“Helicopter Parents” in Today’s Job Search
About fifteen years ago, I had a parent show up to new hire orientation with her daughter. Many of my colleagues have similar stories and I took a hard stance against it at that time. Funny and horrifying accounts include parents applying on behalf of their children and showing up for job interviews. My opinion about parents in orientation hasn’t really changed, but in the years since, I’ve helped explain benefit plans to parents. I bet most of my HR colleagues have spoken to spouses/significant others to explain benefits, so it is really a stretch to speak to parents?
My thoughts on parents today helping our young adults enter the workforce has softened. In fact, I think that as career coaches and consultants, we can partner with parents to help prepare the young professional to face employers alone. In the individual career coaching/resume writing part of my business, several parents make contact to vet me and then facilitate an introduction to their college or even post-college child. With self-awareness not being the number one attribute of many young people (or other humans), parents often offer me more helpful details on their child’ strengths and development areas including what it is that they may be struggling with in their career exploration or job search. As a parent, I also appreciate wanting to talk to someone you found online before handing over your child or his/her personal information.
A mother reached out recently and the very first statement she made was “I am not a helicopter parent,” which was like a child starting a sentence with “I didn’t do it…” She went on to say that her daughter has special needs and it’s important that she (Mom) be comfortable that the provider will be patient with her daughter. I’m not sure that I would have noticed if I had just started working directly with the daughter, but it helped me recommend a few extra steps and break processes down in more detail. The Mom removed herself from the process after that and had me work directly with the daughter, who was even paying for my services herself. Another parent, a Dad, called to prescreen a handful of providers and then narrowed down his top 2 for his daughter and had her call them and make the final decision. His daughter selected me and then the Dad sent an email to say that he was glad she made that decision and would then be stepping back to “let my baby fly.”
On the contrary, I had a father call last week and the first statement he made was “I am a helicopter Dad. We’re so close to graduation that we need to help him land a good job and start getting a return on the educational investment.” After we settled on the process for his son’s resume, I recommended that we add the son into our email exchanges so that he could see adult, business dialogue.
I value the opportunity now to partner with parents for their child’s success and can even serve as an advocate to reassure the parents that their child is ready for that interview, has a strong resume, and will be employable and eventually self-sufficient.
Advice for parents and children working together with career consultants and professionals:
1. Remove your street address from your resume, city and state are fine for all resumes and help keep you safe.
2. Keep the young professional in the communication loop and set good examples for professional dialogue. They likely haven’t been exposed to much business email correspondence.
3. Be transparent about the cost of career services to increase appreciation and understanding of the investment in them and their career.
4. Position the arrangement as helping the young professional have a competitive advantage over other applicants rather than a Hail Mary attempt to get them off your payroll. Self-esteem and confidence are fragile enough in life and even shakier when it comes to interviewing and job searching.
5. Make the introduction to feel comfortable with the service provider. If you can’t step back, at least step aside and walk with your child through the process but give them ownership and buy-in.
And finally, be as engaged as you and your child need in the career prep stage but let them fly from there.
Shawna Lake is the Founder of Deep End Talent Strategies, an HR consulting firm working with businesses and individuals alike.