Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Outplacement outrage

Well, nothing's as good as it used to be, I guess. And that includes outplacement services - at least according to a Wall Street Journal article I saw that had a lot of people carping about how lousy outplacement firms are.

One outplacee complained about some criticism she received after she ordered cranberry juice at a practice lunch interview.

Cranberry juice is a no-no, apparently. After all, it might signal to a prospective hirer that you've got a urinary tract infection.  This kind of reminds me of the old parochial school advice about not wearing a white dress because it reminds men of bed sheets. (Never mind that it reminded most men of nurses in those long-ago, pre-blue and "jazzy print" scrubs days.)

Not that avoiding cranberry juice is necessarily bad advice.

It's obviously not something you'd want to spill on your white blouse or the table cloth.

While on the subject of bev, don't think of ordering a diet soda on a job interview, either. This will make you look immature.

So say-eth another outplacement counselor.

People get paid for offering this kind of advice? It sure seems like they should be able to come up with something a bit more helpful.

I guess when I was "lucky" enough to have outplacement services, I lucked out.

The first time I used outplacement was after my knife-through-the-heart lay-off/firing from Softbridge.

I can't remember the name of the firm, but they were located in that building on 128 with the clock tower. You know the one - grayish-white, in Waltham of thereabouts. I worked with someone named Nancy, who was very nice and generally helpful.

Once I got through the stages of my death-and-dying cycle - which lasted about a week or so - I found it enormously useful to work with her. That was how I figured out that I really didn't want to do marketing-marketing. I really wanted to do product marketing. (Hint to high-tech marketing job seekers. Envision yourself on a desert island. Would you rather be with the sales team, or the developers? If sipping piña coladas withe the sales reps sounds like fun, you want to do marketing-marketing. If hanging around with the engineers talking about feature creep is more appealing to you, you're a product marketer.)

Having access to outplacement, also gave me a place to go and hang around, which I did most days - especially after Nancy wangled permission for me to use their downtown offices. I'd get dressed up in "business casual", take my laptop in, head on in, read the newspaper, and print out a couple of letters.

They always say that finding a job is a full-time job, but I pretty much exhausted my capacity to job hunt after a couple of hours a day. So I'd sign up for whatever workshops they were holding, and became such an ace participant that, even after the outplacement service ran out for me after 3 months, they still let me hang around for the month or so it took me to find a job in - ta-da - product marketing.

Yes, I know that, even in the halcyon era of outplacement services that I so warmly recall, there was still plenty of goofball advice.

One woman I knew was laid off when she was five months pregnant. Her outplacement counselor told her to 'wear loose clothing and pretend she was fat' in order to get a job.

Say, I'll take two pieces of advice from that counselor!

My second outplacement stint came after my voluntary separation from Genuity.

Their outplacement deal was with Executive Destinations, where I worked mostly with a wonderful counselor named Geralyn.

Since I wasn't really looking for a job at that point, I just hung out there with a couple of fellow Genu alums with whom I started a product marketing business.

Other than coming up with a very cool logo based on the Zakim bridge, a bank account, and a road-show explaining what our services were, we actually didn't get the business off the ground.

Not surprisingly, our would-be business failed because not one of the three principals focused on it.

Instead, we all ended up doing our own individual consulting, and never put much energy into our joint business.

This, of course, proved to me up close and personal what I'd known all along about the close association between business failure and lack of focus. Nice to see that the eternal business verities are truly eternal and verity.

As with my first round, having access to outplacement - above all - gave me a place to go, which was key, since I was used to being at work all day, every day. (And my husband was used to me being there, too.)

I know that a lot of people who get outplacement services don't get the silver or gold level services that I, as a VP (Softbridge) and Director (Genuity), got.

For many folks, outplacement is a one-day 'get your résumé together', 'let's write a sample cover letter', 'look to your left, look to your right; ecce network' kind of deal.

Whatever it is or isn't, no one should entertain the notion for one nano-second that your outplacement service is going to find a job for you. Yes, they should have helpful hints. Yes, if you impress someone, they will offer you networking contacts. But, basically, even if looking for a job isn't a full time job equivalent, it is your job, not theirs.

I do not want to seem insensitive here, as I am very sympathetic to those who get pink slipped, especially in this economy - and especially to those who don't have the luxury of taking a somewhat casual approach to unemployment for whatever reason - money in the bank, generous severance, low-spend lifestyle, spouse with a wallet made of gold... Not to mention the special sympathy for those who were in jobs in industries that may not be coming back any time soon, if ever.

Let's face it, this time around I don't think anyone really has a clue what's going to replace all the manufacturing and financial services jobs that went 'poof'.

This recession is a lulu, and it's easy to imagine that folks showing up on the doorstep of an outplacement service are hoping that 'miracle occurs here' can truly happen.

Too bad it won't.

Job seekers should take outplacement for what they can, and for what it's worth. Let them help you with figuring out a job-hunt approach. Let them help you get your résumé in order (double check for typos). Let them give you advice on 'what to wear' on an interview. (Which you should feel free to ignore. A friend of mine - a lovely, fit, and fashionable woman in her fifties - was advised to wear a short swingy skirt and no stockings if she wants to find a job in marketing. That pant suit just screams 1990's, let alone wearing nylons. Ewww! Leading me to wonder what these stockingless young things do in winter. I realize that a thin layer of pantyhose doesn't offer that much protection, but at least it keeps the goose pimples in check, and tones down the white-chicken-legs-turning-blue look.)

And, by the way, is is worth considering their advice on what to drink if you're asked out. For the record, you're safe if you ask for water, iced tea, or coffee. No word on what to order for food, but I've got to go with a salad, particularly if you think you can get one down without glooping dressing onto your silk blouse.

Wait a minute. Forget I said silk blouse. Talk about retro - that screams 1980's. Might as well wear a floppy bow tie while you're at it. No, this is 2009. If you're looking for a job in marketing - especially in marketing-marketing - you'll need to top off that swingy little skirt with a spaghetti-strap camisole and a cute little sweater.

Bleccch.....Sure glad I'm not looking for a job.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please have a look at my slideshare presentation on outplacement 2.0


Alexander Crépin