miles away and had no mass transit access, so people who relied on mass transit had to arrange rides from a friend/relative.

        Rather than fix things, they cut back on customer services and just accepted the lower revenue.

      2. Escapee*

        Absolutely, they could very well be missing the best-qualified candidates and the hiring manager might be tearing their hair out over it. I worked at a place (not government) where the hiring process was incredibly bureaucratic. I strongly suspect that a couple of key gatekeepers dragged hiring processes out on purpose to save money by leaving positions unfilled for as long as possible. Never mind burning out the people who had to take up the slack. Never mind the inefficiency of having hiring managers jump through months of hoops. Never mind stringing excellent candidates along until they developed a horrible impression of the organization. Never mind the morale-killing effects of the gatekeepers telling hiring managers it didn’t matter if the delays cost them a top candidate (i.e., candidates are widgets and your area’s work isn’t that important to the organization). Beware as a candidate if this might be the dynamic in the organization, and if so, run!!

    5. FormerFirstTimer*

      I had a similar experience during my last job search. I had my first interview for an entry-level admin position in January and was told I would get a call when they were ready to move on to the next step. I didn’t hear anything so I assumed they weren’t interested and moved on. I accepted my current job in April and then I get a call in NOVEMBER for the entry-level position. The person on the other end of the phone seemed baffled that I needed to be reminded what job she was talking about.

    6. Gumby*

      One of my co-workers recently got one of those “thanks for applying, we won’t be interviewing you, good luck with the job search” emails from someplace she applied to during the job search that landed her the job here.

      She has been here more than a year (14? 16? months). Also she is terrific so their loss.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    I see a heavy emotional investment from the OP. Many times when this happens people have a hard time hearing the word “No”. That’s when the rational part of the brain needs to take over with “they have a right to say no for whatever reason” as well as “their loss!”

    As far as referrals go – if no one gets hired then eventually people will stop giving referrals. Again, their loss.

  4. BeeGee*

    A related question: Should employers especially ensure good business etiquette when handling employee referrals?

    That’s not to say employee referrals should get better treatment or be more likely hired, but rather ensure that these candidates be given reasonable communication especially when rejected.

    I was a final round candidate for a position that would have been in a subdivision of a larger division which a friend was in (so we would have occasionally interacted but not specifically worked closely with), and he gave a recommendation for me in the process. I ultimately was not selected, which was a bummer but understandable. However, I was ghosted after the in-person interview! Independently it was frustrating, but I couldn’t help feeling how rude that is to my friend who recommended me or at least awkward.

    The company as a whole apparently has a bad habit of doing this to all candidates, but it made me think if companies should especially be cognizant of this for employee referrals?

    1. Chili*

      It is very frustrating and awkward to provide a referral and then have the company be rude in some way! Inevitably the candidate is going to turn to the referrer for some answers, which is such an awkward position to be in. This happened to me once (I referred a former colleague to a position and my company ghosted him for over a month) and it lowered my regard for the company. Companies should always practice good etiquette in the hiring process, but they should be especially sure they are being gracious to referral candidates.

    2. CatCat*

      Yeah, you’d think even companies that get lazy on their manners in general (certainly, they *should* always be polite, but sometimes they just get lazily rude) might try a little harder with referrals. My spouse won’t refer anyone to his current employer because of the company’s behavior toward a friend he referred.

    3. Jadelyn*

      They absolutely should. My team talks about “high touch” vs “low touch” applicants – sometimes, all applicants to a position are treated as “high touch” because the position itself is higher-level or more delicate and so we want to make a specific kind of impression on everyone who applies to it. But even for positions that are entry-level, applicants with a personal connection are considered “high touch”, specifically because we want to at the very least not damage that relationship that brought in the connection. That means emailing personally rather than the ATS-generated response emails, calling to decline if we interview and go with someone else, etc.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        We use a similar system – if someone was thoughtful enough to refer someone, the very least we can do is maintain their relationship. In general, my HR department is very good about treating everyone as “high-touch” and being responsive, but all involved would be mortified to have a personal referral fall through the cracks.

      2. Indy Dem*

        Ugh, you shouldn’t be touching your applicants high or low.

        I know what you actually mean, but this phrasing always makes me squirm.

    4. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      How about internal referrals? I was recommended to apply for an internal job, so I did, and heard nothing even after I followed up and didn’t even get a rejection email, letter or phone call. I was baffled: why wouldn’t they handle an internal applicant better than some random external applicant? Getting laid off shortly thereafter was a blessing in disguise with an HR like that.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I had this happen to me once, and it left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. I applied and interviewed and then heard nothing – until the position was filled and they announced the new person was starting X date. Zero follow-up from HR or the hiring manager. I actually ended up leaving and then coming back in a similar position (they called me to see if I’d be interested in coming back – I’d generally liked the place, outside that experience, so I figured I’d at least get some interviewing practice). The second experience with new HR was much, much better, and the new hiring manager was a great boss.

  5. Fikly*

    This is a very common question reworded slightly because it’s a referral, not the individual applying. But essentially, it’s “Why is this qualified applicant not being hired?” And the answer is almost always, because there are more than one qualified applicants, and only one opening.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This. My recruiter and I joke that we either have zero “perfect” candidates or we have two of them where the distinction comes down to the tiniest things. I have been lucky enough to subsequently be able to hire a couple of the folks who were just edged out of the first process, too. (When we say, “Can we keep your resume on file?”, we mean it.)

    2. Emily K*

      Exactly this. It may not be that there’s anything wrong with the people OP referred – they might be perfectly qualified for the job – there just might have been more perfectly qualified applicants than there were open roles, so the hiring managers found some other attribute to differentiate them on.

  6. Sockit2me*

    When you apply for a job, you might have an in at the company you recommends you, but you don’t assume you’re getting the job just because of that, even if you are qualified. This is no different.

  7. Aspie AF*

    #4, I had the same experience but I was expecting the pay cut – I appreciated the forthrightness. I, too, was unhappy in my corporate job and took a similar pay cut – if you can afford it and you do really want that job, there are things more important than money.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You don’t know the other candidates. Your husband may have been fantastic fit but what about the other people who are just as good? Should your referral be that force of hand? Or should it be the person who has to work directly with them that maybe just clicked that tiny bit better with another fantastic fit?

    It’s not that easy when you’re hiring people to go on what someone else who isn’t even work in the same department but is on the same floor thinks.

    I understand, I think my partner is pretty brilliant and have worked with him directly, so I know his work ethic. However referring someone cannot have this emotional attachment involved, especially a detached situation where you seriously cannot know what they need specifically, even though as a general overall idea going off what you know from the posting, etc you could say he’d probably be a good choice for them.

    It’s a suggestion in the end, just like extending an interview is a suggestion that they want to explore the option. But yeah, it’s no promise and it’s seriously not personal.

  9. PossiblyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

    I referred my husband for a job at my company (totally different department). We also have a referral bonus scheme. Hubby interviewed well, but was beaten out by a single better candidate. But, in a total kick in the teeth, six months and *one day* later (i.e. just outside the referal bonus scheme period), they called him to offer him the job.

    Yes, he did take the job (it was a significant improvement on his old (toxic) job)
    Yes, they used that timing to avoid paying the referral bonus.

    1. corporate engineering layoff woo*

      That’s something that’s almost worth an ethics hotline referral. Even if they had been delayed and then declined by the top candidate, denying you the referral on that narrow of a timeline difference and presumably without your husband having submitted an additional, non-referred application is suspicious as heck.

  10. Burned Out Supervisor*

    Not to say that you don’t know your own husband, and this is just a general comment, but sometimes people have a real blind spot to their friends’ work habits or abilities. I’ve taken on a few referrals from high performers on my team and they all crashed and burned for various reasons. Now I’m almost a little bit more detailed in interviews with anyone who is a referral because I want to ensure that I’m not biased based on who referred them.

  11. Cobol*

    It’s not the crux of OP’s letter, but it drives me crazy when companies decide oh they’ll be better at sales (as an example). Maybe, but if there’s nothing to indicate they want to do a different job, interview them for the one they applied for.

    1. Fikly*

      I once had an interview where the interviewer spent the entire time telling me what jobs (not at that company!) I should be applying to instead. Why on earth did he interview me? Ugh.

  12. Cobol*

    Just to add, this doesn’t apply if they said they would be willing to do the other job, or you legitimately think they won’t want to stay at the job they applied to for long (but ask those questions, don’t just assume).

    This doesn’t seem to apply for OP’s husband, as they seemed to genuinely consider him for this role, but thought there was a better candidate and handed him off to sales.

  13. Coco*

    Regarding hiring family, some companies or just managers may be more reluctant. If there are layoffs and 1 person of the family is laid off, it can get awkward. Also (not saying this is the case – but has come up at my work) if the person already employed talks about the family member in any negative way or even a way that sounds like there could be drama, it is usually a no. (The drama could be that the couple communicates what is perceived to be excessively during work hours, ‘omg listen to this crazy drunk thing family member did’, etc. ).

  14. Leela*

    OP, someone who used to work in HR taking referrals from people in the company here:

    I’m sorry it’s not working out with your referrals! I just wanted to reiterate Alison’s point and add some of my own to it, there are all kinds of reasons that a company might not take referrals after asking for them. A really common reason is weird budget issues that ebb and flow, and you might no longer be able to offer an appropriate salary for the role and someone who would have been a good fit now isn’t, or maybe you got more $ and now you can afford someone much more experienced so you’d rather hold out for that, it’s possible that they know a team switch/merge is coming up that might put you and your husband in more contact than you were thinking you’d be in, someone on that team might have just put in their notice and now they’re recalculating how they want to proceed, or yes, they might just be really uncomfortable hiring the spouse of a current employee. They’ll probably expect that any referrals from employees run the risk of a connection that’s personal as well as professional, but spouses can add some new and challenging layers: if the company has a round of layoffs, they might worry that both you and your husband could get laid off instead of having you both rely on just one of your salaries, you might be completely sure that you and your husband can keep your work and professional lives separate but the company could never know that for sure and if anyone making the decision has had a bad experience with spouses after work it’s likely to feel extra risky to them, all sorts of reasons can come up even if they think he was a strong candidate!

  15. Anonymoose*

    I was glad to see this topic because I went through something similar (although the rec wasn’t a spouse, just a friend). The difference in my situation was that the company turned down my suggestion even though there are no other viable candidates for the role. I admit, I’ve found it puzzling, particularly since I used a variant of Alison’s language to try and find out what happened (and figure out where I needed to correct what I was recommending), and the response was very bristly towards me even asking. It’s their loss, though, since this person and I knew several other people to recommend for other much-needed, hard-to-fill roles that now want nothing to do with the company.

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