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Another boom: Hovering parents crash the workplace

Employers resist saying, "Buzz off."

Past generations might have cringed if Mom contacted a potential employer. Not Carina Cavoto. She expects her mother, Claire, visiting her at Immaculata College, to help with her job search.
Past generations might have cringed if Mom contacted a potential employer. Not Carina Cavoto. She expects her mother, Claire, visiting her at Immaculata College, to help with her job search.Read more

Just like the U.S. Army, corporate America is employing a new tool to recruit the best and the brightest: Mom and Dad.

After decades micromanaging virtually every aspect of their children's lives, baby boomers aren't backing off.

With their kids out of college, companies say, parents are now meddling in the workplace, trying to negotiate salaries or finagle second chances for rejected sons and daughters with bruised self-esteem.

"We were [planning] a phone screen with one candidate, and the parent came in to give us a picture of her child so we would know who we were talking to," said Karen Fox of the Vanguard Group in Malvern.

So many anxious mothers and fathers have called (and visited) that last fall the financial services company began sending letters to the parents of recruits, announcing that an offer had been made and touting the company's virtues as an employer.

The tactic - similar to Army TV ads designed to involve parents whose children want to enlist - has increased the percentage of college students who accept Vanguard offers, Fox said, and decreased annoying phone calls.

"You can't swat them down," Fox said of the hyperinvolved career advisers. "So you might as well embrace them."

Other companies have come to the same conclusion. Reaching out to so-called helicopter parents to woo their talented progeny, firms advertise on the family sections of college Web sites. They invite parents to attend recruiting events, and prepare special information packets for them.

Boomers have gone to bat for their little ones ever since those first shaky days on the soccer field. Now that so much is at stake - a career, a 401(k), a future! - their input is a given.

Past generations might have cringed if Mom or Dad contacted a potential employer. Millennials, as today's young 20s are known, seem to appreciate it.

Matthew Cavoto, 25, didn't mind when his mother called Jacobs Music to inquire about job openings after he graduated from Moravian College.

"There's no reason to be upset with someone trying to help you," said Cavoto, of Bethlehem, Pa., who majored in piano performance. He got the job, but now works for T-Mobile.

His mother, he said, "always looked out for me."

Now Claire Cavoto, who lives in West Norriton, has a daughter graduating from Immaculata College. She'll get the same benefits.

Today, "kids are more needy. They just seem to have a harder time figuring out all these life skills," said Claire Cavoto, a music therapist. After she graduated from Temple University, she recalled, her parents' attitude was, "Go out and get a job."

Her daughter Carina, who expects to become an elementary school teacher, said she valued her mother's and father's advice. She has asked for her mother's help with term papers, and phones her every night at 11. When it's time to get a job, she knows her mother will go online and ask friends for leads.

Beyond that, Carina, 21, draws the line.

"If I was going to buy a car, I'd take my dad. As far as a job interview, I'll go by myself," she said.

College career counselors say students more than tolerate parental involvement.

"They consult their parents at every step," said Nancy Dudak, director of career services at Villanova University. "If they get a job offer, they say, 'I want to talk it over with my parents first.' "

It can get out of hand, said Michael Ellis, former director of career and life education at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown. "Parents are constantly calling and acting like they were taking care of an adolescent when it's an adult of 18, 19, 20 years old," he said.

One father went to a Delaware Valley career fair with his daughter's resume and introduced her to employers as if he were her agent, Ellis said.

Some see such intense involvement as a sign that families are close and that children respect their parents' advice. But when young graduates lack opportunities to learn resilience, it becomes a problem, said Penny Rue, dean of students at the University of Virginia, who has studied generations at work.

In a Michigan State University survey of 725 employers, 23 percent said they had encountered parents "sometimes" or "very often" during recruitment, usually in a benign information-gathering role. Big companies saw them most often, according to the survey.

Companies are adjusting to the three-way negotiation. PNC Financial Services welcomes parents to an event for college interns so they can meet company executives. Merrill Lynch & Co. invites parents of new hires to visit its offices.

Ernst & Young L.L.P. just started to distribute parent packets to students during career sessions. It also hands out a computer memory stick containing company information it encourages students to e-mail home.

The Vanguard letters were originally intended for Mom and Dad, said Fox, the company's manager of colleges and recruiting. But young people can have them mailed to anyone, such as a professor or a grandparent. Sixty-one percent opt to send the letter, which is unsigned so parents can't pick up the phone.

"One new hire said, 'Please send the letter to my mom. She'll frame it,' " Fox said.

The General Electric Co. is hoping that parents familiar with its products will encourage their children to work there, said Steve Canale, manager of recruitment and staffing, in Fairfield, Conn. GE has begun running catchy ads, with lines like "Let us take your son or daughter off your payroll and put them on ours," in campus newspapers and on schools' parent Web pages.

But boomers who do too much hand-holding can hurt their child's chances, because employers want "an independent person, someone autonomous," Fox cautioned.

Fortunately for a new hire at General Electric, whose parent called to argue for more pay, personnel directors can sense when Mom or Dad is off the leash. The company didn't negotiate, but it didn't rescind the job offer, either.

"We not going to hold it against someone if they have a crazy parent," Canale said.