An outplacement offering has a place in our time!

I recall a time in high school when learning English, and one source of entertainment was looking for the most complicated words in my native Finnish to then throw at the poor English teacher as ‘how would you translate this word’. The winner was something along the likes of ‘merkityksettömättömyydellänsäkäänköhän’. Er… don’t ask. However, my current favorite on the same ranking would be the Finnish word for outplacement services: uudelleentyöllistymispalvelut. I can only assure my Finnish customers, that the content, the meaning and the impact of the service is something far better than what the word may sound like.

While typing this blog and pulling out the few reference materials I have addressed in the text below, another three notifications caught my eye of various employers starting new layoff-negotiations in Finland. The situation in the labor market is remarkably tough to begin with – and by the tone of the news, it promises to get only tougher. Add to that an individual professional of any field who is still in some degree of denial upon an unexpected termination notice from previous job, and perhaps 10 years gone by since the last time he or she had had to apply for a job. That is what you call a total mess. And that is where the value of outplacement services becomes the most evident!

You may have noticed, or heard, that headhunting has become an increasingly common approach in looking for talent also in managerial and even senior specialist roles – no longer a method only applied in search for top-paid chief executives. Now, fortunately, the same is happening with outplacement services.

In the U.S. the Bureau of Labor Statistics findings even predict that we will see outplacement services becoming part of standard benefits packages employers are offering already at the time of recruitment! Boy, I can’t help thinking what a shift in mindset that represents from the old Japanese lifetime employment culture to exit support becoming used as a carrot already in the recruitment phase.

So what are these outplacement services? In a nutshell, they refer to support the employer chooses to provide to an employee at the end of employment, in order to help the individual to find a new job. Typically these services include review and improvement of CV, recommendations of improving one’s application process, and tips and tricks for effective preparation for a job interview. More comprehensive packages may also include for example some combination of personality- and assessment testing to bring out individual’s natural strengths in view of possible new career options. But equally importantly, a well-constructed outplacement offering should also help the individual to set realistic expectations on the duration of the job-hunting phase, what to prepare for, and how to keep updating one’s skills and profile during that time so they continue to appeal to potential employers. Effective utilization of one’s contact network is something us Finns tend to find difficult, or even embarrassing, to do. One essential element of a valuable outplacement service is to ensure exactly that gets done.

As tends to be the case with any kind of training or consultation, individual help with one’s own, unique situation is far more effective than more generic instructions shared in a group setting. Two separate studies were conducted in Belgium in 2013, and the results speak for themselves on this matter. Out of those who had received individual outplacement training, 80% found a new job. With participants of group training, the success rate dropped to 60%. While I personally advocate individual service in a matter as sensitive as support with one’s job search, career planning and competence evaluation, of course that result for group sessions is still far better than no outplacement provided at all. The same results, however, found that only 8% of outplacement participants had received purely individual coaching – the rest had only group sessions, or combination of both.

But wait! Why should an employer take up additional costs by providing an outplacement service for individuals about to leave the company? It actually makes perfect sense. The key beneficiary is the company image – both internally and externally. The remaining employees will pay close attention to how the employer is treating their colleagues that face an unfortunate lay-off. So an investment towards their re-employment will help to maintain morale high within the company in that challenging situation. Externally, job applicants will take note as well. A poorly managed lay-off process could easily have a negative impact on the employer’s ability to attract top talent the next time new resources are needed. In Greece a survey was conducted last summer on the impact of outplacement services, and the results show that the most significant benefit for the employer was indeed corporate social image (65% of respondents), followed by the facilitation of the end of termination process for the departing employees (59%).

The more difficult the situation in the labor market and the odds the individual job seeker is facing – the greater will be also the value and impact of a high quality outplacement offering for both the employer and the exiting employee.

Job seeker´s letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

This year I would like to approach you with a wish list you may find unconventional. I am unemployed, and have been actively applying for jobs throughout the past year. In doing so, I have repeatedly come across certain practices – some of them so common I would almost like to call them norms – that feel like unnecessary burdens on applying for a job. And the more I discuss this with my friends who are in the same situation as I am, the more we get the feeling that with many of these practices, the employers perhaps have not realized the implications.

So, dear Santa, in order to be able to land my Dream Job next year, and to help all my fellow job seekers as well, would you be so kind as to send a few of your energetic elves to whisper these things to the employers’ ears?

Firstly, the requirements listed for the vacancy. In many cases, the nature of the responsibilities described appears such that there is not just one candidate profile to excel in that role. Yet I often see a very narrow, limiting description for candidate requirements in job ads. Could you please ask the employers to consider alternative backgrounds for suitable candidates, not just look for a warm body to fill the ‘same old, same old’ mold? The same applies to competences. Openness to consider and effort to evaluate the candidate’s real competences and skills would most certainly benefit the employer more than considering formal qualification only.

The second item on my wish list reads ‘employer image’. As humble fan of yours, dear Santa, I occasionally get the feeling that the employers only remember the latter in the give-and-take. And the giving really should come first. In recruitment, that should translate to viewing – and treating – the job applicants as customers. Providing me with an opportunity to evaluate not just whether I would match the needs of that employer – but also whether the employer would match mine. Images of the work environment, video interviews with current employees, company values opened up and discussed… it speaks volumes of the employer if those are available – and it speaks equally loud if they are not. Personally, I would also consider stating the salary range in the job advertisement as an element of employer image. In any case, it is a remarkably thoughtful gesture towards job seekers – helps both sides to prevent wasting each other’s time.

A couple of things with regards to application process are the third item on my list. With all the time and effort I have invested into shaping and re-shaping my CV, it is really discouraging to come across an application tool where I have to copy-paste the contents of my CV, row by row, to a frozen template. I have actually now started to skip such employers altogether. I also tend to contact the employer for some clarifications prior to submitting my application – yet interestingly not all job ads provide instructions for doing so. Some employers are fortunately showing that it is in their values to be approachable. One trend I very much welcome here is to have vacancies for expert positions posted in LinkedIn, with the option to apply utilizing one’s personal LinkedIn profile. That is so easy!

I know, dear Santa, that you are real busy this time of the year. Let me throw in just three more wishes, okay? Oh, too many? Okay – two then. Deal? Thank you! This relates to seeing applicants as customers. Keeping all the applicants informed during the selection process would be really, really kind. I know cases where even the completion of recruitment has only been informed to the selected candidate. And I have heard rumors of a case where even that was not done! Keeping the candidates informed should also include giving feedback to anyone the employer has interviewed but did not select at that time. By helping candidates to improve, the employers themselves will get more competent applications next time.

The very last wish is about travel costs. When a candidate comes from out of town for an interview, it would be considerate for the employer to compensate for travel expenses.

Thank you for your time, dear Santa. And welcome down south! A word of warning – it looks like the only thing white around here again this Christmas will be the rice porridge.