Helicopter Parents

Are parents calling and promoting the abilities of their son or daughter? Do you feel that the resumes you receive from college seniors were written by parents? Are you faced with irate parents demanding to know why you are offering their child such a low salary? Are benefits and salary being negotiated by mom or dad or both?

If you have experienced any of these or similar incidents, join the crowd, and if not, get ready to!

For more than three years, articles have been mentioning the growing influence parents are having on the schools, careers, and companies their offspring choose. A very simple Google search yields more than 1.5 million references to the term “helicopter parent.” College magazines, in particular, have been filled with discussions and laments over this rising trend.

A recent issue of The Wall Street Journal‘s Career Journal.com reported that, “The University of Vermont employs ‘parent bouncers,’ students trained to divert moms and dads who try to attend registration.”

Called helicopter parents because they tend to “hover” over their children’s every move, the parents of Gen Y have exerted great influence on elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. Their influence is now moving toward you.

Now that a significant number of Gen Ys have graduated from college and are entering the job market, this parent hovering is being transferred from the college admission arena to recruiting.

Gen Y are the most “parented” generation that we have seen. Since birth, these young folks have been protected, chaperoned, coached, and guided by their parents. Rather than shun parental influence, as most Baby Boomers did, they expect and even embrace the close relationship they have with their parents. They look to their parents to guide them in whatever choices they make and often call mom or dad to get their advice on even trivial matters.

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Technology has enhanced their ability to stay in touch. They can text mom for her opinion from almost anywhere or give dad a call on his cell phone, or shoot off an email. Staying in touch is easy as is the comfort of knowing that mom or dad will be there all the time.

I have heard stories from recruiter friends about parents calling to discuss benefit options and asking them for the pros and cons of each choice. I have even heard of parents showing up with their child for the interview and getting very upset when they were not invited to participate.

If you have run into any of these situations I would live to hear about them and will share them anonymously in a future column. I would also like to know how you have dealt with the incidents because I am sure we will see an increase over the next few years.

Meanwhile, here are a few tips on how to deal with helicopter parents:

  1. Establish some basic guidelines that you share with your college interviewees. Think through what involvement you are willing to accept during the recruiting process and make that clear to each student. I suggest creating a letter outlining where parental involvement is appropriate and where it is not in your organization and include that letter in your information packet to prospective candidates. I would also suggest talking with career centers to get advice on dealing with parents. After all, they have been doing this for quite a few years now!
  2. Communicate with parents early and frequently. When you interview a student, ask them about their parent’s role in the process. Some students will be quite upfront with the information and let you know how involved they feel their parents will be. Offer to send the parents a letter explaining the recruiting process if they will provide you the address. Also, think about offering a parent’s day at your firm to introduce them to what your organization does and to give them an idea of how employees work and are treated. Most parents are employed and will benchmark your organization against what they know and like. Opening yourself to inspection, so to speak, can ease anxieties and make the parents more supportive of your offer.
  3. Create a specific website or information page for parents. Some organizations, including the Southwest Corporation have created a specific website for parents. It provides information about the company, its history, values, and ethics, and how it treats its employees. Well done, a site such as this can be a powerful ally in the recruiting process and give you a competitive edge over any competing firm.
  4. Provide decision-making criteria and facts. Be very clear about how the offer decision is made and what the criteria are. The more specific you are, the less chance there will be for misunderstanding and bad feelings later. I suggest that you develop a list that states the criteria you use for decision making and for setting salaries. We are living in an age of transparency and people expect to know how decisions get made, even in areas like recruiting where decisions frequently seem to be made in mysterious ways.

These are just a few suggestions, and I welcome any input from you who have already been dealing with these issues. All of us will benefit by sharing our experiences and solutions before we get the angry phone call!

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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5 Comments on “Helicopter Parents

  1. I will keep this very simple. If the candidate is over 18, I am not speaking with his or her parents. Ever. Even if they work here. Helicopter parenting behavior should not be validated, encouraged, or enabled.

    Where will it end? Will HR be getting calls from Mommy because little Jimmy isn’t happy with his performance review or raise? Or when Amanda’s request to take 2 weeks off for a family vacation isn’t approved?

    The focus of this article seems to be about how to foster and encourage a relationship with the parents while establishing appropriate boundaries and expectations early in the process. I couldn’t disagree more, as an employer and as a parent. Children old enough to work full time need to grow up, parents need to cut the cord so their children can grow up, and companies need to run their business without external interference.

    I do agree with sharing detailed information so candidates may make informed decisions. But it doesn’t matter to me which significant others he or she confers with, whether it is their spouse, partner, brother, sister, or parent.

  2. Not only would I not even entertain the thought of speaking to the parents, ‘little Jimmy’ will crash and burn as well. The problem with a lot of ‘Gen-Yers’ is the fact that they ARE so ‘over parented’ to the point that they have little or no character left to fend for themselves. Either Jimmy gets the job on his own merit or a more self sufficient candidate gets the job, promotion, etc.; survival of the fittest.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Wheeler. We need to not only accommodate parents in the process, but also encourage their involvement as much as possible. I have tips to add to his list:

    1. Get the parent’s resume in addition to their child’s.

    2. Have them sit in on interviews and confer with their children on each question. A good parent may just answer the questions on behalf of their child.

    3. Pre-close the offer with the parent and offer incentives to have them tell the child to accept.

    4. Provision 2 desks, 2 phones, 2 computers and space for both parent and child in any initial training.

    5. Increase performance criteria for the child by 110% and expect that the parent’s involvement will give them an opportunity to show the child how the job is to be done.

    In the end, by keeping parents involved, we can double productivity for no increase in compensation cost. Brilliant!!!

  4. Certainly, ‘helicopter parents’ are out there and are going WAY too far in some cases. I had one contact me recently on behalf of her college-senior daughter. One of the things she said (and this is an exact quote): ‘I’m wondering if *we’re* the type of *person* you help’ — as though she and her daughter were one entity! Another parent called wondering if I could help her ‘child’ — who turned out to be 22!

    But over the last two years, as my colleagues (Terese Corey Blanck and Judy Anderson) and I have been studying this issue for our recently released book ‘The College to Career Road Map: A Four-Year Guide to Coaching Your Student’ (Atwood Publishing, 2006), we’ve learned that ‘helicopter parents’ — while they tend to get all the headlines (especially this last week or so) — are the MINORITY where the parents of college students and recent grads are concerned.

    Most of the college parents we’ve talked to — in our seminars and informally — have NO interest in being helicopter parents in the sense of being constantly meddling. They’re normal, sane, everyday people … not lunatics. They simply love their emerging-adult kids and want them to be happy (in their careers and in the other aspects of their lives). They want to HELP in that process — they’re clamoring for career information and resources (hence our book and our seminars) — but most of them don’t want to ‘do for’ their college students. And most of them certainly have the good sense to understand that they’re not doing their students any favors in most cases by contacting employers on their behalf.

    I guess what I’m saying is this: Most parents have their hearts in the right place and want to do the right thing(s), all while fostering independence in their college students/grads. We focus our efforts on teaching college parents the role of career COACH — a middle ground between complete disengagement on the one hand and overbearing, decidedly unhelpful (even harmful) ‘helicopter parenting’ on the other.

    As employers, you can consider encouraging parents toward this same role, as can college/university career services professionals, we private career counselors/authors, and educators.

    The parents are here to stay — in part because of their own longstanding interest and involvement and in part because their kids turn to them first in all serious life matters. It sounds a bit cartoonish, I know, but we can harness their obvious self-motivation for good instead of evil! 🙂

    Thanks for a great article and discussion.

  5. Mr. Wheeler’s article started a real debate in my office. I, as one of the last of the Baby Boom generation, was absolutely horrified — no way would I tolerate a parent’s involvement in the interviewing process and would dismiss any candidate who felt the need to involve Mommy and/or Daddy as lacking in critical performance areas. Period.

    On the other hand, my sourcing manager who has overseen some significant college recruiting programs and is a solid Gen Xer argues that this is the reality of the situation and gave me examples of how often these students talk, e-mail, and text message their parents on a daily basis. She argues that if you want to run an effective college recruiting program, you need to deal with the reality of the situation and where the two of us would never, ever consider bringing our parents into any part of the recruiting process, Gen Y clearly doesn’t hesitate and doesn’t even think for a moment that there might be an issue. You need to embrace the parents and find ways to keep them informed while getting to the essence of the candidate and persuading both that our company is the right one for the student.

    I like to think I am enlightened enough to understand the generational divides and know how to deal with our differences while embracing our commonalities. I think I just got smacked on the side of my head.

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