Helicopter Parents May Ruin The Retail IT Industry

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

“Do you have any issues with me bringing my parents to my interview?” I have now been asked this question three times when talking to candidates for entry-level IT positions. The first time it happened, it really caught me off guard.

“What?” I asked. “Do you feel you would not be able to answer the questions on your own?” “No, that’s not it at all,” the interviewee said. “I think that I am more than qualified for the position. I would like for them to learn more about the position and the company.” The parents (I found out later) wanted to make sure that I was a worthy boss, that the position was worthy of their child’s attention, and that the company met their standards.

At the time, I was participating in a great training program called the Regional Leadership Forum (RLF) presented by the Society for Information Management (SIM). This class was made up of about 40 IT leaders from throughout New England. At the next class, I happened to mention the “bizarre conversation” that I had had with a candidate. I was amazed as others shared similar encounters with candidates. What I have found is a potentially scary trend in retail IT: It turns out that almost everyone is overqualified for entry-level positions.

My classmates and I had an active discussion about how on Earth we got to a place where candidates not only wanted their parents to attend an interview, but there was absolutely no sense of shame about it. To them, it was not a big deal.

And it’s not just the interview. We also talked about the downstream impact of hiring this type of candidate. My classmates talked about several longer term issues:

  • Entitlement: “I deserve more (pay/benefits/vacation/flexibility) than you give me.”
  • Promotion Impatience: “I have been here for six months; I think we should talk about a promotion.”
  • Feedback: The inability to provide constructive feedback without it becoming a huge issue. “How dare you tell me I’m not doing a good job!”
  • Beneath Me: “I want to lead projects, not do support. I am not available after 5:00 PM or on weekends.”

The term “helicopter parents” came up repeatedly. It refers to those parents who are constantly hovering over their children. They over-parent and over-protect their kids to the point where those kids rarely do anything without their parents’ involvement.

I brought up this topic at a recent dinner with several StorefrontBacktalk readers who are also prominent IT leaders. Their response was pretty intense: “Are you kidding me?”; “I would never hire anyone who asked to bring their parents to an interview”; and “Someday they’ll learn” were just some of the responses I got. The general consensus at the table was that “This, too, shall pass.” I’m not so sure.

In practice, though, this is a potentially huge issue. We're seeing a new trend where some of these applicants are still living with their parents and, therefore, don't need to take any job. They can wait around—rentfree—until the ideal position comes along.

The third time that I was asked if the candidate's parents could participate in the interview, I agreed. I am now intrigued by the idea and want to understand what the process is like. I agree to let a young woman bring her parents to a first round interview. What happened at that interview stunned me.I start the interview by informing everyone that while I have allowed the parents to participate in the process, this meeting is about me determining if the candidate is a good fit and I ask the parents to hold the questions until the end. The mother pipes up and states that this meeting is also for her daughter to determine if the position is a fit for her daughter. I reluctantly agree, but state that my goals will have priority and that the candidate's needs, if they're not addressed today, will be addressed in follow-up conversations. That seems to appease everyone.

After an hour, I am very impressed. This candidate is extremely smart and has a great inter-personal dynamic. As we are wrapping up the conversation, I ask her for her thoughts.

"I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today, but I have to admit that I am not interested in the position." I am somewhat surprised by her answer and ask her why. "I am looking for a leadership position. This seems like more entry-level, data-entry work." I inform her that she is correct, that it is indeed an entry level position, and considering she has very little experience, it seems like a great position to start.

"No thanks," she said. "I am looking to lead an engineering team. I appreciate your interest in me, but I'm going to keep looking."

Although the economy and the unemployment rate have us focused on this time in history as a buyer’s (employer’s) market, let’s not forget that we are on the verge of the Baby Boomers’ retirement tidal wave. By most accounts, there are not enough qualified people in the pipeline to replace all of the people who will be retiring. Most of the forecasts are worse for the IT industry. Fewer people are studying IT in college because of the impression that an IT career automatically means a poor work-life balance. Working 80 hours a week does not jive with the typical Gen-Yer.

What is going to happen when companies desperately need qualified IT people and most of the candidates want to bring their parents to the interview? What are we going to do when candidates turn down offers they don’t like because they can easily keep living with Mom and Dad until they find the perfect position? I wonder who will end up adapting to whom?

I am interested in your feedback. What do you think? Leave a comment, or E-mail me at [email protected].