Career transition firms pursue strategic business partner status

Career transition services of the 21st century face a challenge. They must adjust to meet the ever-changing needs of employers while still retaining a much needed focus on high-touch service.

In the past, outplacement programs focused on counselling and the mechanics of a job search, such as resume writing and interviewing. These services continue to be core components. But career transition firms need to be more than just service providers. To meet changing business needs they need to align as strategic business partners with organizations and HR departments.

Career transition services must empower individuals to look at all career options — be it a new job, a new career, entrepreneurship or contract. They need to prepare individuals for retirement and help them develop a mindset to cope with never-ending change.

People are taking more time to assess and reflect on “who they are” and “where they are going” as part of the search for the next opportunity. They evaluate prospective opportunities against their personal values, lifestyles and priorities, viewing the search as much more than just the next job. Career transition firms need to respond to these increasingly individualized needs by offering candidate-centered delivery, program customization, job-search technology and networking opportunities.

Historically, career consultants were the only element of the delivery model. Adapting to the shifts in the business world and in the job market, individuals are now taking a greater responsibility for career planning and search efforts. While career consultants need to remain a key element, today’s jobseeker is in the driver’s seat.

Jobseekers want the ability to customize their own programs, choosing more of one service offering and less of another to suit their unique needs. For example, although technology must be available to candidates (allowing for flexibility should they choose to work remotely or after business hours) many individuals still want and take advantage of one-on-one coaching. Whatever their needs are, career transition firms cannot subscribe to a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy and must customize programs to suit the individual.

Accessibility to information anytime and anywhere is a must. Career transition firms, therefore, need to invest in technology. While the use of technology has increased, it has not always been recognized as a strategic advantage. Job search technology is an enabler and a single point of contact for candidates to access e-learning, job boards, market research and chat rooms right from their own homes. Having this capability has proven to be a huge advantage for jobseekers and is a growing area for the career transition industry.

This doesn’t mean that technology is used to replace one-on-one career counselling. HR wants career transition firms to continue to offer emotional support in conjunction with advances in technology. Thus, regardless of technological advances, career counsellors are spending just as much time with candidates as they did in the past.

For many candidates, access to technology is key, but such technology in no way diminishes a candidate’s need for individual one-on-one support.

The job market is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate solo. A few years ago individuals might have found job leads on a central bulletin board. Today they need to be given leads by the career transition firm. Drawing on contacts, relationships, research and systematic outreach, career consultants need to connect candidates with viable leads and make personal introductions. More than just offering job search techniques, outplacement firms must also help jobseekers develop needed skills. For example, many job leads come through networking, both with other candidates and with individuals in the marketplace. But networking is a skill which must be honed.

Right Management Consultants recently tracked the success of candidates who participated in networking teams versus those who did not. Results showed that candidates who were part of networking teams were 40 per cent more likely to land a job faster than those who were not.

So what’s the role of organizations in providing career transition support to employees? Right Management Consultants recently surveyed 212 client organizations in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Japan and North America on the issue. Surveyed companies identified the most important reasons for providing outplacement as:

•demonstrating the company’s commitment to remaining employees;

•sustaining the morale of retained employees and ongoing productivity;

•supporting departing employees in the most respectful manner possible;

•managing former employees’ perception of the company; and

•maintaining the company’s reputation in the community.

Executives were also asked which of these issues might change in importance over the next three years. On average, 20 per cent said all these issues would become even more important to them, while 72 per cent said they would remain just as important.

The survey also asked organizations about the level of commitment to providing departing employees with career transition services. About 67 per cent said they are just as committed as they were three years ago, while about 30 per cent said they were more committed to it now. Up to 16 per cent indicated they expect to be more committed to providing outplacement three years from now; about 80 per cent indicated they would be just as committed as they are now. These findings confirm the on-going importance of career transition as a service to help companies manage the effects of organizational change in an often unpredictable economy.

While in the past it has been perceived as an optional luxury, or as a tool to mitigate legal and financial exposure, career transition has attained a solid standing as a strategic component in managing a business.

Karen Calder is vice-president client services with Right Management Consultants in Toronto. She can be reached at [email protected] or

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