Britt van den Berg, consultant with Spencer Stuart in Amsterdam, says outplacement teaches the value of benchmarking yourself regularly: “It's important to benchmark yourself at least once a year. Ask critical questions and be aware of what's going on in the marketplace.”
If you left your job today, who would want to talk to you tomorrow? Solving uncomfortable questions such as these is often at the very heart of outplacement. Now that downsizing is on everyone's minds again, there's never been a better time to understand the benefits of this process and use its best elements to keep your career on track whether or not the axe is about to fall.
Outplacement is a process of supporting people who are being made redundant in finding a new job elsewhere. It is not a talking cure for unemployment, nor will it deliver a new role straight into your lap. But outplacement will help you to recover from the shock of losing your job, understand what you have to offer, and plot a route to where you want to be next.
In the past, outplacement was often a stigmatized and misunderstood process, says Van den Berg, who previously worked in international outplacement for more than 10 years. It had
connotations of being “outside” your former employer or even the world of work. “In the early nineties, outplacement was something you didn't talk about,” she says. “It was very confidential and secretive and there was a lot of emphasis on individual analysis.”
“It's important to benchmark yourself at least once a year. Ask critical questions and be aware of what's going on in the marketplace."
The confidential counselling often suited those candidates who were uncomfortable with the fact that they had lost their former job. In some cases it became an end in itself, delaying the process of finding a new role. Laid-off executives even used to treat their consultants' offices like a surrogate workplace, going there every day so that they still had the reassurance of a nine-to-five routine.
Getting to your next role quickly
These days, restructuring and lay-offs are much more of a fact of life, which means people are much less likely to be traumatised about the experience. Executives are looking for quicker hits from their outplacement and want to move on quickly to their next opportunity.
Candidates now prefer to use the outplacement process as a springboard rather than a cushion. They are equally happy to work from home using the Internet and e-mail. And they demand more from their consultants in terms of business skills and networking ability.
Previously, outplacement was open-ended: consultants
would be paid a lump sum in advance by an employer and would support a candidate for as long as it took to find a new role. This is still the case in many European countries. However, the increasing trend particularly in the business cultures
of the US and the UK is towards limited outplacement, in which the consultant supports a candidate only for a fixed period.
The support includes all the main elements of career transition: helping candidates to recover their footing, analysing skill-sets and mapping out a route to a suitable role. The emphasis is on action, says van den Berg.
“If after that period candidates haven't found jobs, they have all the tricks and tools they need and they're on their own,”she says. “It stimulates people; keeps them on their toes.”
For many people, outplacement is the first time in their careers that they have had an objective conversation with anyone about their achievements and future career goals.
Create an annual career audit
This is one of the central benefits of outplacement. A good outplacement consultant will objectively assess your career strengths often creating a personal analysis and compare these to what employers are looking for.
This process of benchmarking yourself should be a component of active career management, whether you are job-hunting or not.
Even if you are happy in your current job, aim to audit your career achievements and employability at least once a year so that you know what you're worth in the marketplace. This means gathering data from different sources. Talk to executive search firms, scan the recruitment sites and read the professional publications to stay up to date with skills that are in demand.
Treat your CV or resumé like your personal portfolio where you can showcase your results and achievements. Like any form of marketing communication, your CV needs to be refreshed frequently to reflect your unique brand.
Benchmarking is harder than it sounds. To do it effectively, you
must be clear about how your strengths add value
, given the needs of the current employment market.
- Evaluate your strengths and weakness
- Look objectively at what the current market requires
- Link your strengths with the needs you see in the market
- Define how your strengths add value, given the needs of the market
Tune into your network
Understanding the market is one of the ways a good outplacement consultant adds value. A good consultant should also be able to tap into a viable network of contacts in your chosen field in order to find you a new role.
Most executives usually have a viable network of friends, colleagues and other professionals ,but they don't know how to use this network properly. Outplacement stresses the value of
cultivating your network. A network does not need to be extensive but it does need to be in good condition.
Don't turn to people only when you need a job. Much as they would like to help, chances are this puts them in a difficult position because they will not be able to fulfil your request. Instead, go to your contacts with ideas and ask for their feedback. This gives them the opportunity to add some value to solving the problem.
A good outplacement process will help you restore your morale and regain the initiative on managing your career. Most of all, it aims to give you a positive attitude. Nine times out of 10 it will be a challenging but enriching experience, providing tools that can be used throughout your career.
Ultimately, as Van den Berg points out, recognize that outplacement is about taking control of your career and managing a programme of change. “Outplacement consultants are only the catalyst, nothing more,” she says. “It's your life, your career and it's your programme.”