Three (and more) is a crowd

Extracted from The Star Focus, Jan 13, 2013.

A 22-year-old fresh graduate could not believe it when she received an e-mail last September offering her RM400 a day for a sales promoter job she had applied for through a website. She was asked to attend an interview at a hotel if she was interested. When she got there, however, instead of getting hired, the first-time job applicant got raped and robbed.

This is not the first case either. The police revealed that just a month earlier, another fresh graduate fell prey to a similar scam.

With crime like this posing a threat to young people, albeit isolated, it is no surprise that parents are starting to tag along to their children’s job interviews.

According to a recent survey by the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) on parental involvement in the recruiting pro­cess, some 28 companies out of 201 interviewed said they have had parents attend job interviews with the applicants.

While it is not yet a common practice – most employers say they have heard of it happening but have not experienced it – parenting trends indicate that it might be a growing phenomenon.

In the past, we can just take a bus even from outside town to attend a job interview. Society has changed. Now, it may not be as safe as before. - SERM TECK CHOON In the past, we can just take a bus even from outside town to attend a job interview. Society has changed. Now, it may not be as safe as before. - SERM TECK CHOON

This is the reality today, opines Serm Teck Choon, head of MyStarJob Network Sdn Bhd, which runs The Star’s career portal

Our children are growing up in a different environment, so many are sheltered, says Serm.

“In the past, we can just take a bus even from outside town to attend a job interview. Society has changed. Now, it may not be as safe as before, that is why there is a tendency for parents to go for interviews with their children,” he says.

He admits that his experience as a parent makes him empathise with them.

“I have often wondered if these parents took leave from their own workplace to accompany their children, or if I would do the same for my child in the future.”

Serm believes it is not fair for employers to judge the candidates straight away (when they see them with their parents in the reception area).

What is more important is their ability for the post applied, he stresses,

“It will have to go down to their performance during the interview, as well as their qualifications and training. Internship experience gives a glimpse of your ability and interest. When it comes to the crunch, that can be the deciding factor of whether you get hired over another candidate with the same qualifications as you.”

Supratechnic (M) Sdn Bhd human resource manager Sue Lim agrees that employers should not be prejudiced against parents tagging along with their children at job interviews. However, they should not overrun the prospective employer’s office.

“I don’t blame them, mainly because there are too many social problems faced by the community now like rape and snatch thieves. They (parents) still can come with the children but just wait inside the car outside the company’s compound!” she says.

For Melissa Norman, managing director (Singapore and Malaysia) at recruitment consultancy Kelly Services, it is an issue that needs to be tolerated as the “tag alongs” have become a common sight at their offices nationwide.

Norman: ‘Attending the interview accompanied by someone is acceptable but it should be limited to only one person.’ Norman: ‘Attending the interview accompanied by someone is acceptable but it should be limited to only one person.’

“From our daily experiences conducting interviews at Kelly Services’ 14 branches nationwide, there are many candidates who come to our office accompanied by their parents, family members or friends.”

Fortunately, in most cases, the people who accompany the interviewee do not disrupt or interfere in the interview process, says Norman.

She points out that when parents or friends who accompany the candidate interrupt or respond on behalf of the candidate, it reflects poorly on the candidate that he/she is someone who is not capable of making decisions, cannot communicate well, is not able to work independently and relies on the opinions and thoughts of others too much.

There are, however, cases of candidates getting the help and advice of their parents or companion to fill up their registration forms for the interview, she notes.

“There are also those who would ask the interviewer (after the interview) how soon the candidate would receive a reply on being selected for the job.”

While Norman does not mind candidates turning up with their parents at their office, she takes issue if he or she comes for the job interview with an “entourage”.

“Attending the interview accompanied by someone is acceptable but it should be limited to only one person,” she stresses.

The visibility of the group will not help the prospective employee anyway, she highlights: it will create prejudice against the candidate, particularly if the friends or family members misbehave.

As Norman puts it, the employer will try to get an insight of the candidate’s lifestyle, behaviour and attitude based on the people he or she mixes with.

Worse, she cautions, is if the group is noisy while waiting for the candidate. “This will not augur well for the candidate.”

People who accompany the candidate for interviews should sit quietly at the reception area and wait patiently as interviews can be lengthy at times due to some testing of skills or profiling test required during the interview process.

Speaking loudly on mobile phones, complaining about the interview process being too long, asking to be involved or to be seated at the interview room is not acceptable attitude, says Norman.

A marketing manager at a lifestyle media company who declines to be named agrees, sharing her experience when her office reception area was transformed into a noisy pot lepak (hangout spot) during an internship interview.

The candidate, a college student, brought along his posse of friends because “he needed a ride to the office”, she tells.

“They were chatting and laughing loudly, as if they were in a café. They had no respect for the workplace. It really annoyed me.”

The student, not surprisingly, did not get the internship.

Code of practice

Serm stresses that parents or anyone else who want to accompany a candidate to a job interview need to abide by a few “rules”.

“Parents, especially, have to control themselves. They cannot interfere in the interview process.”

To Serm, the biggest misdeed that any parent can ever commit for their children is “try to sit in the interview”.

A human resource manager who only wants to be known as DD concurs.

“You would think these candidates are stars – with the parents acting like their talent agents, controlling them and dictating terms if we want to hire them. One parent not only tried to barge into the interview room, she even wanted to interview me to see if I was a suitable employer!”

Hussain Ally, project manager at Mydin Mohamed Holdings Berhad, also believes strongly that the interview room should be off-limits to parents.

“If parents sit in with their children during the interview, we will get the impression that the candidates lack confidence and are not independent.

“Would we want employees who lack self-confidence to even attend a job interview on his or her own? Sometimes it is the candidate who chooses to hide behind their parents, passively encouraging them to interfere in the interview.”

Hussain: ‘If parents sit in with their children, we will get the impression that the candidates lack confidence and are not independent.’ Hussain: ‘If parents sit in with their children, we will get the impression that the candidates lack confidence and are not independent.’

He feels that once a parent is given too much say at the initial stage, which is the interview stage, they will not stop from “getting involved” even after their children are hired.

“We have had parents who get extremely upset to see their university graduate son arranging songkok during Raya, or carrying things and working late.

“They say: ‘I sent you to university not to arrange songkok!’ or ‘She is supposed to do office work!’ I don’t want my son to work late’ but we are in retail, so we need to do the inventory and work overtime sometimes.”

Hence, setting the ground rules at the interview stage will help employers later, says Hussain.

Sinsee Ho, senior consulting manager with Agensi Pekerjaan Jobsmart Sdn Bhd which runs job portal Allyhunt, has blogged about turn-offs in the job search and bringing parents is one of them.

“I understand parents want to be supportive as applicants, especially fresh graduates, might be nervous attending their first interviews. But it’s a big turn-off in the job search. So don’t do it.

“The message sent to recruiters or employers is that you are not independent and if you can’t attend an interview on your own, how can you possibly be given a job to do?”

What parents can do, she adds, is to help applicants by providing some relevant advice before the interview.

“If they are professionals themselves, they can help by doing some role-playing or going through some common job interview questions at home with their children to prepare them. At the end of the day, preparation is the key and if the applicants have done the necessary preparation, they will do well. But bringing their parents along won’t get them the job.”

A spokesperson for construction and engineering company Rotary Mec (M) Sdn Bhd is also of the opinion that parents can only tag along to a job interview for security reason or to get more information on the company and the working location.

Even as a concerned parent, the spokesperson who declines to be named believes that attending job interviews together is not acceptable.

“The impression (it gives) is that the applicant is either a dependent person or mentally unsound to allow his or her parent to sit in the interview. Such a person will not be able to contribute much to the company as he or she has been spoonfed and living under the influence of his or her parents,” he says.

More beneficial, he adds, is for parents to “coach” from the sidelines.

They can support their children by not getting involved directly in the recruitment process, “so that the children can utilise their intelligence and discrimination to decide”.

MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan gives assurance that while the risk of fly-by-night operations or other scams do exist, it is on a very negligible scale compared with the number of legally established employers.

“The risk can be mitigated if applicants do some background search on the employer before attending interviews,” he advises.

According to experts, job interviews are a critical aspect in selecting the right candidate for the right job. First impressions at interviews are normally formed during the first three to five minutes of the interview. Other than the qualification and skill sets, employers also look for candidates who represent positive values and attitude.

Hence, parents need to give their children the opportunity to prove that they are the right candidate for the job – someone who employers think will add value to the company and will be an asset.

Ultimately, the candidate needs to be independent and confident, so it is crucial for parents to give their children more room to develop and present those qualities, says Shamsuddin.

“Not tagging along with their grown-up children for job interviews would be one of the first steps that parents need to take,” he says.