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Sorry, I'm Not George Clooney – The Story Of An Outplacement Consultant

George Clooney.jpgOutplacement is not a household word and is not even that well known across the wide spectrum of business people. That is why I am still amused when  I get this reply from someone after I have told them what I do for a living.

“So you are George Clooney from that movie”.

Well … sort of.

The movie, Up In The Air, is about a corporate “downsizer” Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney) who lives constantly on the road going from one city to the next helping corporations downsize their employees. It is a thankless job whose only rewards are a good salary and the frequent traveler perks that come with non-stop flights, hotels, and rental cars.

It is not always a bad thing when your profession is associated with a movie and a famous movie star. The comparisons could always be worse (think Jim Carrey as the Cable Guy). While it is flattering to be compared to a world famous, handsome, and talented celebrity the reality is something different.

How does the outplacement profession compare to what was shown in the movie?

Like several scenes in Up In The Air, outplacement consultants can be on site when layoffs take place. This is officially called notification. The one major difference in reality versus the movie is that HR and/or the manager is the one to deliver the actual downsizing news. In the movie that responsibility was delegated to George Clooney.

I have never seen this happen. The organizations I work with have management that takes the notification responsibility seriously and they are the ones to deliver the message. The outplacement consultant in these cases is there to talk about the specifics of their program and to set up a follow up plan on how they can help the candidate.

The outplacement consultant, as shown in Up In The Air, was somewhat detached and lacked empathy with their candidates. This was done to hype up the dramatic effect. In reality, what I see is that outplacement professionals care deeply about their candidates and their careers. They make every effort to connect with their candidates and help them through the transition process towards their next career opportunity.

Up In The Air also had an interesting story line where a promising millennial Natalie Keener (played by Anna Kendrick) introduces a new innovation where the “termination assistance” can now be delivered virtually via Skype. The travel can then be eliminated (which turns George Clooney’s world upside down).  The “remote-layoff” process as the movie calls it was later scraped due to it being too impersonal and being indirectly responsible for the suicide of a downsized employee.


In reality, virtual outplacement has proven to be very successful, embraced by both candidates and consultants alike. Virtual delivery, via Skype or phone, still allows personal relationships to develop, provides effective communication channels and can be more time productive (less commute time for the candidate).

The one element shown in the movie that is consistent with real life is that no outplacement consultant I know of would be part of a notification process virtually. If they are part of the notification (which is not always) they will be there in person.

Last, Ryan Bingham also sidelined as a motivational speaker on careers. His  semi-confessional “What’s In Your Backpack?” speech talks about the virtues of living an uncluttered life free of unwanted relationships and possessions. In reality, many outplacement consultants do public speaking on a wide range of topics ranging from career management, job search, leadership and a host of other things. They tend to be more practical rather than whimsical.

I am sure that the “so you are like George Clooney in that movie?” line will show up in the future. I will be sure to save this blog and post it again at a future date.