1. Archive

Help spouse find a job without crossing lines

(ran PT, TP, HT, CI editions)

Patrick Riccards is trying to help his wife, Jennifer, find work.

Riccards, who works for Widmeyer Communications Inc., a Washington public-relations company, has been reaching out to his colleagues and contacts, searching through job Web sites and newspaper ads and flagging jobs for his wife. He even helps her set a daily schedule, making sure she is devoting a block of time each day to job hunting, and judges which jobs she should pursue. Jennifer Riccards, 29, has been looking for work in the education-policy field since she took a buyout from her previous employer in November.

For the most part the two have worked together well, but they admit there has been some tension. "Some things I thought she was perfect for, she didn't think she was qualified for," Patrick Riccards says. "She's also a little less aggressive than I am when following up on a letter or after an interview."

It's natural for spouses to want to lend a hand when their partners lose jobs. But the well-meaning helper can do as much harm as good if he or she becomes too controlling. If the helper is employed, it can even rub salt in the wound.

And the risks cut both ways. Melissa Burns, who works at a public-relations firm in San Jose, Calif., recently helped her technologically challenged husband, Brice Filippini, look for a job by searching online for opportunities and even e-mailing his resume to different employers. But she worried he was taking her for granted.

"I felt like I was expected to help him and that if I didn't, that I was not a supportive partner," she says. "At one point, Brice actually said to me, "You're not even supporting me.' . . . How can you say that when I was spending such a huge chunk of my time on this?"

Here are some tips for helping out your spouse without putting your marriage on slippery footing:

Set ground rules. At the beginning of the process, both parties should sit down and make sure they are on the same page. Agree on the candidate's acceptable salary range, potential for relocation, benefits and company size and stability. "This can remove a great deal of stress from both parties," says Lisa Flavin, a principal at a Concord, Mass., search company.

She says the parties should agree to revisit these elements in three to four months.

Make a list of the contacts you have in common. Both parties should use their professional, neighborhood and special-interest associations to come up with a list of "at least 200 names," suggests Emory Mulling, head of an Atlanta outplacement and executive-coaching consulting company.

Patrick Riccards said that reaching out to his connections on behalf of his wife was a positive experience. "I definitely received more concern and attention from folks when pitching my wife than when pitching a friend or former colleague or even myself," he says.

Resist "report-carding." Asking a spouse on a daily basis about job-hunting progress will make him or her snap at some point. "Understand that there will be days of total unproductivity for an unemployed person," says Bradford Agry of CareerTeam Partners, a New York career-consulting company. "Accept this and resist the temptation to manage your spouse the way a boss would."

Agry adds that unemployed spouses will respond better to: "Anything I can do to help on the job front?" than the belittling, if occasionally tempting: "What did you accomplish today?"

Employ positive reinforcement. During this tough time, remind your partner that his or her skills are valuable and unique.

"You need to give your spouse extra hugs and let them know they are loved _ with or without a job," says Kathi Mishek, an advertising executive from Minneapolis who found that her husband needed extra nurturing while the two recently worked together to land him a job.

Realize when it's time to back off. When tensions flare up, Fort Lauderdale business coach Joyce Reynolds suggests "time outs" for couples who are teaming up in this effort. If the problems persist, you should let your partner seek the assistance of a career coach. Meanwhile, it might be helpful for you to find friends whose spouses are in the same situation for moral support.

Up next:WORK BIT