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Your first step should be to decide what type of services you may need, then determine how closely they match with what may have been offered in the past. As you may know, the nature and the duration of outplacement packages varies with each employer and there are hundreds of outplacement firms in business -- ranging from one-person specialists to multi-national firms such as Lee Hect Harrison, Drake Beam Morin and Right Associates.
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Most outplacement firms offer training in resume writing, interviewing, research, and other job search techniques in addition to intensive counseling in the weeks following a termination. Many even offer office space and secretarial assistance as well as a library of resources for researching companies and industries. Given this array of service, you need to ask yourself what benefits are most important to you and what you would trade off.
If your outplacement program is a part of a bigger deal between the firm and your employer, you'll probably receive a basic package that has been arranged for executives. But in some cases, executives have the option of personally selecting their own outplacement firm. If given this option -- it's wise to shop around. I suggest this not because firm capabilities are so different, but because it would provide you with the chance to talk with the person who would be your counselor, and to me, this is the most important factor. It's often a very personal relationship, and if you are not comfortable with your counselor, you will lose much of the benefit of outplacement. To learn more about their level of service, ask for references from former clients.
Regardless of which firm you work with, be sure to get in writing what specific services you will be getting for the fee and the period of time each service will be available to you -- don't assume that if they offer a service it will be provided to you.
Finally, when the outplacement package is complete -- buy into it. The process may be difficult, but it will give you good discipline as you begin your job search as well as provide support and guidance throughout.
Good luck to you,
Dave Opton is CEO and Founder of ExecuNet, an online career services center for executives. For more information on executive career management visit firstname.lastname@example.org, he can't answer each individually but look for yours in an upcoming column.