Millennials: not bringing mom to interviews

Debunking another dumb bit of millennial truthiness

I’ll never forget the interview that led to my first job, as associate editor at Campus Progress (which has since been renamed Generation Progress) back in 2007. There I was in a conference room at the organization’s Metro Center office in Washington, DC: Just me, my boss-to-be Ben Adler, then-associate editor Dana Goldstein, and my mom and my dad. The only rough spot was when my mom asked Ben whether he’d be okay with me taking the occasional long weekend to fly back home to Boston, because “I know Jesse gets homesick, and it would be nice to see him once in awhile.” Ben, being a good guy, gave my mom a warm smile and said that he was sure that could be arranged.

I had brought my parents along because, as a millennial, I derived all meaning from my parents and the endless stream of positive reinforcement they provided. I was very, very special, and whenever I doubted that fact, I called them. I called them six to seven times a day.

By now you’ve probably realized that I’m not telling this story accurately. The idea of my parents tagging along for my job interview was likely what tipped you off — it doesn’t pass a basic smell test. And yet several outlets are now reporting this as a thing that actually happens. It’s part of a growing and annoying trend of treating millennials as a uniquely narcissistic and incompetent generation profoundly different from all that have come before, and of ignoring the very real financial issues that are actually worth reporting on when it comes to young people today.

This particular example is an object lesson in how nuggets of truthiness get amplified and spread and by less-than-rigorous internet journalism. Here’s a clip from a Slate article this week penned by Brooke Donatone, a psychologist who treats millennials (subheadline: “Helicopter parenting has caused my psychotherapy clients to crash land.”), in which she bemoans the generation’s inability to get it together:

The Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal have reported that millennials are now bringing their parents to job interviews, and companies such as LinkedIn and Google are hosting “take your parents to work day.” Parents went from strapping their kids into a Baby Bj√∂rn carrier to tying their kids’ wing-tips.

Crazy! Let’s dive into the articles in question and see why all these millennials are bringing their parents into job interviews, which certainly must lead to some awkwardness.

HuffPo:

Pro-tip to millennials: You might want to leave your parents at home when you show up for a job interview.

Though this may seem like a pretty basic rule of getting-a-job etiquette, 8 percent of recent college grads brought their parents along to an interview, according to an Adecco survey cited by the Wall Street Journal. What’s more, a full 3 percent actually had their parents sit in on their job tryout.
Ah, okay. So HuffPo didn’t report that millennials are doing this, as Donatone suggests. It reported that the Wall Street Journal reported that millennials are doing this. And this 8 percent versus 3 percent thing seems slightly questionable.

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal article (which also noted that while “[i]t may be on the rise… parental involvement in the U.S. doesn’t begin to match countries in Asia and South America”) said about this “trend”:

A 2012 survey of more than 500 college graduates by Adecco, a human-resources organization, found that 8% of them had a parent accompany them to a job interview, and 3% had the parent sit in on the interview.

You know what? Let’s just jump straight to the source material, Adecco’s rundown of its survey:

But it’s not just cover letter and resume help that parents lend—they are also accompanying some grads to their interviews! Nearly one in 10 (8 percent) recent graduates say that a parent has accompanied them to a job interview, with 3 percent of grads saying their parents have actually joined the interview itself.

There’s clearly a divide between parents who actually joined in the interview and those who merely “accompanied” their kids. What, then, could “accompany” mean other than drive them to the interview? Given that Adecco surveyed “22-26 year-old recent graduates,” a group rather likely, these days, to live at home, not have a car, or both, isn’t that the most likely explanation? If so, this is not a shocking statistic.

As for those whose parents actually joined the interview itself, sure, that’s a little weird. But maybe, for example, their parents already worked at the company in question and got called in for a minute to say hi? Or they owned the company in question and brought their kid in for an “interview” so as to not seem like a nepotistic jerk? It’s not hard to come up with reasons why about one out of every 33 millennial’s parents has joined in in a job interview without making sweeping psychological pronouncements about the generation as a whole. (There’s also the fact that, depending on the survey’s margin of error, 3 percent may be close to statistically indistinguishable from zero. I sent Adecco a couple emails, hoping to take a look at the raw survey so I could take a look at the numbers and the question’s phrasing. The company hasn’t gotten back to me yet, but I’ll update this article if it does.)

The big problem here is the echo-chamber effect. Surely right now there’s a pundit in a moral panic over Kids Today penning a sentence like, “As Slate, The Huffington Post, and the Wall Street Journal have reported…” Anyone reporting this should have stopped for a second and asked themselves whether it makes any sense, because it doesn’t. And in the absence of further evidence, there’s no reason to treat this as something that occurs with any frequency whatsoever.

This all feeds into the much larger, more complicated problem of news coverage of millennials, of course. At its core is the sad fact that silly stories like this disproportionately represent that coverage, wrongly giving the impression that every member of my generation is a neurotic, over-nurtured man- or womanchild who just can’t grow up.

If you’re actually going to do sweeping reporting on an entire generation of people (which, while certainly a favorite journalistic pastime, can be perilous given the stark divides between different members of the same age cohort), why not focus on more common problems like trouble paying off student debt, or the youth unemployment crisis? These are much more common problems for the cohort than the weird stuff that keeps getting highlighted in wafer-thin, underreported coverage.

Obviously there’s already some good reporting on these real-life issues (some of it coming from the same outlets also publishing articles about non-real-life issues), and this sort of journalism and lighter, Donatone-style anecdote-mongering aren’t mutually exclusive. But it does seem like a lot of the coverage of millennials is written for a rather privileged audience with a rather narrow set of concerns, at least relative to the rather terrifying economic outlook so many young people face.

So one more time: No, millenials aren’t bringing parents to job interviews. But they’re probably calling them about the 100 cover letters they’ve sent out to no avail, or about the mounting student loans choking off their ability to find a fulfilling career, or about the other actual, serious concerns many of them face.

Jesse Singal is a 2013-14 Bosch Fellow in Berlin. He can be reached at jesse.r.singal@gmail.com. Tags: , , ,