Virtual Career Transition Support: Is it a good thing?

There were a lot of people in my industry that watched the 2009 film Up in the Air – a humorous tale about personal and professional travails in a career transition firm – and thought it was more science fiction than dramatic comedy.

Central to the film’s narrative was a cost-saving proposal by a young consultant to use videoconferencing to conduct layoffs. Most professionals in the transition industry at the time were distressed about the movie’s portrayal.  We would never recommend “outsourcing” the termination conversation with an employee. This conversation should be had in person, face-to-face, and with all the respect and dignity that can be afforded.  That was true in 2009 and remains true today. 

But when it comes to actually supporting the individual with career transition services post termination, things are changing, and in some circumstances, there is a role for technology.

Virtual transition is career transition support that is delivered remotely by telephone, Skype, or other similar technologies. Clients never travel to a counselor’s office and they don’t actually meet face-to-face, but this does not mean virtual programs are purely “self-serve” or “eTransition”.  While there may be online support tools offered such as eLearning webinars; there are also live conversations with a career counselor. The main difference of this emerging trend is that in-person conversations are now conducted online or by phone.

So is this a good thing?  Can career transition support be effective if it’s delivered virtually?  The answer is yes and no, like most things, it depends.

For new providers in the career transition space, it’s definitely a good thing. There are very low barriers to entering the market. Hire a few counselors, rent some technology access and you’re up and running.  No need for the traditional real estate hassle of having offices in multiple cities. Counselors can work from anywhere. The cost of providing services is optimized, so there should be a corresponding price reduction for customers.

But what about the individual receiving the service?

Virtual transition works well when you need to deliver career counseling to workers in remote or rural areas. Eliminating the time and cost of traveling – for the client to meet with a counselor, or a counselor to meet with a client – can be beneficial for both parties.

Virtual programs also work well for a younger demographic of employee. Millennials and Gen Y have grown up connecting online; and therefore, feel comfortable in this setting and often prefer digital appointments to in-person meetings.

So virtual transition clearly provides significant opportunities for efficiency and flexibility, but the downside in both these scenarios is that a phone call or Skype conversation is not always the best environment to build an intimate and trusting relationship. The loss of a job can be an emotional experience and in-person meetings are often the most effective means of building the confidence and trust required to move forward in a coaching relationship.

Additionally, the value of in-person networking should not be under-estimated. The job search component of a transition program is all about networking. Seminars, workshops, and group sessions conducted in person all create opportunities to build strong networks and foster information sharing between individuals in transition. Replicating this sort of connection and exchange in an online space is often difficult to achieve.

Lastly, it’s important to recognize that career transition firms located geographically away from the people they are counseling do not always possess the local expertise that is often critical when helping a client discover important networks and uncover new opportunities within their community.

So ultimately the best type of transition program is designed to meet the individual’s unique requirements – sometimes that will mean an entirely virtual program, other times it will be an entirely in-person program, or it may be a hybrid of both types of services so that individuals can leverage the benefits of both models.

Regardless of the method of delivery, there are common key attributes that define excellent transition support. So whether virtual, in person, or a combination of both, ensure that your transition services offer the following best practices:

  • Programs  are designed to meet the needs of the individuals: Each individual, transition process, and outcome is unique; good programs always take into account the circumstances of the person in transition.
  • Programs have dedicated career coaches: There should always be a career counselor specifically assigned to each client. Every conversation builds on the last and leverages the accumulated context and relationship. A “coach-on-call or coaching call center” can help with quick tactical questions, but this approach is not ideal for true coaching and learning.
  • Coaches specialize in career coaching: Individuals in transition need to learn how to find and land a job. Career coaches are experts in the techniques needed to source opportunities, interview well, and get the job. This is a very different skill than life coaching or leadership coaching.
  • Coaches have local expertise: The transition company and coach should have information about local employers and recruitment firms, and a strong network in the local community that they can leverage on behalf of the job seeker.
  • The transition firm actively engages clients: A reputable career transition firm will actively reach out to their clients to help manage the process.
  • Information is available in different formats (webinars, online,  1:1 personal coaching, etc.): Everyone learns in a different way so multiple formats offer the greatest opportunity to meet individual requirements.
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