Dear Joyce: I have been a very successful corporate woman right up until yesterday when I was told my position is being eliminated, and, in fact, most of my department is being severed. I have an MBA from a top school, have held a managerial job for the past 10 years and have often referred my direct reports to your column. I never thought it would be a resource for me. But here I am, caught in a cutback and being offered out placement. Several friends who have been through out placement have expressed disappointment in the services. In my situation, what would you do? S.A.
Go for the out placement assistance but put conditions on the agreement which is probably costing your company 12 percent to 20 percent of your annual salary.
Be realistic in your expectations. Out placement assistance is not a miracle cure. It is not a combination of career counseling and executive recruiting that finds you a job. Finding a job is up to you. What you will get is the opportunity to vent anger, your wounded ego boosted, education and continuing moral support. The package usually includes a personality profile, aptitude tests and encouragement to shop the job market or start a business.
The tests may help you focus on areas where you need improvement. In most cases, you write your own resume and plow through directories of employment prospects.
As well as knowing what to expect from out placement personnel in general, know what you in particular can expect. If you are promised a "personal secretary," find out what this means. Is it a person who merely answers a telephone or will the individual do clerical tasks for you ? How much time will your consultant spend with you? Some clients complain that the consultants don't have much time to share. Others, expecting the use of an office, are distressed to find that if they don't get into the out placement office early, they don't get a telephone.
How easy will it be for you as a superstar woman to reconnect with a comparable position? Out placement consultants say that, on the one hand, women are somewhat easier to place than their male counterparts because many firms have affirmative-action goals, and, on the other, there are still closet chauvinists who think women should not be in certain positions.
Women managers may land new jobs in several months, or it may take a year or longer. I've never been a big fan of job-hunt-length surveys because there are too many variables to fit a particular situation.
Even if the economy is showing tentative signs of improvement, be ready for a low-ball offer as employers worry if this mini rebound will sputter out after the election. What can you do when you know you're being offered too little? Be creative. Ask for a bonus arrangement or retroactive extra pay based on performance a year hence, to buy the company car at a bargain, for deferred compensation or stock.
Women who went straight up in corporate status in the 1980s have become expensive. And when you're expensive, you're vulnerable. Pick up a book on working with out placement firms so you'll know what to expect and require. Some people who think they'll breeze into another job opt for extra severance pay instead of out placement assistance. This is a poor choice for women who have no experience in fighting hard for a job.