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Helicopter Parents Take Flight

Kennedy's Column

We've been studying selection interviewing practices for 35 years, and we've seen some very strange trends, but it's hard to top the following: parents are beginning to join their child in their job interviews. They’re known as "helicopter parents" because of their penchant for dropping-in on their children's lives - from asking Little League coaches for more playing time to challenging teachers on their grades. This will come as no surprise to those familiar with Generation Y children. Many in this generation, currently entering the workforce, enjoyed their parent's constant attention and heavy involvement in every activity and decision. For these kids, it's only natural for the parent to also be a key player in deciding which job to take. For employers, though, these zealous parents present a fresh set of challenges.

In the interview you will want to spend extra time probing the candidate's motivation. Is he self-motivated or merely driven to succeed by his parents? Will she have initiative on the job, or will her initiative depend on her parents? Find out why the candidate let the parent come in the first place and what they expect their parent’s role to be if they are hired.

How would you respond to a mom or dad asking to join their son or daughter in an interview? Here are our suggestions.

Discourage parents from joining the interview. "Please make yourself comfortable in the lobby, Greg and I will be done in 45 minutes." If a parent insists and says something like, "I’m involved in every decision my child makes," then respond by saying, "Well, it’s not our normal practice, but you can observe our interview but not participate."

If a parent attempts to expand on an answer or interrupts by saying "What Greg meant to say was..." promptly and politely say "I'm sorry but I really want to hear from Greg on this. We did agree you could sit in the interview but not participate." If the parent interrupts a second time, we suggest you say "I think it would be best if you wait outside until Greg and I are finished."

These suggestions, combined with further probing of the candidate’s motivation, will help you respond to the newest generational trend that is now affecting the workplace.