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On Helicopter Parents

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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May 9, 2007 11:53:00 AM

In a post today on RecruitingBloggers.com, the Recruiting Animal quotes the Brazen Careerist on the notion that "helicopter parents" are just doing what rich folk have always done to boost their kids' careers. Ryan Healy suggested that having parents pitch in during compensation negotiations was just like a performer or professional athlete being represented by an agent.

Ryan and Penelope are both full of interesting insights, but in this case I think they've got it wrong on both counts, and the differences illuminate why employers are correct to despise this new phenomenon.

Unlike a helicopter parent, a talent agent is representing not just a single individual, but themselves as owners of a brand and portfolio. Much like a recruiter, an agent has an interest in getting the best deal for his or her talent, but also in striking a fair deal for the employer. Over-inflation of skills and abilities or harsh negotiating tactics will exact a price on the agent's ability to do business with other clients in the future.

Likewise, when a wealthy individual pulls strings to get their kid a job, it's not a one-way transaction benefiting only the kid, but an act that maintains a potentially (or actually) lucrative business and social relationship. The wealthy parent is likely to be a source of capital or business connection at some point in the future, or may have been one in the past. Giving their son or daughter a job is in that sense an option premium or perhaps payment for a similar past favored rendered.

Of course, parents just want the best for their kids, and are likely to believe that they're just trying to get them a fair deal. But parents are hardly known for neutral advocacy, not in public anyway, and there's nothing wrong with that.

And lest it go unsaid, having Daddy get you a job is rarely looked on favorably by superiors, and will often earn the resentment of your peers even if you perform on par with everyone else. It's not for nothing that many self-made millionaires and billionaires have made their kids start out in the mail room and eat at least a little @#$! before inheriting the throne. So while you may be able to spin 'copter moms and dads as "no worse than what's always been done," promoting them as a positive fits the definition of chutzpah as "a kid who kills his parents and then begs the judge for leniency because he's an orphan."

All of this aside, hiring of entry-level employees is a lot more volatile with regards to economic conditions, and I suspect that a lot of the silliness we now see will evaporate like the morning fog with the next downturn in the economic cycle.