What to ask for when you’re terminated: outplacement options


As unemployment claims mount due to the pandemic-induced recession, you might find yourself getting bad news in the weeks ahead. Hopefully not! But if you do, the good news is that many employers do want to help make these transitions smoother for exiting employees.

If you learn that you’re getting laid off, find out if there are any outplacement services included in the exit package (and if there aren’t, keep reading for ideas about how you can change that!).

What the heck is outplacement?

Outplacement programs are quite diverse and vary widely, but all of them provide some sort of assistance intended to help you land a new position faster and more easily than you would otherwise.

Just to be clear, my firm is a boutique outplacement firm. We work with individual clients, primarily executives, who hire us themselves; and we also help employers with large layoffs as well as one-off deals for individual employees. (I have a separate website for employers that focuses more on the outplacement angle of our business.)

Some outplacement programs are one-on-one, providing you with access to a career coach or a resume writer who can help you with navigating the job market, updating your resume and LinkedIn profile, and preparing for interviews.

Others are group programs, offering webinars, online workshops, conference calls, group coaching, “job club” support groups, and similar services that help multiple people together.

Many outplacement programs combine group and one-on-one services. This can be a good option for employers that allows for better support than group programs without being cost-prohibitive.

How employers provide outplacement services

There are a few avenues I’ve seen over the years; here are the most common:

  1. The employer hires a firm to do a program for all the affected employees or uses a firm they already have a relationship with.
  2. The employer allows you to choose your own firm for whatever type of help you want and they pay the invoice.
  3. The employer allows you to choose, like #2, but they want you to pay the invoice and then they reimburse you.

Boutique firms vs. large firms

Here are some ways to determine whether boutique outplacement or a large cookie cutter firm would better meet your needs.

Boutique firm:

  • The firm can usually customize your package to your specific needs (for example, one person might be more concerned about an executive resume and LinkedIn profile, whereas someone else might be more concerned with getting career coaching).
  • It’s more personalized and intimate because it’s a smaller operation. Feel like you have partners who truly care versus being a number.
  • You might have the opportunity to work directly with a recognized expert (perhaps the owner of the firm).
  • You might be able to speak with the principal of the firm or with whoever you’d be working with prior to hiring the firm, so you can make sure their style is a good fit for you. Different coaches have different styles and a good coach for one person might not be the right fit for someone else.
  • If a writer is creating your resume and LinkedIn profile, the outcome will almost always be better than the hasty, cookie-cutter approach of a writer at a large firm. To push out a large volume of resumes cost-effectively they can’t spend too much time with each client. I’ve had clients who received weak resumes from large firms and then came to me to rewrite their resumes.

Large firm:

  • The firm provides the opportunity to interact with other job seekers in group programs. This could facilitate networking, although the other job seekers might or might not be optimal networking partners for you.
  • If you’ll be receiving one-on-one coaching (somewhat rare with large firms except for senior execs), you’ll be assigned a coach and won’t get to choose the coach. Again, coaching styles vary and you might end up mismatched with a coach whose style doesn’t mesh well with your personality.
  • Likewise, the quality can vary quite a bit. These coaches sometimes work for large firms because they can’t attract enough clients to their own small coaching practices. However, there ARE some top-notch coaches who work for outplacement firms, so it’s the luck of the draw.
  • Unlike a boutique firm, a large firm offers the security of a large operation; for example, something like a natural disaster wouldn’t affect the operation of a massive national firm with hundreds of employees, but it could stymie a small 5-person team.

Executive outplacement

Outplacement for executives (eg., leaders with salaries above $175K) can be its own animal. You’re more likely to receive a larger package valued between $5K and $15K and more likely to have on-on-one services included in that. I’ve done many of these packages for senior executives and they can be very robust.

For a senior executive, going with a boutique firm that will provide more personalized service may be especially desirable. As an executive, you should be getting one-on-one coaching from an expert to develop your executive brand, not watching a webinar about personal branding and figuring out on your own how to implement it.

You can’t get what you don’t ask for

If your employer says you can choose an outplacement firm of your choice, great! Start shopping for the best firm.

Remember that any firm providing career services, career coaching, resume writing, or LinkedIn consulting will probably be acceptable even if they don’t brand themselves as an “outplacement firm.” If the business helps job seekers and can list “Outplacement Services” on the invoice, that’s often enough.

What if your employer isn’t including outplacement or already has a large, impersonal firm you’re not excited about?

  • Even if your employer tells you they’re providing outplacement from Big ‘Ol Outplacement, Outplacements ‘R Us, or Too Big to Fail Outplacement, when you negotiate your exit package you can try asking for an additional pot of money to hire a firm of your choice for one-on-one service either instead of the big firm.
  • If the employer isn’t including any outplacement, just ask! What do you have to lose?
  • For entry level, you could ask for $2000-$3000; mid-career, $3000-$5000; execs, $5000-$10,000; senior execs, $10,000-$15,000. Even if you get less than you ask for, you can still benefit. (Even a couple grand isn’t bad for a question that only took 60 seconds to ask.)

A word of caution

The ideas above could work well if you unexpectedly get hit with a layoff. However, if you know a layoff is potentially coming in the near future, it could be weeks or months before your employer provides any outplacement services.

While getting help for free is great, don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

If you hire a company (like us) at your own expense right now to help you with revamping your LinkedIn presence and executive resume, you might have interviews lined up by the time you get the official word. (You could still ask for reimbursement as part of your exit package–the worst they can do is say no.)

Play your cards right and you’ll be able to have a relaxing three-week vacation in between jobs rather than a stressful months-long period of being an unemployed job seeker.

This article first appeared on www.KellyDonovan.com

A recruiter is calling… don’t answer!


When you’re in the job market and the phone rings, it’s impossible not to wonder if it’s a recruiter or employer–especially if the area code matches an employer you’re interested in!

Answering the phone right away would seem to be the best option, but not so fast!

What could go wrong?

Noise and distractions

Take stock of the situation. Are you in the car? In a noisy public place? Outdoors on a windy day? Any of these environments are NOT optimal for a cell phone conversation. Reception might be bad, or there might be too much background noise. Also, you might be distracted.

Even if you’re at home, noise from pets, children, and the TV can be equally problematic.

Not being prepared

Even if you’re in a very quiet place with excellent reception, you also need to be in the right frame of mind for an effective conversation that will convince the recruiter to move you forward in the process.

If it’s not a scheduled phone interview, the call is likely just an initial screening call to see if you might be a fit.

You won’t get a formal interview unless this initial screening goes well.
Potential problems can include:
  • You seem confused about the job you applied for. “Can you remind me what job this is again?” That employer (and recruiter) absolutely prefer candidates who are genuinely excited about their opportunity. Their dream would be a candidate who only applied for that job, and hasn’t been applying with any other companies!
  • You’re unprepared and discombobulated. You fumble and mumble because you didn’t have a chance to clear your head and refresh your memory on how you’ll answer key questions.

It’s simple: let the call go to voice mail

Listen to the voice mail, and make your way to a quiet place. Collect your thoughts before calling back. Think carefully about key points you want that person to know. In all likelihood they just want to schedule your screening interview, not conduct it on the spot–so plan on that, but be prepared to answer questions on the spot if needed.

If they called in the morning or early afternoon, try to call back the same day if possible. If they called later in the day, the following morning is acceptable.

No matter what, call back, even if you’re not interested in the job. Relationships matter. (And it’s the kind thing to do.)

5 ways to network remotely

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Job search networking by phone (businessman talking on phone)

In the era of social distancing, it’s more important than ever to understand that building relationships does NOT have to take place in person.

This is a common misconception when people hear the word “networking.” I often hesitate to use that word, but often fall back on it out of laziness and habit.

I once mentioned networking to a prospective client I was speaking to. He sounded surprised. “Do you really think it would be worth my while to attend mixers after work?” he asked. I was blown away–I hadn’t said anything about attending any type of event! But, he had a preconceived notion about what “networking” means.

In my mind, “networking” is simply a synonym for leveraging business relationships: establishing relationships, building relationships, nurturing relationships, rekindling relationships, and ultimately leveraging them to achieve your career goals.

Looking at it from that standpoint, there are a lot of ways you can leverage relationships (aka “network”) without being face-to-face with people. Here are what I consider the top five.

  1. Arrange phone calls with new and existing contacts. Come up with a reason for the call–such as setting up a short call to gather information or catch up. If you can specify “5-10 minutes” or “10-15 minutes” (depending on how well you know them), that will make it easier for someone to say “yes” to a call since it doesn’t seem like it will be a big disruption.
  2. Exchange email and LinkedIn messages with new and existing contacts. This can be a great way to stay in touch after a phone call or to rekindle an existing relationship rather than asking for a phone call out of the blue.
  3. Post and comment on social media. Maintain an active presence on LinkedIn; “like” and comment on the things your connections post (be sure to keep it professional!). You can also leverage Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A comment on LinkedIn isn’t going to land you a job, but similar to #2, this can be a way to stay in touch.
  4. Ask for introductions. The adage “who you know is more important than what you know” should really be “who you know and who your contacts know.” Your existing network might not be enough to land that dream job. Use LinkedIn to find out how you’re connected with companies of interest and ask your contacts for introductions to the people they know at those companies.
  5. Attend virtual events. There have already been virtual events for years, but now there are more than ever. This can include webinars, conference calls, Zoom meetings, and virtual conferences. Find out what the professional associations in your industry are doing to help people learn and stay connected.

This article first appeared on www.KellyDonovan.com

The job you WILL be recruited for

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I’ve heard it so many different times from clients in all different fields, from logistics to marketing to nursing: “Well, I never thought about doing this before, but they found my resume online and they really want me–they said I’d be great!”

After hearing this from a lot of different clients over the years, I hate to break it to you: they’re picking you and a whole lot of other people.

The job they’re all talking about? Life insurance sales! While it may seem flattering that a big-name life insurance company has picked YOU, please understand that their outreach is part of a continuous and robust recruiting effort.

Why do they recruit so aggressively?

This area of sales is one of the highest-turnover jobs out there: about 80% turnover! So they constantly need to replenish their workforce and find new blood.

The reason for the high turnover is simple: being a life agent is usually 100% commission, meaning you don’t receive a base salary. It’s an easy job to land, but a hard job to succeed in. It’s only suited to hard-core salespeople who love networking, cold-calling, and selling.

The industry’s willingness to bring in people who’ve never done sales means that many of them won’t last long at all.

These companies are avid users of job boards and they often target recently unemployed people who have uploaded their resumes to job boards.

One thing should be clear: don’t allow yourself to be overly flattered by receiving recruitment messages for these positions.

If you’re going to move your career in an entirely different direction, it should be based your long-term career goals, not based on the mere fact that a company is desperate for new recruits and gives you the impression they’ve chosen you because you’re special.

Is it right for you?

If you’re in sales and love it, but want to change industries, this could certainly be an option. You’d be selling a very meaningful product that can make the difference between a good quality of life and a terrible quality of life for families when they face tragedy.

Do your research first to learn more about the pros and cons of working in the industry, and also compare it to other industries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, life insurance agents make a median wage of $48K a year, with the lowest-paid making less than $26K and the highest-paid making more than $117K a year. The creme de la creme can make multi-six-figures, but we’re talking about a select few.

I suspect that many of the lowest paid ones are folks who do it as a side hustle and retirees who do it as a part-time source of income to supplement their savings, investments, pensions, and social security.

Could this be a temporary source of income?

If you’re thinking of doing this while you’re in between jobs, you need to understand that this is NOT the type of job where you can reasonably expect to start making good money right off the bat.

You could put in 40 hours a week and make $0 if you don’t close any deals. (Meanwhile, working that many hours could also stymie your search for an ideal permanent position.)

Commission-only sales is similar to being a solo entrepreneur or freelancer in many ways. It takes time and effort to build the business, and very few people make a good living in their first year. (Let’s just say I did NOT make six figures during 2009, my first full year of being 100% self employed.) Over time, it’s possible to do well with the right strategies, execution, and work ethic.

What other temporary options are there?

There are other ways you could make money while you’re in transition. If you have experience and contacts in a particular industry, you could try picking up consulting or freelance work relevant to your profession.

For a marketing executive, this could mean filling in for a fellow marketing exec who’s on maternity leave. A logistics executive could consult on the redesign of a distribution network. This experience can be incorporated on your resume and LinkedIn profile to fill the gap as long as you make it clear it’s temporary.

If you’re really strapped for cash, have limited options, and need anything you can get, there are also “gig economy” jobs like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart–or you could get a job delivering pizzas. While these jobs might not have the white-collar vibe of insurance sales, they can produce immediate income rather than the mere hope of possibly making commissions.

Covid-19 career scare? Do these 3 things now.

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If you’re like millions of Americans, you might be out of a job or anticipating a possible layoff.

I know it’s an especially scary time to be in this situation–rather than financial woes being limited to your employer, much of the job market is affected.

It’s 100% OK to feel anxiety and fear in uncertain circumstances. The good news is there are at least some things YOU have control over.

While none of these guarantee any particular outcome, and some are small, these are best practices that help many of my clients, including some that have landed executive roles in the Covid-19 era. These are also modern twists on best practices that helped many of my clients during the last recession (I started the company in 2007 and left my last job in 2008!).

I would say these are things to do whether you’re unemployed already or simply concerned that you might lose your job; if you’re unemployed you’ll simply need to tackle these with much greater intensity and urgency.

  1. Ramp up your LinkedIn presence.
    >> If you’re employed: you can use LinkedIn to promote your company if you want to give the impression you’re on there for company marketing rather than your own benefit. That gives you the perfect cover to improve your profile. Be sure to check your privacy settings to make sure co-workers don’t get updated every time you update your profile. They will, however, see your posts–and that’s what I’d recommend (the rationale for that can be a whole blog post of its own!).
    >> If you’re unemployed: Go all out. Update your profile with the latest accomplishments from your last job (without revealing any confidential data), upload a relevant background image that ties in with your personal brand, and have your spouse take a good head shot of you if covid restrictions make it impossible to hire a pro. Also write a catchy LinkedIn headline for yourself (tip: it should NOT say that you’re unemployed or looking for work, and should NOT reference your old employer!).
  2. Network from your home.
    >> There are so many ways you can network. What if you started inviting people to one-on-one coffee meetings via the Zoom videoconferencing platform for free? This is equivalent to asking someone to grab coffee–in the Covid-19 era. Practice using Zoom with a close friend or family member first if you haven’t used it before, and familiarize yourself with the settings.
  3. Stay hopeful, yet realistic.
    >> Being overly optimistic can lead to underestimating the severity of your situation. “No luck this month, I’ll find a job next month” is a great attitude in terms of the resiliency and positivity, but make sure you’re not in denial. Are you sufficiently focused? Are you differentiating yourself well? Are your resume and LinkedIn profile good enough? Do your coffee meetings result in the other person knowing how he or she can help you?

If I were a betting woman, I’d say the job market will be competitive across most positions for the foreseeable future. But with the right preparation, you can face this challenging environment knowing you’ve boosted your chance of a successful outcome. The most important thing is to take action–within the boundaries of what’s possible depending on how much family obligations or other Covid-related concerns have disrupted your life.

Stay healthy and safe, my friends!