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Careers: Helicopter Parents & Spouses Should Buzz Off

I was speaking with some corporate recruiters at a career conference last week and the topic of “helicopter parents” came up. On the off chance you haven’t heard the phrase before, it refers to overbearing parents that hover over their children in all phases (and I mean all) of life. “Parents with extreme personal boundary deficiency” isn’t as catchy, but in my opinion it’s a lot more accurate description of the phenomena.

I was speaking with some corporate recruiters at a career conference last week and the topic of “helicopter parents” came up. On the off chance you haven’t heard the phrase before, it refers to overbearing parents that hover over their children in all phases (and I mean all) of life. “Parents with extreme personal boundary deficiency” isn’t as catchy, but in my opinion it’s a lot more accurate description of the phenomena. Even though I’ve listened to presentations and read articles by academics that attribute this growing trend to generational differences, I still hope this is just a bad dream or a passing fad.

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At the conference, one recruiter told of a parent who contacted him to negotiate his child’s salary. I’m glad I was sitting down at the time because when I heard that I almost passed out. Upon reflection, I’m not sure if I was more outraged at the parent for making the call or the child for allowing it to happen.

But it doesn’t end there; I’ve also heard stories of (and seen) parents and even spouses accompanying their children or significant others at career fairs. What’s next? Parents and spouses in high-level meetings with clients and corporate executives? Sitting in on performance reviews? I cringe at the thought.

There are few guarantees when it comes to identifying and hiring top talent. But if there’s one, heavy involvement by parents or spouses spells trouble. As a hiring company, don’t be afraid to take a stand. If you’re contacted by a parent or spouse about salary negotiation, politely let them know that you’d be more than happy to speak with the candidate directly. The same holds true when approached by a parent or spouse at a career fair.

Employers, if you hear what sounds like a helicopter off in the distance, run away from that candidate as fast as you can. Career offices, encourage parents to empower their children to take ownership of their (not your) job search. Job candidates, look to loved ones for moral support but learn to interface with companies of interest on your own without using them as a safety net. Parents and spouses, stay in the background; recruiters shouldn’t know you on a first-name basis. If we take a stand now, maybe we can head this craziness off before it reaches critical mass.

Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).

About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning.

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