Want to Help Your Kid Get a Job? Back Off

5 minute read

My 21-year-old daughter, Emma, is one of 1.6 million students who will graduate from college this spring with a bachelor’s degree. Like most of them, she is looking for a job.

As parents, it can be a tricky time—trying to be sufficiently supportive of our kids without being too much of a crutch when they’re right on the cusp of independence.

In my house, hardly a day goes by when Emma doesn’t call to seek some kind of advice on the job front: Is it too soon to send a second email to a potential employer? Can you look over my cover letter? Is it OK to do a Skype interview if I’m too busy at school to come into the city?

My husband and I have suggested a few edits to her résumé, calmed her pre-interview jitters and even helped her make a few connections. But where do you draw the line?

A survey released recently by Adecco, a human-resources consultancy, found that more than one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds said their parents are involved with their job search.

Some are arguably way too involved. Adecco, which queried 750 young men and women who are about to enter the workforce, found that 12% of parents research job listings for their child, while 6% write their kid’s résumé or cover letters. Three percent of parents make calls or send emails to prospective employers on their child’s behalf, while the same portion go so far as to write their child’s thank-you notes. Two percent personally follow up with employers after their son or daughter has had an interview.

The numbers aren’t huge, but they’re big enough to have caught experts’ eyes. “I have been in this industry for 16 years, and I’ve never seen this level of parental involvement,” says Christa Shapiro, a vice president in charge of staffing for Adecco.

Actually, one extreme form of parental meddling declined in the latest Adecco survey when compared with the firm’s previous study of the issue: One percent of parents now reportedly sit in on their child’s job interviews, down from 4% in 2012.

Shapiro cautions, however, that the drop may be due to false reporting. After the results of the 2012 survey were released, she says, some in the media “mocked” those who engage in this practice, and so they may be reluctant to be truthful about it when asked. “They might be embarrassed,” she says.

Jeanne Meister, a partner at the firm Future Workplace, believes that something else may be afoot. She says her own surveying has shown that among the most surprising questions that millennials ask these days in job interviews is, “Can my mom follow up with you about the benefits package?” And some companies have taken to accommodating young job applicants with mom or dad in tow—a trend reported upon last year by the Wall Street Journal.

But more and more employers, Meister says, are starting to adopt policies that prohibit parents from calling, emailing or sitting in on interviews. “HR people are putting the brakes on this behavior,” says Meister, who consults with major corporations about managing multiple generations in the workplace.

The reason: HR executives are increasingly worried about the extra burdens that helicopter parents can place on their staff, as well as the potential legal hazards for the company. “HR managers laugh about it,” Meister says, but they feel parental involvement “can put their company at risk.”

In any case, even 1% of parents joining their kids’ job interview seems like 1% too many. What’s more, the most recent Adecco survey indicates that 4% of parents accompany their child to interviews, even if they don’t all sit in.

Having a parent tag along “makes a bad first impression with the employer,” Shapiro says. “So many jobs require you to be motivated, to show initiative, to take charge. When your mom walks you into the interview, it’s cause for concern that you won’t know what to do when she is not there.”

That parents are swooping in this way is a reflection, in large part, of the uncertain job market that their children are entering. On top of that, many soon-to-be graduates will be saddled with college debt. (Emma has some herself.) “Parents are anxious on their kid’s behalf,” Shapiro says. But there is also something else at play: the millennial generation’s particular closeness to—and reliance on—their boomer parents.

I get it. Emma and I are extremely close; we text and talk all the time. But I also know that there are some lines that must be drawn. After all, part of my job as a parent is to make sure she can find a job on her own.


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