FARGO -- It appears to be a generational thing among millennials in the workplace.

When Jill Wilkey goes to national conferences about college graduates entering the workforce, attendees are often asked to share their job-search horror stories, and the director of North Dakota State University’s Career Center sure gets an earful.

"Students want their parents to come to the interview or want to bring their parents to their first day on the job," Wilkey said.

She has no firsthand knowledge of that going on in this area, but some employers have had applicants ask to "talk with my mom and dad" before accepting a job offer.

While a manager might consider that to be an odd response, it’s no surprise to Wilkey.

She said it shows how close the so-called millennials -- ages 18 to 34 this year – are to their parents.

A college liaison to a group that supports human resource professionals across North Dakota said it has more to do with the parents than the kids.

It’s all about "helicopter parents," said Kurtis Karn, college relations director for the North Dakota Society for Human Resource Management Council, referring to parents who are overly protective or controlling of their children.

A generational thing

The strong parent-child bond spilling over into the job search doesn’t surprise Alyssa Ralston, 23.

"It’s important for people to have their parents’ approval," she said.

But the North Dakota State University graduate was more independent when she was hired last summer at a financial planning firm.

"I was open with my parents when I got the interview here, but I never felt like I needed to gain their approval to accept the job," said Ralston, a recruiting coordinator at Red River Financial Group in Fargo.

One career manager said millennials, in general, don’t have the same trust in institutions as previous generations, due in part to massive layoffs and stock market crashes they've lived through.

Their belief is, "A large corporation is not going to take care of me," said Darrin Tonsfeldt, division director of The Village Family Service Center, who also oversees The Village Business Institute.

Instead, the most valued advisers for recent college graduates are their parents – but that doesn't mean they should say they want to consult with them.

"When I’m career-coaching, I tell them, 'If you need time to think about the offer, that's all you need to say,'" Tonsfeldt said.

The good and bad

The millennial generation has been described by some as entitled, slow to mature and overly reliant on technology, but every generation seems to develop stereotypes of the generation that follows.

Instead of "these kids and their rock ’n’ roll," it’s now "these kids and their cell phones," Karn said.

Dependence on technology often means millennials lack face-to-face communication skills – something they need to be coached on from time to time.

"They have a desire to talk and be heard, but also need to slow down enough to listen and hear others,” Tonsfeldt said.

The Fargo Park District hires about a thousand teens and young adults each year, and one manager says on-the-job etiquette can be an issue.

"If we don’t tell them about cell phone use, dress code, showing up on time, they don’t know," said Jim Larson, director of finance and human resources for the Park District.

However, the favorable traits often linked to millennials far outweigh any negatives.

Larson cites strong ability to multitask as one of the positives.

"They are our bread and butter," Larson said, "They truly do make us go."

Wilkey described millennials as curious, philanthropic and motivated to learn.

"We’re not seeing slackers," he said. "I don’t see that at all."

Setting expectations

Gratification seems to come quickly for millennials; in part, due to the nature of the technology they use.

"The expectation coming out of school is that, 'I deserve $80,000,'" Karn said.

Tonsfeldt said millennials are not as willing to climb the corporate ladder.

"I’m working hard, why am I not the manager?" he said of the attitudes some display on the job.

For millennials who desire to make their way to the top, career coaches need to give them a clear understanding of the process, Tonsfeldt said.

Some of that coaching can happen at career fairs, and during the weeks of training leading up to them.

NDSU’s next career expo is set for Feb. 10-11 at the Fargodome, which Wilkey said could attract as many as 300 employers from across the Midwest, and nationwide.

She said career labs and multiple one-on-one mock job interviews need to be part of the preparation process. "Winging it doesn’t work real well," Wilkey said.

The 'balance generation'

No matter how millennials are viewed, Karn said companies need to listen to them and adjust to their needs in order to remain fully staffed.

Millennials are set to overtake baby boomers this year, becoming the most populous generation in the U.S., according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau cited in a Pew Research Center report.

The report says millennials will number 75.3 million, surpassing the projected 74.9 million baby boomers. "They (millennials) are your workforce," Karn said.

Tonsfeldt said millennials have a different view of their jobs and are looking for a different type of workplace than their predecessors.

He calls them the "balance generation," people who watched their parents succumb to job stress and are vowing not to do the same.

"They work to live instead of live to work," he said.

Workplace culture is important to millennials, and many companies are responding by offering open spaces instead of cubicles, flexible work hours, and amenities such as wireless Internet, ping pong tables and popcorn machines.

"The employer’s mindset is, 'We better have a balanced, healthy work environment, because they won’t stick around if it isn't,'" Tonsfeldt said.