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