New tools for virtual outplacement

Innovations can both help and hinder transition services
By Peter Saulnier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/02/2015

There have been some remarkable technological developments in the world of virtual outplacement over the last few years. These innovations have been important for two reasons: they allow support for employees in remote locations who have lost their jobs; and they provide a useful, supplemental form of support for individuals in career transition.


New virtual outplacement developments include such features as network tracking tools that are fully integrated with LinkedIn; job search engines that receive feeds from established job sites such as Indeed; research databases that provide information about a company or industry at the push of a button; and, of course, resumé management systems that allow for the development and storage of multiple versions of an individual’s resumé.


A useful new development is interactive online interview practice, where an individual can prepare and record her answers to sample interview questions in video clips. A career coach can then view the clips and give the individual personalized feedback on her interview technique. 


This is an invaluable part of preparing for an effective job search, and makes personalized coaching advice available to everyone, no matter where they live.


An obvious use of any online career site is the administration of career assessments. Including them on a career portal makes them readily accessible and easy to complete, and it’s easy to see the results. There are a number of assessments used in career coaching, such as the Myers-Briggs, Birkman, Insights and the Strong Interest Inventory. Good outplacement providers will have all or most of these assessments available, as each tool has a different area of focus that can be important for an effective, comprehensive assessment process.


One of the benefits of virtual outplacement is the ability to support transitioning employees with consistent services even in other parts of the world. As an example, one Canadian-based international software development company that was downsizing recently provided in-person services for Canadian transitioning employees, all of whom were based in metropolitan areas, while selecting online services for international employees, most of whom were salespeople based in remote locations around the world.


Note that virtual outplacement doesn’t always mean web-based.  For example, one organization in the natural resource sector wanted to provide support to transitioning front-line employees scattered throughout British Columbia. Most of them weren’t comfortable with web-based services.


The solution? Support by phone, including a series of customized job search workshops by conference call, supplemented by extensive one-on-one support for each individual with an experienced career coach.


But any type of virtual outplacement has potential pitfalls as well. The most important factor in selecting an outplacement provider is “quality of consultants,” with 95 per cent of companies saying this is important, according to Verity Filion’s 2014 Survey of Termination Practices in Canada. 


Virtual outplacement, while convenient, minimizes the opportunity for an experienced career coach to support an individual with good advice at each step of his transition.


At the outset of their career transition, many individuals don’t know what they need and, frankly, the whole process of outplacement support is often a mystery to them. They need close attention to make sure their next steps are the right ones. Think of the recently terminated individual who tells all her friends she’s now unemployed, and she thinks that’s networking. Worst of all, she thinks this approach will lead to re-employment. 


With frequent, in-person access to an experienced coach, they can better learn the ins and outs of effective networking and develop a personalized plan that will work for their style and situation.


Another example is the individual who uses a sample resumé from a career site and tries to make his own career history fit into that template. A person’s resumé is a unique marketing document that should demonstrate the depth and breadth of his experience, and tell the marketplace about his unique value proposition. 


Cutting and pasting from a sample isn’t as effective as working face-to-face with a career coach, in an iterative process that produces a resumé that will lead to that desired interview.


Virtual outplacement services sometimes include one-on-one support. But this is often provided in the form of a “dial a coach” service, which puts an individual in touch with whichever coach is currently on call, and often in a different market from where the individual lives and is looking for work. 


Not being able to build a relationship over a period of time with a dedicated coach, there will be no understanding of specific, individual needs. Worse, the person has to tell her story over and over again to an array of coaches.  Think of the reluctant, introverted types who may shy away from reaching out to a stranger — often the case with virtual services. They likely won’t and they’re often the people who require support the most.


Perhaps the greatest risk of virtual outplacement services is the more limited opportunity to build an emotional safety net for the individual in transition. Job loss is an emotionally difficult experience, dangerously difficult for some, and can lead to a feeling of isolation. 


And mental illness is much more prevalent than previously realized, requiring us to do what we can to support at-risk individuals during a difficult time.  A caring team approach, in-person whenever possible, is an effective way to minimize this risk. Nothing can replace this high-touch support for active listening and confidence building.


Overall, virtual outplacement has benefited from the addition of some useful technologies in recent years. As long as these are included as supplemental services to any outplacement program — and not as the primary vehicle for delivering support — they can be effective. An approach that includes substantial transition support in all areas — both face-to-face and online — will be the best for the individual in transition.  She’ll land better jobs, faster.  And that should be the ultimate goal, for employers and individuals alike.


Peter Saulnier is a Vancouver-based partner at Logan HR, a full-service outplacement and talent management firm and member of Verity Filion. For more information, visit www.loganhr.com.

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