Lowering my wife's expectations in her job search without damaging her and the relationship...
January 27, 2010 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Wife is seeking job, but has unrealistic expectations. How to gently redirect without hurting her feelings?

I moved to a new, big city two years ago. Girlfriend in old city stayed behind, then became fiancee, quit job in old city and moved to new city... and now we're married. We're doing OK on my income alone, but would be much more comfortable with a second income.

She feels bad about being out of work (it's been almost a year since she moved here), and has been looking and applying for jobs ever since. The problem is that she has been focusing mostly on jobs that are, in my estimation, a bit out of reach for her.

Specifically, she's very interested in policy, but the jobs she's applying for are primarily filled by grad school types (and while she's very intelligent, she went to a fairly average university and has no advanced degrees or significant policy experience). I think she'd be a great asset anywhere -- she reads a lot and is very impressive in person, but I also think that she is setting herself up for disappointment and frustration if she keeps investing her time and emotional energy in long-shot job applications.

I'd love to have her find something. that makes her happy and gets her a paycheck at the same time.

How can I delicately explain this to her without damaging her self-esteem and opening me up to the charge that I don't believe in her?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Hiring guy speaking.

I think you need to let her try for awhile, even if you're sure she will fail. Let her go out on a couple of dozen interviews. Let her try her best to do well in the interviews.

In addition to gaining valuable experience, she may even surprise you and get an offer even when she's not the best-qualified applicant on paper.

See, a good interview almost always trumps "better-qualified applicant" anyway, especially with smaller firms and for lower-level jobs where the decisionmakers are partners or owners. At the very least, a good interview levels the playing field.

Now, if it so happens that she's not even getting any interviews in the first place, even after applying for a hundred positions or so, then you're right and you can re-open this idea of adjusting her expectations. But until then... let her try.
posted by rokusan at 8:39 AM on January 27, 2010 [11 favorites]

How can I delicately explain this to her without damaging her self-esteem and opening me up to the charge that I don't believe in her?

You can't. Ambition has to run its course.
posted by hermitosis at 8:41 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe you should suggest she get a Masters degree to improve her chances at those jobs rather than tell her the jobs are out of her reach --- she may just not have the qualifications yet.

Ethics and policy is a field that one of my colleagues earned her Masters in. It may be what she needs to give her the boost to get those out of reach jobs. I'm sure there are other policy fields that would interest her if the particular one I mentioned doesn't. In the longterm, it may be a good investment.
posted by zizzle at 8:43 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

You could suggest that she apply for "in the meantime" jobs - those that she is qualified for, but not necessarily where she wants to be forever. That way, she can still look for the "dream job" but also gain more experience and earn an income. Also, a lot of employers now are not even looking at unemployed applicants (I assume they're using it as a signaling device for judging qualifications/competence). Just approach it from a constructive point of view - helping her become competitive in the job market and contribute to the household income, rather than making her feel like you're telling her to abandon her dreams.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:46 AM on January 27, 2010

Get her a book about finding the right job for her and how to apply properly. Keep encouraging her.
posted by bunny hugger at 8:52 AM on January 27, 2010

Has she been doing informational interviews to get herself out there in front of people in the field she's interested in? If she's getting rejected at the resume stage, but is impressive in person, it would likely help to send letters to people in her desired field asking for a conversation. She can then ask them for more contacts ("Who else do you think I should talk to about how policy is made in our city?") so she can do more informational interviews, and will have impressed people without a job being immediately on the line. Then, when a job does come up, the people who've interviewed her will remember her, and will likely let her know about an opening.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:52 AM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

..focusing mostly on jobs that are, in my estimation, a bit out of reach for her

...opening me up to the charge that I don't believe in her

To some extent, you don't believe in her.

She's choosing a path where she believes she can succeed, you don't believe she can. She will either succeed or fail. But as you said you're making it on your income. It's up to her if she wants to change her expectations of what she would find a gratifying career.
posted by French Fry at 8:53 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't do it. Be nothing but supportive and encouraging. Let her go out there and get disappointed. She's a big girl. Do what you can to soften the blow. Offer her whatever she needs to dust herself off and get back in the game.

1. Offer coaching and advice ONLY AFTER listening for a long time or if she asks.

2. ^^^STOP. Go back to number 1.^^^ When you finally do offer advice, don't tell her what she's doing wrong. Offer ideas she may not have thought of before. "Yes, and you could also..." "That's a good idea. Another similar idea might be to...."

3. Help her to look at the feedback she gets from potential employers (and if she doesn't follow up, then encourage her to to find out what skills she lack or what skills the successful candidate had more of.) and re-strategize. What skills does she have that might differentiate her? What skills could she get that would differentiate her? (e.g. languages, visual and media production skills)

Privately, seek ideas and oportunities for her, maybe using your network, to do what she wants in a different, maybe less demanding way. Non-profits tend to be good places to go work if you want to devote yourself to an issue or a "policy". Obama started out as a community organizer, after all.
posted by cross_impact at 8:57 AM on January 27, 2010

Hiring guy speaking.

I think you need to let her try for awhile, even if you're sure she will fail. Let her go out on a couple of dozen interviews. Let her try her best to do well in the interviews.

Amen to this. If she did get a policy job, would you be happy? Of course you would. So support her and after a few falls suggest a different course.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:04 AM on January 27, 2010

Unlike French Fry, who says in part -- "She's choosing a path where she believes she can succeed, you don't believe she can. She will either succeed or fail. But as you said you're making it on your income. It's up to her if she wants to change her expectations of what she would find a gratifying career" -- I think you have a stake in this, and I don't think it's illegitimate of you to suggest a course-correction.

But I agree with others that doing so is likely to backfire and, if she *does* settle, make you the author of her disappointment.

I think ultimately offering up the in-between possibility isn't a bad idea. Maybe asking, in a puzzled but helpful way, if she is getting any feedback from places she's not succeeding at.

I would not pursue private information-gathering, also for reasons of backfiring, and because backchanneling is presumptively sneaky. Except for AskMe.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:09 AM on January 27, 2010

Nthing encouraging her to try informational interviews for a change. Informational interviews will help her in many ways. If she presents better than her resume reads, then she'll get her foot in the door. If she really isn't qualified, she'll find that out from someone in the field.

Unless you are an expert in the field - and even if you were - telling her that you think she's applying for jobs out of her reach will likely be very upsetting. EVEN IF YOU'RE RIGHT.
posted by micawber at 9:10 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't.

You encourage her to do information interviews with people whose job are like the ones she wants. She does research on the those jobs and the career in general by asking them questions such as:

1. How did you choose this career?

2. What do you like most about what you do? Least about what you do?

3. What about your background experience is most useful to you when doing your job?

4. What skills or experiences where you surprised to use when you began doing this work?

5. What are the different educational backgrounds of people who do this sort of work?

6. Etc.

She should refrain from telling them much about herself UNLESS THEY ASK HER SPECIFICALLY. Under no circumstances should she treat the informational interview like a potential job interview. She is a journalist, a researcher, asking for information only that will inform her decisions about this career. Her restraint will usually create a psychological reciprocity in the interview that will encourage them to ask about her goals. Then, and only then, should she share information about her background, goals, etc.

You would be surprised at how many people get jobs this way.
posted by jeanmari at 9:13 AM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Whoops, meant to add, those people will indicate to her how realistic or unrealistic her immediate goals are. You shouldn't get involved in that.
posted by jeanmari at 9:14 AM on January 27, 2010

Another thing about informational interviews: she can ask the person she's interviewing (and yes, in informational interviews it's she who's doing the interviewing, not they) point blank, "Does my background exclude me from getting a job in the field? If so, what do I need to do to change that? If not, how do I position myself in the best way?"
posted by ocherdraco at 9:15 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let ambition run its course. My wife quite her 25+ year career as a chef to follow her dream of selling real estate. At the worst possible moment is US real estate history. It's a constant source of frustration and tension for both of us. I generally choose to say nothing. Good luck to you both.
posted by fixedgear at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Think very carefully before being the guy who lowers her expectations and makes the world more realistic. Do you really want to be that guy? Maybe this is hopelessly idealistic or romantic (and it's certainly advice that I could do more to take myself) but while you're young you should be the guy who backed up her dreams even though they were crazy. That's what spouses should be for, the world outside the front door can be the place where dreams are crushed. If you're not starving, then you can't lose from supporting her. But if you don't support her, even if you're right in your estimation of her capabilities, you run a risk of being the villain. She could project her failure onto you, and it could be a source of bitterness.

I don't mean to suggest that your intentions are anything but kind-hearted but I find my first instinct as a husband is always to get stuck into trying to "fix" a situation when really I should be just listening and being a supportive presence.

If she experiences continual disappointment and it's causing you both serious problems, or she does ask for advice, maybe suggest that she makes her dream job job#2, and help her get job#1 that leads to job#2 by compensating for her disadvantages.
posted by WPW at 9:26 AM on January 27, 2010 [8 favorites]

Do you know anyone else in her field? Does she? Encourage her to grab coffee with this person (the messenger) and ask for advice. If these jobs truly are out of reach for her, the messenger can tell her that and provide ideas for how to get to where she wants. If the messenger doesn't see a problem with your fiancee's qualifications, then you're mistaken.

Is there anything she can do part-time to build experience while she's waiting for a job? It might lessen her frustration to feel like she's working toward something.
posted by sallybrown at 9:31 AM on January 27, 2010

You could try persuading him from the perspective that you are concerned that being long term unemployed could be undermining her hire-ability. That is, she is developing a big gap in her CV that will be difficult to explain away. Thus she should widen her search and get herself something in the meantime that will bring in money while also giving her more experience that she will be able to apply when the job she wants comes along.
posted by biffa at 9:36 AM on January 27, 2010

She should apply at the bank I used to work at. Half of the policy analysts there couldn't even read Hansard, ferchrissakes.

Nthing that depending on what type of policy work she wants to do and in what industry, she might not be underqualified at all.
posted by Kurichina at 9:53 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could she volunteer somewhere while she continues applying for jobs in an effort to gain the experience she lacks?
posted by Gainesvillain at 10:08 AM on January 27, 2010

Maybe you can suggest she goes back to school until the job market improves. 2 birds one stone right? And then ACTUALLY support her, because it seems like your fears are pretty closely related to the truth as far as crushing her spirit and not supporting her.

Finding a job in a new city is hard enough already, without the current job economy added in there.
posted by shownomercy at 10:14 AM on January 27, 2010

If she's over-reaching and a reasonable individual she will start to see that. Which will be frustrating enough without having her spouse be the one to point it out.

I would say you should approach this no different than you would an under-performing employee who you want to do well. When the frustration starts to set in, help her think about what to do. One phrase comes to my mind:

"What can we do to help you be more successful?"

Multiple important parts there:

WE. You're a team now. Asking this way emphasizes that you're in this together and you want to be a part of her success.

SUCCESSFUL. And that's a vaguely defined success for a reason. What's more important? Getting income coming in or setting her on the path to do what she wants to do. Maybe success requires master's work, in which case you decided if that's something she wants to pursue, can pursue in the area, will pursue through loans, will pursue by finding a lower-ranking job that will offer education benefits.........

and on and on.

I think there needs to be a decision made here about whether this is about long-term career or short-term employment. And if bringing in money is important to you there's nothing wrong with you voicing that opinion, but there's supportive ways to do it. Perhaps you're already at the point where you should say to her "honey, I think maybe we should expand your search so you can find something less perfect that will bring some money in while we figure out your long-term goals."
posted by phearlez at 10:15 AM on January 27, 2010

The Universe does a great job of teaching people that their reach had better not exceed their grasp. Meanwhile, you can help her develop networking skills, which are critical in a successful job search.
posted by theora55 at 10:32 AM on January 27, 2010

just be supportive.

my current job was a "reach" job- i was supposed to have 5 years of experience and had, uhm, zero. but i rocked the interview and landed the job. so you never know. let her do what she's gonna do, though gently propose that she widen her search, or maybe temp while looking for what she wants. i freelanced to get by while jobsearching.
posted by raw sugar at 10:32 AM on January 27, 2010

Just to reinforce what people are saying, these are tough fields to break into, worse now that the nonprofit field is contracting and most governments are cash-strapped. The fact that she's not succeeding could be due to many, many factors, and she could also manage to succeed regardless, quite possibly without a given degree (unless she's applying at think tanks that want Ph.D.s or something).

Here's an idea for cross_impact's Step 2. Policy jobs are often filled by who knows whom. And they do often have connections to universities. So, if all she did was audit one grad school class, start working as a research assistant for the prof's institute, and from there get herself into the "who knows whom" circles, that wouldn't hurt.
posted by salvia at 11:22 AM on January 27, 2010

I'd support her. I know someone who doesn't even technically have a BA and she landed a job with a think-tank due to some additional skillsets she had, and a great interview presence, so you can't be certain about what will happen. If you don't really even need the money at the moment, then there's flexibility to let her aim high at the start, and reevaluate as she faces rejections.
posted by mdn at 11:29 AM on January 27, 2010

Temp agencies are great for helping you bring in some bacon while pursuing a higher goal. It's more income than none, gets you in the doors at a lot of different offices (contacts contacts contacts), but doesn't tie you down to anything long-term so she'll still be available for that perfect job offer that might be around the corner.
I actually lucked out with my temp agency; my agent got me temp work in the field I was trying to break into, which gave me a resume, which gave me a real job and subsequent ten-year career in the field.
posted by Billegible at 11:42 AM on January 27, 2010

I may have been glib in my response before, so allow me to elaborate from a practical prospective. My answer stems from the fact that you're getting by alright on one income, IF that changes obviously the nature of this conversation has to change.

If the two of you get to a position where you require additional income, I would agree with other posters who recommended temp agencies. Because they care a great deal less about retention or the long term goals of their employees.

My company is hiring and the people who will absolutely-under-no-conditions get a call back from me are those who are very Overqualified because they aren't going to stay.
posted by French Fry at 12:40 PM on January 27, 2010

I have two thoughts on this:

1. Has your wife tried to work with an employment agency? Although it results in a lower first year salary, a good agency has access to job openings that never make it to the general public, and can also sell your wife to potential employers before they even see her resume. A trusted agency can tell their clients "We have this candidate, she doesn't have the degree you're looking for but she's very smart and professional and would be a great fit for your firm," and get her an interview she couldn't get herself. They can also provide good advice on how to revise her resume to be more appealing to her target audience, and if they really believe she can't get the jobs she's aiming at, they're better positioned than you to deliver that news. Of course, not all employment agencies are equal, and your wife should fine one that has a good reputation, works with companies in her desired field, and feels positive when she meets with them (they need to like her and support her goals too)! If desired, they can probably also set her up with temp work, which can itself be a good way to make contacts or even get job offers.

2. Given how incredibly awful the economy is (and I would blame this, and not your wife's credentials, if you make this suggestion to her), it might make sense for your wife to apply to lower-level jobs at policy organizations (e.g., an assistant instead of a manager). It would bring in a paycheck while helping familiarize her with the field, and many groups will promote from within once they see how competent your wife is. In job interviews, she should ask about growth potential within the firm and express her interest in developing a career in that field, which can help with finding the right position for her.
posted by unsub at 1:23 PM on January 27, 2010

Ignoring the issue of whether you should, and addressing only the issue of how to do it gently, play up the economy - competition for jobs these days is INSANE, there are industry veterans with PHD's applying for even lower level positions - and not being able to get them! Massive over-qualification just to get a foot in the door is becoming normal in some areas, and with this in mind, while she should keep applying for the positions she wants and is qualified for, she should also consider applying for more basic positions simply because of the economic realities. And she should expect to get rejected even from jobs she's over-qualified for - that's the reality on the ground today, and it in no way suggests she's not a great candidate. She's up against hundreds, if not thousands, including many who are desperate and will take jobs they normally wouldn't.

Let the economy be the bad guy.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:47 PM on January 27, 2010

If she can't get a job in the field she wants at the very least she should be interning. It may require that she work for free for 6 months, but it's probably the best way for her to break into the field. She can make contacts and she will be the obvious choice if an entry level position opens up.
posted by whoaali at 8:01 PM on January 27, 2010

You could suggest that she apply for "in the meantime" jobs

Meantime-jobs are the ones where you meet the people you need to know to be in the right-place-right-time position for the dream job. You don't just "apply" for policy positions, your face better be familiar to someone connected to that job in order to rise to the top of the applicant pool.

(Went to a policy-related grad program, watched all my friends get hired)
posted by whatzit at 10:06 PM on January 27, 2010

It really depends what type of person she is. Is she a "If I'm doing something stupid, I want you to shake me hard and tell me so.." type of person, or is she someone who would want you to support her dreams/desires even if they are a reach? If it's the former, she may actually appreciate your comments; if it's the latter, she will not be too happy
posted by teg4rvn at 2:50 PM on January 28, 2010

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