Buyer Beware: What to consider when purchasing career transition support

March 6, 2015 Kelly McDougald

We’re all very familiar with liberties taken by some advertisers in their effort to promote products and services. Some assertions are so unrealistic that our natural skepticism kicks in -- lose 20 pounds in one month while enjoying the foods you love -- I would love to lose weight on movie popcorn and cheesecake, but somehow that hasn’t worked for me yet.

In other cases advertisements make comparative claims to position their services.  Claims like “cheaper” or “faster”.  Sure, we all like a discount, but we also know that “cheaper” can sometimes equate to lower quality. So in the arena of comparative shopping it’s the buyer’s responsibility to ensure that all other criteria in the comparison are equal, or to acknowledge the trade off.  Recently we’ve seen this tactic of comparative advertising appear in the world of outplacement services and job search.  Career Transition firms are making interesting claims such as helping individuals land a job  5 times faster than the national average, or getting employees back to work 50% faster.  The claims are very compelling, especially with something as important as finding a job. But when you do the research, some interesting questions arise:

  • What is the “national average” and is it a good measure to use as a reference point?  Curiously there is no standard survey process in Canada to track how long it takes to find a job. The federal government tracks the amount of time for which an individual claims employment insurance but other than that no central tracking body exists. Job boards can tell you how long a job was posted but not how long the applicant was unemployed. Additionally an average, if it did exist, would include all workers from the most junior position to a CEO.  We can assume that an executive assistant will likely find a job more quickly than an executive, and a retail worker should find a position faster than a highly specialized individual.  Therefore, we need to ask, what is this national average data point that is referenced and is it relevant?
  • “Back to work 50% faster”, but 50% faster than what?  As mentioned above, there is no national data point for the length of time it takes to find a job so it would be difficult to land 50% faster.  Could this perhaps mean that individuals receiving Career Transition services land 50% faster than those who don’t receive services?  Perhaps, but this highlights the value of Career Transition generally, not the value of the provider.  Again we must ask if this is relevant.

The length of time it takes to find a job is driven by multiple variables:  the economy, location, skills required, salary expectations, effort invested, and the availability of outplacement support, to name just a few items.  Additionally individuals’ motivations and objectives will influence timing. Does the person wish to take some time off? Are they starting a new business or changing industries? Are they going back to school/reskilling or perhaps transitioning into retirement?  These are all defining factors in the job search journey and timetable. 

So if time to land a position is not an available or appropriate criteria in selecting an outplacement partner, here are a few factors that might be more appropriate to consider:

  • How capable are the firm’s coaches?  Career Coaching is a highly specialized skill. It should not be confused with life coaching or leadership coaching.  Career coaching combines deep knowledge of the multi-faceted job search process with the ability to coach individuals through challenging times, and explore their motivations and career aspirations.  The coaches should have deep knowledge of the local community including an understanding of local employers, recruiters, and valuable networking contacts to support their clients. Coaches should also be aligned to the unique needs and experience of the individual. Coaching a young professional to find his/her next position is very different than coaching a seasoned executive in the late stages of their career. A wide range of career coaches will ensure that the client receives support directly aligned to their individual requirements.
  • Does the outplacement firm have extensive experience in your industry?  Most job seekers will often look to opportunities in the same industry or supply chain. Industry expertise provides the career coach with an understanding of the unique and marketable skills within the sector, industry dynamics, target organizations, and networking contacts; all critical components of a successful job search.
  • What’s the breadth and depth of the outplacement firm?  Can the firm support the individual on a global basis should the individual wish to relocate?  Is support available (including technology) in the language of preference of the individual? Are there local offices and coaches available for termination meeting support, 1:1 coaching and workspace if desired? Are executives accommodated differently than their prior employees?  (Neither the employee nor the executive will want to be working side-by-side).  Can the organization scale to meet your requirements if a large downsizing is required?  Does the organization have the ability to support different streams of job search effectively like starting or buying a business, or moving into retirement?  Simply put, scale matters when creating robust outplacement services.
  • How are services delivered?  The most capable firms offer services with a wide range of delivery options; virtually, in person, in groups (seminars and live webinars) and through robust technology platforms.  People learn in different ways and this should be supported by the firm.  The consistency of a dedicated one-on-one coach is critical for building an intimate and highly productive relationship but the value of networking in group sessions should not be underestimated. A range of delivery options can significantly contribute to the success of the search process.

And most importantly:

  • Were prior clients delighted with the support provided by the outplacement firm?  Did they feel valued and supported, were programs tailored to meet their unique requirements, and did the firm assist them in achieving expedient success in their personal job search or career objectives?

And finally we must remember that “landing faster” (even if national statistics existed to measure this) should not be confused with “landing well”.    The last thing any of us wish for the job seeker is rapid under-employment.  Buyer beware

 

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