Before discussing how type is used in the field of outplacement, we should first define what the word “outplacement” means. It is: the career consulting services provided to an organization to facilitate a reduction in workforce. Corporate outplacement is actually a benefit that the employer provides to its displaced employees by contracting with an outplacement consulting organization. There is also a “retail” side of the outplacement business, in which an individual who is in need of career guidance engages the services of an outplacement organization directly.
The outplacement consultant typically works in three phases: (1) up-front assessment/evaluation; (2) implementation/career counseling; and (3) follow-up/assimilation coaching (into the new role). The consultant has two different clients in this process: (1) the organization (which pays the bill); and (2) the employee who is being displaced (who receive the career counseling benefits). The ex-employee is sometimes called the “candidate” to distinguish him/her from the corporate “client.”
The goal of an outplacement program is to move clients through the career/job-search transition in the healthiest and most productive way possible. For the company, minimizing upheaval in the system is of paramount importance. Corporate image and reputation are also of concern. For the candidate, the priority is to learn the skills and develop the materials necessary to land an appropriate new position. It is a challenging and complex process for everyone involved.
From the career consultant’s point of view, it can be very challenging to constantly be around companies that are downsizing. A colleague recently commented, “Outplacement work seems like being an undertaker,” referring to the way outplacement counselors are called-in to deliver bad news about layoffs and deal with the “casualties.” In truth, it’s really not all that grim. As an outplacement consultant, I often felt that I was making a positive impact in the lives of my clients, and that the work was very gratifying.
Now that you know a bit about outplacement, let’s introduce the subject of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or “MBTI.” On the surface, it would seem that the MBTI would be an ideal instrument to use in outplacement – and indeed it is. As career counselors and outplacement specialists, we deal with people who are at a crossroad in their lives – and the purpose of the MBTI, after all, is to build self-awareness, allow people to make better decisions and make their relationships more productive.
The good news is that the MBTI is widely used in the outplacement process by many career consultants and most outplacement firms. In fact, the outplacement industry, taken as a whole, is probably one of the largest consumer markets for the MBTI. The bad news is that in these settings, the MBTI is often used in a very ineffective manner.
This observation brings-up two simple questions: “What are the problems in the use of the MBTI in outplacement?”… and, “How might the MBTI be utilized more effectively in outplacement?”
First, the MBTI is generally introduced into the process too late. I have seen it used only during the implementation phase, when doing the actual counseling with displaced employees. I believe the MBTI could be used to great advantage much earlier, when the organization first begins considering layoffs and is being assessed by the outplacement firm. The MBTI could point-up a great deal of useful information on many relevant issues before the implementation/counseling phase.
Second, the MBTI is often used too superficially – and in many cases, unprofessionally. For many reasons, the MBTI can cause confusion and inner conflict if it is not introduced correctly and if the resulting reports are not interpreted properly for the candidate by the consultant. This is especially true with candidates who are “psychologically raw” just after being laid-off. In outplacement, the MBTI is often:
- introduced poorly, sometimes even as a “clever novelty”
- given in a watered-down, unauthorized version
- administered by counselors who are not certified in use of the instrument
- scored in an out-dated and inefficient manner
- followed-up with either no interpretation of results, or a very cursory review
Third, the MBTI may not be presented in a way that is practical or applicable enough to his or her situation. I find it so unfortunate when an MBTI-taker walks away from the experience with no new clarity or specific action steps to take.
In my own work with people in career transition, I have tried to make type theory and the MBTI vital, integral parts of the career coaching process. I am pleased to report that clients have found this part of our work quite enlightening in most cases.
The MBTI can be extremely helpful in transforming a difficult career change into a positive transition – instead of a “nightmare.” I have seen many candidates open-up to new possibilities for the first time, or gain entirely new perspectives, or receive personal validation about something they might not yet have acknowledged in themselves.
My clients and I apply their MBTI results in highly-practical ways. We talk not only about job responsibilities, but also about such considerations as preferred lifestyle, work environment, professional relationships, corporate culture, values, risk tolerance, motivations and overall “job fit.”
For many candidates, the outplacement experience forces them to step back and closely examine their professional lives – often for the very first time. Those individuals who are receptive to new perspectives often find the MBTI to be genuinely inspiring in this regard.
When the MBTI is used successfully, candidates absorb the information about psychological type and retain it for the long-term. The data is there for them to reflect upon – not just until they find their next job, but for any professional transition they may face in the future as well.
Career development practitioners owe this sort of inspiration and support to their clients. When properly administered and interpreted, the MBTI can provide new levels of self-awareness, clarity, acknowledgment, direction and hope – all of which are desperately needed during the emotional trauma of outplacement.
Without a doubt, there is a lot of room for improvement in the way the MBTI is currently used in the practice of outplacement, and the effort to improve its administration could have broad-ranging implications. As with most endeavors of this sort, the place to start is with education and awareness-building.
At its root, this issue is one of accountability. A large part of the responsibility rests, of course, with the owners and managers of outplacement organizations. Some outplacement firms have gotten “lazy,” viewing the MBTI as a sales tool or profit generator. Unfortunately, some MBTI professionals have also “dropped the ball.” MBTI experts who are in positions of authority – such as publishers, licensors and training organizations – must work harder to strengthen qualifying criteria, establish clearer standards and ensure that these are consistently adhered to. Rather than waiting for the “other side” to take the lead, outplacement firms and MBTI consultants need to work in partnership to effect meaningful change.
As a unified force, outplacement firms and MBTI experts have an opportunity to improve the impact of type-related services and products. Together, we can significantly enhance the understanding and use of the MBTI – not just in the outplacement field, but in every professional context.
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