Dear Sam: I was just downsized from my 13-year employer. Unfortunately, I worked with a fairly small business and they have not assembled any type of outplacement package other than the normal severance pay for a few months. I have heard of peers at other companies getting help with the resume, interviewing, and job searching. I do not want to spend my own severance dollars—as I have a family to take care of—securing those services to help me move into my next role. Can I negotiate with my HR rep to secure a more robust separation agreement or is that taboo? — Ty

Dear Ty: Absolutely! While it may seem a little uncomfortable, even if your employer is providing outplacement services, you can still negotiate for a custom package based on your needs and preferences. I have worked with many individuals who have been part of a mass layoff, been provided with outplacement support through a large company, and instead, have requested dollars to spend with providers whom they choose. There is absolutely no harm in asking. I would recommend contacting some providers, curating quotes for the services you would like, and approaching your HR representative (or soon-to-be past supervisor/manager) with evidence as to the cost of the services needed to support your transition.

Small- and midsized companies will likely be receptive to this and, I often find, are more than willing to offer this financial assistance to employees they really do not want to downsize in the first place. I recently worked with an executive who had been downsized and, just as I suggested to you, she approached her HR department and presented a “case” for assistance in her job search. Her employer provided a stipend for her to use, at her discretion, allowing her to choose the professional she liked best who fit into her budget. Some small employers assume they can’t afford to provide outplacement services, as larger companies do charge an incredibly high amount for such wraparound services. But, there are many professionals out there who provide services—to individuals—who can support smaller outplacements and provide the one-on-one personal guidance a downsized employee needs in his/her transition. Take a chance and ask!

Dear Sam: I don’t know where to start. I just lost my dream job, out of the blue, and am devastated. I can’t even imagine searching for a new job after having poured my energy into my past employer for 19+ years. I’m hurt, I’m angry, and most of all I’m confused as to where I should even start. — Sal

Dear Sal: I am so sorry; I know it is hard. I experienced my own career trials early in my journey. Let me outline the critical steps in the simplest terms.

  1. Define your purpose. This is the most critical step to ensuring a targeted and effective search. Conducting a targeted search, while reducing the overall number of positions you may apply for, I promise will yield stronger results and a higher average return rate.
  2.  Develop a great brand. Once you have defined your target, create your résumé. When considering your target audience—the hiring managers you are trying to attract—you want to make sure you are speaking their language. To do that, you need to know what you want to market yourself as and translate your past experiences—and this is the key to an effective résumé—to create a strategic image of what you have done that positions you for what you now want to do. You may have heard of keywords that need to be included in your résumé, and speaking the right language, as mentioned above, means that you will be incorporating appropriate keywords and key phrases to secure the attention of your target audience. If you have defined your purpose and are qualified for the jobs for which you are applying, incorporation of those keywords will come naturally in the presentation of your background and key qualifications.
  3. Create a job search action plan. Now that you have defined your purpose and marketed yourself on paper, begin to outline where you are going to look for a job. Do not get caught in a rut of simply applying for jobs on the open market; instead leverage networking, prospecting, referrals, and job search events as additional elements of a multi-pronged distribution strategy.

Hang in there and don’t let this situation define your career.