“Are you a fan of outplacement services?”

Question: Alan, in a recent article you said that you often think outplacement is not worth the cost, and other things may be better for severed employees. Do you think there are any exceptions to that?

         Name Withheld

Answer: That is a very, very good question. I did write that, and I also wrote that retraining and relocation might be better uses of scarce severance dollars. Here are my thoughts:

a. My first question, to myself, is “Would the world be better without outplacement firms? For many, many employees who unexpectedly – and often with both fright and anger –  find themselves without a way to support themselves and their loved ones, outplacement serves as a great source of insight, inspiration, and needed support. For this reason, among others, I think that outplacement firms do serve a very, very important role in our society, and the world is a better place for their existence. 

b. That said, like lawyers, schools, baseball teams, and restaurants, some are better than others. For many years I have worked with clients and outplacement counselors and firms. Like every industry, every profession and every service, some are better than others. I don’t take offense when I hear that many people do not like lawyers, or that they think far too many lawyers are not helpful to people, but are in the profession only for the money. I do not take offense to that, but rather take it as a challenge: a challenge to change people’s minds, to be among the best, and to help “raise the bar” (no pun intended) on how helpful an attorney can be. Concerns that many outplacement firms cost too much are valid, just as concerns that many lawyers are too expensive: they are. It’s a challenge to locate, and use, the best quality at the best price you can find.

c. I look for two things in outplacement firms: (i) Client Focus, and (ii) Continuity. I think far too many outplacement firms seem to say, “This is what we do – take it or leave it,” and do not take into account the individual strengths, weaknesses, needs and perspectives of the individuals they (are supposed to) serve. So, first I look at whether “the client comes first” in assessing outplacement firms. Second, I get “ruffled” when I hear that the outplacement services last for two weeks, or six weeks, and then the client is – yet again – pushed out the door. Who needs rejection a second time? Not my clients. So, extendable services, or ones that last a good long while, are far preferable. 

d. There is one “model” I heartily endorse: The Five O’Clock Club. Over the years, I’ve come to see which of my clients feel better served, and seem more confident in “bouncing back” than others. A majority of them have been with this organization, that is, I believe, primarily in the Northeast, but I think it operates elsewhere, as well. Their model is very much client-focused, including careful assessment of needs and goals, and assignment of a personal coach to each person. And, to my best knowledge, you can pretty much continue in their “family” until you’re back on your feet. I understand, too, that they have something of a “sliding” scale on fees so that they avoid the sense of prohibitive cost. You might check them out at www.FiveOClockClub.com. In the interests of full disclosure, I have spoken to their audiences a few times, and have permitted them to republish my newsletters. That said, I have never received a dollar from them, and never will. But “birds of a feather do tend to flock together”: if you like this blog, I think you’ll enjoy them, too.

e. No matter what, careful consideration should be put into the how to allocate scarce severance dollars. No matter what you read or hear on TV, times remain tight. Employers are in the same “boat” as employees: they have to watch every dollar, and choose carefully where they spend them. Such careful decision-making did not seem as necessary as it does now. If moving to Nebraska, where the unemployment rate is 4%, is feasible, I might request relocation expense over other uses of severance monies. The same goes for retraining: there’s a great demand for nurses: retraining to become a nurse may be the most value for the scarce severance dollar. Choose wisely.  

Overall, I am a big fan of outplacement firms, especially those who are client-focused and provide continuity of service. Seek them out, and use them, to your best value and advantage.

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          Best, Al Sklover   

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