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Parental job shadow

Some moms and dads loom too large in the quest for that first gig

  • More parents are showing up to their kids' job interviews.
More parents are showing up to their kids' job interviews. (Getty Images )
April 16, 2012|By Mick Swasko, RedEye

The mom who insists on sitting in during her son's job interview.

The dad who calls an employer to ask why his daughter didn't get the job.

These are the kinds of stories experts say are increasingly common in a sputtering economy as more parents become involved in their kids' career searches and development.

As the unemployment rate hovers around 9.6 percent in the Chicago area, recent surveys show desperate moms and dads are going to extremes to give their children an edge, inserting themselves into a rite of passage that recent college graduates traditionally have undertaken on their own. Experts say parental involvement, especially in a tough job market, can sometimes work in a candidate's favor. But too much hovering can cost a potential employee an offer—or even the job they have.

"It shows a lack of maturity," said Mimi de Castro, 35, of Logan Square, who has been responsible for hiring entry-level employees and recent grads throughout her career. She is currently the communications director at the Chicago History Museum. "Professionally, I don't know if I would be inclined to hire [someone whose parents were involved]."

De Castro said when she was starting out, she never would have considered having her parents tag along for an interview or call a manager to complain about her workload.

"It floors me that that happens," she said.

Regardless of the field, employers are experiencing meddlesome parents in the hiring process, according to a report last year from administrative staffing firm OfficeTeam, which has offices in Chicago. In its most extreme examples, the report cited instances where parents pushed employers to hire their sons or daughters. It also cited instances of parents using their power within their own companies to lobby on behalf of their children.

A 2007 Michigan State University survey of 700 businesses found the chances of parents being involved in the hiring process were larger for larger companies. Meanwhile, about 15 percent of companies overall reported hearing complaints from parents when their sons or daughters were not hired, while 9 percent reported dealing with parents who went so far as to attempt negotiating salaries or benefits on their children's behalf.

And that was during a much rosier economic period, said Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State. Though no more hard research has been done since, Gardner estimates about one-third of companies experience parents getting involved in the hiring process. Done right, he said, that might not be such a bad thing.

"The point is [candidates] have to learn to build these skills up, to find and seek out these opportunities," he said.

Candidates can and should rely on some parental help, especially in a down economy, Gardner said, but once things begin to improve, the more self-sufficient a candidate or employee can be, the better.

Emily Zorza, division director of OfficeTeam, said a call from a parent about an application status or a resume submitted on behalf of an applicant isn't always a nail in the coffin, but it can hurt the person hunting for a job.

"[Parents] can negatively impact a job seeker's chance of getting the position," she said. "[Employers] question the job applicant's level of independence or maturity."

While some job seekers wouldn't be caught dead colluding with their parents to get a gig, others see the advantages of getting a boost from the parental units—within reason.

"I definitely appreciated it," said Rebecca Allen, 26, of Bucktown. "But at the same time I have a heavy independent streak. There was a certain level of resentment I couldn't go out and get these things on my own. Just a little bit though."

Allen credits the help of her parents for three of four internships she has held in the course of her career. Her dad called public relations connections to secure her first internship while she was still in college, which led to the next once she was finished. Her mom kept a sharp eye out for job listings from her own business acquaintances, which led to a third.

Now a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Allen said she might ask for her parents' help again once she returns to the job market to secure a communications or community outreach job at a healthcare nonprofit.

"You have to be practical about it," she said. "I want to be self-reliant and independent, but if I can't pay my bills or my rent because I am insistent on finding something by myself and not asking for help from my parents, that's kind of silly."

mswasko@tribune.com | @mickswasko

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