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Lost Your Job? Make the Most of Outplacement

If you're laid off and your company sets you up with a career counselor, follow these tips for the best results

By Ben Popken

“This will be your last week of employment at this company,” says George Clooney, playing the role of a corporate downsizer in Up in the Air. Then he closes his briefcase and leaves. In real life, when a firm is laying off a senior employee, a career counselor from an outplacement firm is the person who sits down next.


This counselor’s primary job is “to get the person functioning by the time he leaves the building so he doesn’t wander off into traffic or ram his car into a bridge abutment,” says Howard Campbell, a career coach for the past 20 years. If the counselor does his job right, you'll spend your time searching for a new job instead of suing your former employer for wrongful discharge.


How a Career Counselor Can Help



But outplacement can often be nearly useless. The counselor might scrape together listings from general online job boards, like, the workshops may turn out to be pointless, and the resumé advice abominable. One manager told me that after he had to lay off several employees, he took a look at the resume the outplacement firm wrote for one of them. “I was embarrassed how badly the resume missed the person's strengths,” he said.


The amount of time and service you’ll receive from an outplacement firm generally depends on your seniority. The higher up you were in the organization, the more you’ll get. But the specifics depend on the contract your ex-employer hammered out with the outplacement firm.



Citibank gave one downsized analyst — who requested anonymity to avoid violating the terms of his separation agreement — six months of outplacement help, while an analyst several levels below him received only three months. CNN gave 12 months of outplacement to an executive with 20-plus years of experience.


Four Outplacement Tips


How can you get the most out of your outplacement counselor? Here are four tips:


4. If your career counselor is terrible, complain. Ask the office manager at the outplacement firm to set you up with a different one who has the time, interest and smarts to advise you properly. Remember: No matter how much injustice you've suffered from downsizing, what happens next is up to you.

Ben Popken Journalist Ben Popken is the former Managing Editor of, published by Consumer Reports. He blogs at Read More
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