After the layoff

Lost your IT job, but your company is supplying you with an outplacement service? Watch out! Used incorrectly, outplacement can be an impediment to finding your next position. Used properly, it can fast-track you into an ideal job situation. It's your future, and it's up to you to manage your outplacement service correctly. Here are five steps for managing the process to achieve your career goals.

1 Take control of the relationship. Ask your former company's HR manager what services you are entitled to and for how long. Ask if an extension is available if you are unable to find a job before your package expires. Some packages offer an optional extension, but if you don't ask, you won't receive it. Make sure the outplacement counsellor assigned to you agrees with HR on the benefits.

Even the best outplacement companies tend to lump clients into groups. If you get pushed into a group of sales, marketing or advertising people, you'll be the outsider and you won't get the intended benefit of lead sharing, resume polishing and interview coaching. Insist on a group that has other IT people, and try to get grouped with people who have better packages, not lesser ones.

Ask your counsellor about his experience in placing IT people. If he doesn't have a good IT track record, ask for someone who does. Let your counsellor know you will be evaluating his performance, and ask for a different counsellor if yours doesn't perform.

2 Set your own agenda. The outplacement protocol immediately pushes you into a series of tests designed to help you decide what you're best fitted to do. Don't get railroaded into doing the tests before you're ready.

Talk with your spouse, friends and associates first. Be realistic about your abilities and your goals. If you want to get out of the IT field, know the risks, understand the training required and have a back-out plan to return to IT if the new career doesn't work out. Ask your counsellor to introduce you to people who have successfully gone down the path you want to follow.

Put your goals in writing and share them with your counsellor. Then take the tests and look for a good match. If you want to become an independent consultant, for example, be sure your personality and skills fit the profile of a successful single operator.

Lay out a plan to achieve your goals, then work with your counsellor to match the outplacement services with your plan. If the services and your plan don't match, ask the counsellor to modify the package. You may need to give up one service to get another, but most counsellors like to work with innovative clients, so be bold.

3 Work your plan. Set milestones and metrics, and measure your progress. Be sure your outplacement counsellor understands your plan and how he fits into it. Ask for advice, but be wary. He may never have been where you are.

The more senior the job, the more your appearance plays a role in the decision. IT people aren't known for being the sharpest dressers, so dress as you would for an interview and ask your counsellor for honest feedback.

Periodically evaluate your plan. If you're missing every milestone, your plan, not you, is probably at fault. Enlist your counsellor in evaluating your plan, and revise it.

4 Be wary of networking groups. There are more such groups in IT than in any other field. These groups can make you feel good but waste your time. Attend a meeting if you're invited, but size it up quickly.

Determine the group's "level" by asking members what types of IT jobs they've had in the past and what they're looking for now. If the members are all data centre rats and you're looking for a middle management or senior-level IT job, get out. You can't help them, and they can't help you.

The worst groups are pity parties populated by perpetual losers. If it's a loser group, don't go back.

The best groups are those with good track records of "graduates" who have quickly found jobs. Call some of those graduates. Look for the group's connections to hiring managers in the type of companies you want to work for.

Remember: You are emotionally vulnerable, and these groups can make you feel better about your situation because it's shared pain. But you don't need to share your pain; you need to get rid of it by finding a great job.

Respect your time. Spend it with people who can get you into an interview or are likely to hire you, not people who can't find a job.

5 Protect your physical and mental health. Being between jobs is tough. It's easy to let despair creep into your life and eventually take over. You are going to get a lot of turndowns before you hear, "You're hired". Find a way to deal with it.

Your counsellor should help you turn rejections into data. Work with him to analyze the reasons for the turndown and adjust your approach accordingly. If you hit an emotional low point, the outplacement company should provide professional help.

IT people aren't always the most outgoing, and it's tempting to retreat into a totally Web-based job search. Don't fall into this trap. People hire people, and the hiring process is far more subjective and empathy-based than many managers would like to admit.

If outplacement services are available, it's up to you to manage them wisely. Make the outplacement company serve your plan.

Doug Lewis is CIO at Carnival Corp

Do's and don'ts

Do

  • Find out the details of your outplacement program.
  • Get placed in an appropriate counselling group.
  • Demand an IT-savvy counsellor.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Measure your progress.
  • Revise the plan as needed.
  • Learn from rejection.

Dont

  • Give up control or your search.
  • Get discouraged.
  • Use networking groups as a crutch.
  • Retreat into Web searches.
  • Allow your health to suffer.

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