Do I tell her about her nervous habits?
April 16, 2018 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Short version: Wife has nervous habits that I think might hurt her job search. Do I tell her?

Long version: A few weeks ago, my wife was booted from her job of 22 years. She is now striving to bring herself up to 2018 job-search standards (boy, have things changed!) I am, of course, as supportive as possible, and try to help her whenever I can. However...

Over the years, she has developed a handful of nervous habits or personality quirks that, imho, might hurt her chances in interviews. There's absolutely nothing offensive. But, there are a couple of things that I see all the time. Of course, since I've been with her for so long, I might be seeing things that are unnoticed by others. Still, I feel like she might want to know about them. On the other hand, I don't want to put even more pressure on her and make her unduly self-conscious.

Opinions? Should I just let it go and keep my mouth shut? Or, would you want your spouse to let you know about stuff like this? I'm usually pretty good at what to do/not to do things in marriages, but this one has me stumped.

posted by Thorzdad to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Nope. Don't tell her. The chances of something like that actually hurting her job search are minimal at best. The right candidate at the right time is what gets jobs, it's rarely down to how someone's interview goes.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:57 AM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

What kind of "nervous habits" and "quirks" are we talking about here?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:59 AM on April 16, 2018 [26 favorites]

You’re going to have to be more specific. Umming? No. Picking her nose? Yes. Depending on what it is you can guide her towards doing something else rather than making her feel bad about what she does, so twiddling with her hair, suggest she tries to use a body language that keeps her hands more in her lap, don’t mention the hair. Also, what you notice from repeat exposure I might not blink at until six months in.
posted by Iteki at 9:00 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is impossible to answer without details. But generally, I like the rule of thumb that if someone can fix something embarrassing in five minutes without undue effort, you're doing them a favor by pointing it out to them.

So: weird-looking fidget? If it's really, actually embarrassing, and not just something that's gotten on your own personal nerves after 20 years, you might as well tell her. Personality quirks (!!!), though, there's no quick way to change that. Leave it alone.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:00 AM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's no telling whether she has these nervous tics or quirks in an interview or at work. What's obvious to you might be completely opaque to others.

If you think she might present herself in an untoward way in interviews and she's been out of the market for a while, could you introduce the idea of a mock interview? Some placement agencies or job fairs include these as a service, and it's a good way to get back in the swing of interviewing. Getting some feedback from a third party would be the best.
posted by mikeh at 9:09 AM on April 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think there's two details necessary
- Some high level description of these behaviours and their severity
- The type of role she is applying for

As a hiring manager, it totally depends on if they are customer facing, presenting to executive team, managing a team, etc. It's not as big a deal (to me) if they are just an individual contributor and they are still able to communicate effectively to me and their peers.
posted by like_neon at 9:10 AM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Definitely let us know what the quirks are! It's the only way to really answer this question.

From a practical standpoint, though, one thing your wife could do to help herself is mock interviews, maybe with you or maybe with friends (friends might actually be better). Not only will this help her be more confident when the real thing comes, it would provide you and/or her friends with an opportunity to bring up any genuinely problematic quirks in the narrow context of "I noticed you did this thing during the interview and it might be distracting in a real interview," which could be less hurtful.

Also, to answer a question you didn't ask, I have found Ask A Manager to be incredibly helpful in job searching. If your wife is interested, have her check out the interviewing guide and browse through the archives for job searching and interviewing. I credit that site with helping me write the cover letter that landed me an interview for my new job and with helping me negotiate a higher salary once I got an offer.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:13 AM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think you could suggest she see an interview coach and then let that person decide if it's an issue.

Since you don't want her to be extra self-conscious, I wouldn't bring it up unless it's something easy to not do and ideally also something that she's already aware of doing.

This ultimately depends on her personality and your relationship, and how upsetting it will be to learn that she does this. But in general, I think most people want to get bad news from external parties and support from their spouse.
posted by salvia at 9:20 AM on April 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

This is so highly subjective. I would tell my husband absolutely, without even thinking twice. But asking the question here indicates you have doubts about whether this is a good idea in your specific relationship with your specific person - which makes me think your answer is probably no.
posted by something something at 9:30 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

It doesn’t sound like she’s even had an interview yet? Gently, don’t put your anxiety about this on her. Maybe, if after a few interviews that haven’t gone anywhere in the context of a discussion about practicing or something. But she’s had a job for over 20 years, it sounds like she can act professionally.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:30 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think confidence is probably going to be more important than a few quirks, depending on what the quirks are. I would really focus on bolstering her confidence as a competent adult who’s been in the workforce for over 20 years.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:33 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

What kind of "nervous habits" and "quirks" are we talking about here?

So, details..I guess the main one that I see her doing a lot is tacking-on a chuckle at the end of talking. Sort of a "Blah, balhblahblah blah blah, ha-haa" thing, as if what she just said tickled her.

The other one, which I think is more serious, is her always having the last word, even if it's merely re-stating what was just said to her. In other situations, it's almost a get-the-last-word-no-matter-what thing. Even if what she says is very much a Capt. Obvious comment, like this...

Me: "I'm going to get chocolate ice cream at the store."
Her: "Unless they're out of it."

Stuff like that. That last one is probably the biggest one I am afraid of.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:41 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

That "last word" thing sounds problematic. How she is likely to react to this sort of feedback? Some people might get angry/defensive or the feedback might make them even more nervous/self conscious. Other people will be able to accept feedback and possibly act on it without it being an issue. You probably know which category your wife falls in to.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 9:48 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, that latter one isn't going to win her points. Does she do this mostly to you/people she has good familiarity with or do you see her actually doing this to strangers? If just you, then I would let her do her thing for a while first.
posted by Seboshin at 9:49 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't think either of those quirks will have any impact on a a job interview, and you should not bring them up to her.

If I were her, I would take it as you using that as an excuse to bring up things that annoy you personally under the guise of *only trying to help.*
posted by Kriesa at 9:50 AM on April 16, 2018 [35 favorites]

If I were her, I would take it as you using that as an excuse to bring up things that annoy you personally under the guise of *only trying to help.*

Same. And it would hurt more to have it be presented like "objectively, nobody likes this and it's going to stop you from getting a job" rather than like "you know, it would be really nice if you could do this a bit less." To me at least.
posted by salvia at 10:06 AM on April 16, 2018 [18 favorites]

These don't sound like things that would hurt her in an interview. Unless she's doing it to a literally insane degree, a laugh at the end of sentences or tacking obvious comments onto the end of a conversation are not reasons why people lose a job. And even then a 2 hour interview isn't long enough for it to become so offensive. Almost everyone has verbal tics and nervous habits. It's just human! Honestly, these complaints kind of sound kind of like when people suddenly started making a big fuss about "vocal fry" - apparently it was only annoying when women did it, Ira Glass (iirc) did an entire This American Life episode about the subject where he deliberately used vocal fry throughout but nobody complained about him. IMHO you've got a little list of things that annoy *you* about your wife, and not things that will hurt her job prospects.
posted by MiraK at 10:13 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

why do you think she doesn't know she does this, especially the nervous laugh? much like excessive "ums" and "likes," in my experience awareness does nothing to cut it down (since excessive self-awareness and self-monitoring perpetuates and heightens anxiety) and usually makes it worse. calling attention to it might work if it was just a habit, not a nervous one; you can retrain yourself out of things much easier when there's no insecurity attached to it.

the only nervous habit that I know can be broken just by deciding to is failure to look people in the face. that, you can force yourself to do for a short duration. but constant monitoring of a tic that, if it happens at all, happens all the time...that's not something you can fix in the short term in a time of high stress by pointing out that other people notice it. it can get worse though.

nervous laughs are annoying as hell. but what they mean, and all they mean, is the person is nervous, eager to please, or both. the former is expected in a potential employee and the latter is often welcome. nobody knows if how you are in interviews is how you actually are all the time, so nervous habits are probably more easily forgiven there than anywhere else.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:23 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can you suggest she video herself doing a mock interview with you as the interviewer? Then she can (hopefully) watch herself from the outside and make any necessary corrections.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:35 AM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

When I was looking for a new job (because I was at "cry almost every night before going to sleep" stress level at work), my husband, who has never passed an interview in his life due to the nature of his job, started giving me similar feedback. He saw me in distress and wanted to help: "You need to speak more assertively and with confidence!", "Make sure you don't fidget, because you do that a lot!". It came from a good place, but I quickly shut that down.

First of all, I am not my husband's wife when I go into an interview. I am the most polished, professional version of myself. A version of myself that he has probably never seen and I didn't want to make an effort to show him that version of myself. Also, I want to get a job that fits me. I can show confidence when I turn it on, sure, but "extremely assertive woman" is not me and I would be bad at a job that required that.

Second of all, I didn't need his voice in my head during interviews. "Crap, I've been fidgeting with my hands. Did the interviewer notice? Did it kill my chances?" is not something that you want in your headspace when you are trying to impress someone.
posted by Blissful at 10:41 AM on April 16, 2018 [48 favorites]

The last word thing is really, really problematic and she needs to know she's doing it. Done enough and with the appropriate timing, it's destructive to team dynamics. Even understanding people get uncharitable fast when they feel like someone's trying to one-up them in a professional setting. It's even worse when they suspect the person is oblivious to it because God knows what sort of meltdown they'll have in response to feedback about it. She needs to get a handle on this before a future colleague goes scorched earth on her, and they will someday.

However, it's more likely to trip her up after she gets hired rather than in an interview. You have to be next-level oblivious or intentionally manipulative to do this in an interview. Once she gets an offer, it's worth talking to her about though.
posted by blerghamot at 10:45 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Neither of these things are really going to come across in an interview. The format of interview I am familiar with is that the interview panel asks a question, and then the interviewee speaks at length to answer that question. Either side might ask for clarification but there's not a lot of opportunity for the kind of last word thing you've mentioned to come across. And the chuckle is nothing. And also--the way she behaves around you is probably not at all the way she behaves around people in a professional setting. Unless you've worked with her you don't know that she does that at work.
posted by Polychrome at 10:58 AM on April 16, 2018

Unsolicited feedback of the 'You seem awkward!' type, even lovingly delivered, is not the empowering thought we want to carry into job interviews.

You could offer to do some role playing for interviews with her, or offer to find some good tips for interviewing that might help her to feel better prepared, but I would avoid all of it as well as anything specific unless she's enthusiastically interested in getting this feedback and acting on it.

Just tell her how awesome she is and remind her of all of her unique skills and experiences and so on, that will help her meet this challenging moment in her life. Try to be as specific as possible. Those conversations are invaluable when prepping for job interviews.

(BTW Captain Obvious thing might be something that bugs you but isn't actually annoying to most people. In a job interview situation I might chalk a tick like that up to nerves.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:24 AM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

Why not help your wife find a career coach your area and in your wife's area of expertise to help her navigate the job search. As you mention A LOT has changed in the past 20 years when it comes to job searching and a coach can help her tweak her resume, use LinkedIN, figure out how to network effectively...and prep for interviews.

I have used a career coach in the past and found it soooo useful and getting feedback on interview techniques would probably be better received from a neutral third-party than you. Even if you don't go the full career coach there are people who just specialize in interview prep.

Why not offer to pay for some sessions for your wife as a show of support?
posted by brookeb at 11:27 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dear lord, I would really hope my SO would tell me something like this. Of course you tell her! Why would you not want to help give her every possible advantage for interviews?

The best interview advice I got was to answer the question and then shut up, because during interviews I would just.keep.talking long after I had given a response. My mom marked my card to just be quiet and she was right and I was so glad she said something.

This doesn't have to be heavy or mean, just, "Hey hon, you're so smart and great with ____ and I really want to make sure you're shining during interviews." Then pinpoint one thing--I wouldn't go with the nervous laugh, but essentially, answer the question then be quiet.

You two are a team and have been for a long time. I can't imagine someone getting upset about gentle interview hints given with love.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:36 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think this is one of those things that - even if it stings a little - long-term partners do for each other. Don't condescend or baby-talk it, just say, "So, I'm not saying this to freak you out, but you have a couple of nervous verbal tics that may be startling or off-putting in interviews, especially if you're interviewing intergenerationally. Can I tell you about them when you're ready and maybe be your interview practice buddy to try some alternate strategies?"

She may very well be like "ugh god it's the nervous laugh and silence-filling, isn't it?" And then you just move on to doing some drills so she can feel the tic coming and do an evasive maneuver. No big deal, we all got our quirks.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:07 PM on April 16, 2018

Ask her if she wants your advice regarding any upcoming interviews. Somewhat related: there's a reason it's recommended that people generally not take driving lessons from a partner.
posted by Lilypod at 12:13 PM on April 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

It really sounds like you're annoyed by her negative talk. I would be and I'd also be annoyed if I were her and this were my constant inner monologue. The store example is pretty extreme, and I can see why you're upset. I think you should talk to her and say it bothers you. And maybe say hey , job hunting can really get you down and you already seem to have a lot of negative remarks. How bout some therapy, maybe something CBT based. Or mindfullness. I kind of don't think this has as much to do with the interviewing as much as it does with you thinking your wife is negative (and you would be turned off if you met her today). Maybe she is feeling negative and more time doing thing she loves, eating things she loves, doing spiritual thing she's into, whatever may help. I'd address it from there and not at all from an interviewing perspective.
posted by Kalmya at 12:28 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Restating what was last said to you is actually a good technique on interviews. It shows that you were listening and are engaged. Also, chuckling at ones own joke can also come off fine in an interview. It could be seen as nervous, which is totally understandable and acceptable, or even charming depending on context. I don't think any good would come of you bringing this up with her. It will sink her confidence and make her worry you don't believe in her.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:10 PM on April 16, 2018

If she's receptive to it, maybe suggest doing a mock interview with someone (maybe a friend who can put on a professional face and won't break character) and film it. Then she can watch it back and see for herself how she does and she can pick up on anything that she isn't happy with or wants to fix. This is easy for you because you don't have to offer any opinion at all, unless she specifically asks for it. But I know I would be hard on myself if I was watching a video and would have a more internalized motivation for fixing a behavior I didn't like viewing. It could also bolster confidence by giving her a chance to practice answering questions and seeing what she is doing that she likes.
posted by LKWorking at 1:11 PM on April 16, 2018

N-thing setting her up with some kind of coaching for mock interviews. Anything else directly from you is likely to make her feel self-conscious and maybe anxious, and that's much more likely to hurt her in interviews.
posted by rpfields at 4:32 PM on April 16, 2018

The first one, the laughter, is a non-issue. If anything, I think laughter will make her come across more warmly and people will respond to her better. People like being around happy people.

With the second one, that does sound like it could be an issue. Instead of saying, "Hey, I've noticed this thing about you that's really annoying and I never told you about" (which would be terrible), instead do mock interviews with her and then point it out if/when she does it in those specific instances. Do not tell her she has been doing this annoying thing for years and you just ignored it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:23 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Of course, since I've been with her for so long, I might be seeing things that are unnoticed by others.

I think the two things you mention fall into this category. These aren't big problems, others probably don't notice them (especially in an professional setting, where she likely acts differently than at home), and it will only cause more harm for you to bring them up with her.

Let it go. Continue to be supportive and remind her of how awesome she is. If she is interested in getting some sessions with an interview coach or similar, that would be great and something you could support, but you should stay out of it. It won't help her to have your criticisms in her head during interviews.
posted by aka burlap at 5:48 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

The mock interview is the way to go. My husband and I always, always practice with each other before interviews. IT creates a context where feedback is welcome and helpful. The "last word" problem, for instance, is very addressable in a mock interview setting: the feedback is "you nailed it during your first response, no need to add to it which weakens your point, be succinct/concise, say it once and move on."

However, I would think that in your case a 3rd party might be more helpful for her. The reason is that I think some of this stuff is about you and what drives you crazy (whether or not that's justified), not about her job interview skills. So I'm not convinced you can bring a sufficiently detached response to a mock interview situation.
posted by Miko at 5:50 AM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Nthing the suggestion of coaching, ideally from some outside professional who has expertise in the area. If finances permit, maybe she could have a few sessions with an executive coach to help her more generally identify what she wants to do, and how to achieve a job in that area - after 22 years at the same place it might be kind of mind-blowing to think about the possibilities!
Within that context, it would be up to this external professional to take her through a mock interview and give feedback. I've also had recruiters do this with me for free (just the mock interview part).
posted by dotparker at 1:24 PM on April 17, 2018

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