Outplacement is a service intended to provide support for people who have lost their corporate jobs. Since the former employer pays for such services, job seekers are sometimes confounded by the actions of their outplacement provider…especially the larger ones. This confusion can be eliminated by reading a 2009 Wall Street Journal article titled Outplacement Firms Struggle to Do Job which noted that “Employers say they offer outplacement to protect their reputations, forestall lawsuits and minimize unemployment-insurance payments.” Few outplacement companies track their results and virtually no employers ask for any statistics regarding success or failure rates of the job seekers they refer. What does that tell you?

One of the biggest challenges in working with larger outplacement companies is the cloning that takes place due to their “cookie cutter” service delivery models. Job seekers are made to look similar due to rigid processes for dispensing information (group training classes, etc.) and restrictive access to personalized coaching resources. Like many hiring managers and recruiters, I have seen so many mass-produced resumes and marketing plans that I can spot certain companies’ products immediately. Without your awareness, such cloning of your materials and personal messaging can have a negative effect on your personal brand and job search results.

So what’s the answer? My first suggestion from Chapter 11 of Fast Track Your Job Search (and Career!) is for those who know they will be leaving their job but are still employed:

Before you sign your next separation agreement, consider asking “Can I shop around and pick the outplacement services vendor I want as long they stay within your budget?” If they agree, then ask “What is your budget?” This will equip you to go shopping for the best services you can find.

For those who are reading this article too late and are currently in an ineffective outplacement program, my second suggestion from my book is:

If you are not making progress in your program or feel you are not receiving proper support, you have a few options which would be reasonable escalations: (1) Ask for a different coach if yours is not helping enough, (2) complain to the manager and explain exactly what you want from them, and (3) if all else fails, recognize that “this is what you get” within the program that was provided free to you and seek out more effective resources such as an independent career coach/consultant of your choosing. Your outplacement is a sunk cost and it isn’t even your sunk cost.

You are NOT doomed to look like millions of other job seekers. You CAN change your job search results by avoiding the cloning of your personal marketing materials and your verbal messaging. These items, done properly, can insure your distinctive positive qualities are showcased and recognized!

What have been your experiences with outplacement programs? Have you felt like cookie dough in a cookie cutter, or not? I’d love for you to share your experiences…good, bad, or indifferent.


Richard Kirby is an executive career consultant, speaker on career strategies, and author of Fast Track Your Job Search (and Career!). Richard Kirby’s earlier experience includes managing engineering, human resources, marketing and sales teams for employers that ranged from a Fortune 100 to a VC-funded entrepreneurial startup. For the past 11 years at Executive Impact, Richard has helped hundreds of executives and professionals successfully navigate today’s transformed 21st century job market and achieve better employment for themselves. Richard’s expertise includes career assessments and goal setting, personal marketing/branding, resume enhancement, strategic networking and job interviewing, and “contrarian” job search methodologies. He is a Board Certified Coach (in career coaching) and a Certified Management Consultant (recognized by the ISO).