Steve Spires, managing director at BPI Group North America

Effective transition or outplacement services help separated employees find new jobs, protect the company’s reputation, prevent potential lawsuits and lessen an employer’s unemployment insurance taxes.

Steve Spires, managing director of career services and senior executive coach at BPI Group North America, discussed with SHRM Online what HR needs to know about working with outside career transition firms. BPI Group North America is a leadership, talent and transition company based in Chicago.

SHRM Online: What should HR know about working with career transition or outplacement firms?

Spires: First, they should really understand what they are buying. The critical success factors are the amount of time affected employees will have to work with a career coach and the coach’s level of experience and ability to help them land their next roles.

Second, HR departments should carefully scrutinize any technology tools they are being offered. The outplacement industry has been disrupted as much as any other industry by technology, but not all of it is up to date or effective, nor can it take the place of human interaction with a job-search coach.

Third, what are exiting employees going to take away from the experience of working with a career transition coach? Will they believe their company did all it could to help them ease the transition? The biggest benefit of a successful relationship with an outplacement firm is the company’s ability to maintain its employer brand among alumni and the broader marketplace.

SHRM Online: What does HR typically do well and not so well when working with outplacement firms?

Spires: There are two ways companies approach buying outplacement services: 1) They hope to simply “check the box” by buying the cheapest—and likely least effective—service, or 2) they base their purchase decision on their employees’ needs instead of procurement requirements or efficiency metrics.

Obviously, No. 2 is the best practice. When HR treats the career transition firm as a true collaborative partner, it goes a long way toward a successful transition for all concerned. HR will find that the outplacement firm has a depth of knowledge about career transition they are unlikely to find anywhere else. The firm can help with communications strategies, onsite notifications, and career coaching services. Our experience shows that the sooner affected employees can start moving forward in a positive direction, the better the engagement from remaining employees, and the greater likelihood the company will receive positive reviews from its alumni.

SHRM Online: What are some of the major issues facing HR departments in times of transition and how have they changed over time?

Spires: In larger organizations, HR departments are much more automated than before. Payroll, recruiting, onboarding—many of these functions are now streamlined by technology. This frees up HR professionals to focus on things that can’t be fully automated, such as employee engagement, training, and company culture. When it comes to downsizing, HR used to be much more involved in understanding what an offering really was from an outplacement provider and buying the best offer they could find. The trend now is more toward efficiency rather than quality. The presumption is that, with the rise of technology and social media, everything a job seeker might need can be found digitally, which is not the case.

Ultimately, the issues facing an exiting employee haven’t really changed over time. Seventy percent of jobs are found through networking, so it still comes down to the human connection and ensuring that connection is an integral part of the job-search process.

SHRM Online: Although the employment market was thriving in 2017, it still takes executive-level professionals months to find their next position, according to recent research from BPI. Why is that?

Spires: There are two main factors that play into this dynamic. First, there is a significant trend toward more frequent job changes over the course of a career. Younger workers are taking longer to figure out what they want to do and as a result they don’t settle on a firm career choice right out of school, which was the norm in the ’70s and ’80s. Many employees hitting their 40’s are just now deciding their ideal career paths. But their experience doesn’t always match up. They might have a lot of two- to three-year stints, or they’re bringing 10 years of experience in a specific field as opposed to 20. This sometimes makes them look less qualified for what they really want to do, so it takes them longer to land.

Second, many executives in their 40’s are upwardly mobile and seeking significant bumps in salary, level, and responsibility with a career move. If they have moved around a lot, it becomes harder for the hiring community to discern what their accomplishments are and whether they’re truly qualified for a significant upward shift. It’s critical for such a job seeker to develop a market-ready value proposition as opposed to a simple chronological resume.