Dodging Helicopter Parents: When Mom Calls to Get Suzy a Job

by Nanci Lamborn SPHR and BrightMove Recruiting Software

They’re impossible to miss, especially at the park on a sunny Saturday. They’re the parents who, instead of relaxing on a shaded bench with a great view of little Suzy and pal’s rambunctious playground time, these parents have Suzy perched on Dad’s overprotective lap as they slide down the kiddie slide together while Mom trots alongside smiling and waving with the handycam. Nevermind that Dad’s dress slacks contain too much bulk to make it easily around those corkscrew slide curves and Mom’s Prada platforms are sinking into the sand. Both Mom and Dad have made it their mission to force an ultimate playground experience out of this moment. Look at Mommy, Suzy! Isn’t this fun, Suzy?

Fast-forward twenty years and the telephone call I receive goes something like this:

(Rather mature female voice) “Hello, are you the person who does the hiring over there?”

(Me) “Yes ma’am, I’m the Human Resources Director, how can I help you?”

(Her) “Well my name is Mrs. Hovering, and my husband’s company is one of your long time customers, and I’m calling because my daughter Suzy is looking for a job. So what does she need to do to get an interview over there? She’s just received her college degree in marketing and, well she’s ready to start working, and I told her it would be really good for her if she could get into an opening over there…” blah, blah, blah and on she went for an eternity.

When I realized that I was actually speaking to a potential candidate’s mother instead of the potential candidate, I almost couldn’t believe it had actually happened. And I pictured poor Suzy, who I had to deduce at this newly post-collegiate age was completely incapable of even dressing herself, let alone making a telephone inquiry. I had just experienced my very first encounter with the species of adult we now know as a Helicopter Parent.

Apparently my assumptions of Suzy’s lack of desirable employment traits are not that far off base. In a recent study published by researchers at Pennsylvania’s York College and reported by NPR, many of these fresh graduates are lacking in some of the most basic of professional communication abilities and capacity for completing tasks (http://tinyurl.com/35rrshd). So as many of us in the hiring desk can attest, Suzy is already at somewhat of a disadvantage for getting her foot into my door. And if this lack were not enough of a shortcoming, some studies suggest that, given the obviously overprotective performance of her mother, Suzy is likely to be needy and neurotic. MSNBC recently reported on the findings presented at Boston’s Association of Psychological Science Convention in May which reveal the tendencies of “helicopter parent” offspring to be, “…dependent, neurotic, and less open…”  (http://tinyurl.com/2ahvj45).  Great. Just what everyone needs. Another whiny employee!

I can also personally attest that the helicopter blades certainly do not cease to spin after little Johnny finally does get a job. I have had conversations with parents after terminating their Johnny for some well-documented and well-deserved reasons, conversations that most certainly did not go very well for either one of us. The fact that I was being asked to explain confidential employee-employer facts to a non-involved party was audacious enough, but the feeling that the parent was trying to be intimidating and threatening was surreal. As is so common with many helicopter parents, they were completely unable to accept that Johnny had in fact made several big mistakes which would not be tolerated in the real world. Apparently allowing Johnny to experience failure, be responsible for it and actually learn from it was a concept that never entered these parents’ minds. It’s no wonder Johnny couldn’t embrace accountability; he needed someone else to be accountable for him because that’s how he had been raised. It’s sad for him, because in attempting to help him along and make things easier, his parents have actually crippled him severely, perhaps for life, and his parents may never know why he cannot fend for himself.

According to one recent article on Careerbuilder, apparently some employers are not so quick to shun these neurotic candidates and their folks. While I completely disagree with the concept that some employers have taken to actually embrace the helicopter parents and include them in the hiring process, (http://tinyurl.com/26jwfh9), this article does present several very good tips for both parents and their kids who may be in that helicopter relationship. (I hope you’re not one of them!)

Author Margaret K. Nelson has taken the study of this helicoptering phenomenon to another level with the publication of her recent book, Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times (New York University Press) (http://tinyurl.com/2dccgkp) Interestingly she has pinpointed much of what seems to be at the root of this debilitation, finding that the parental behavior seems to fall along lines of wealth and social class. While this doesn’t solve the recruiter’s dilemma of dealing with these often overly spoiled children, perhaps her explanations can hope to have some effect on the future generations of workforce entrants.

I must also suppose that I’m incredibly thankful for not falling above those wealth and social lines myself, because while Suzy’s overprotective parents were forcing her to enjoy that playground park in the manner they saw as proper and safe, I was the parent sitting on the shaded bench in my flip-flops and baseball hat while my little offspring were free to romp the play yard in unencumbered fun. Of course I kept an eye out for safety and an occasional lesson in kindness. But twenty years later, I could not be more pleased or proud of the independent, self-sufficient, professionally capable adults my children have become. I’ve been asked by more than a few parents of twenty-somethings unable to keep a job or fend for themselves what I did to make mine so sufficient and responsible. Part of it has to be that I didn’t hover.

So how do you handle a candidate when you hear a parent hovering?

Nanci Lamborn, SPHR, is a senior generalist at a global financial software firm in Atlanta, Georgia, and she is very proud of her two very self-sufficient children.

About BrightMove
BrightMove is a leading provider of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) recruiting software and talent acquisition solutions for staffing, Outsourcing and corporate HR recruiting.

Incorporated in 2003, BrightMove has quickly grown to become a system of choice for recruiters who want to use advanced tools designed to find and manage only the best of talent. With more 60 clients worldwide including Subaru of America and Maidenform, BrightMove is one of fastest-growing ATS providers in the industry.

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