For someone who is just fired after having twenty one years of fun filled life at the magazine, I am in fairly cheerful disposition. I have left the company with no hard feelings and am looking at my departure as an opportunity to do something else.

During the meeting, I make it very clear that I did not need any of the physical facilities that are customarily provided to all their clients. That I have all of it available to me in the comfort of my home. They tell me it would be great, we could work through faxes and phone calls. I share with them that  instead of trying to find another job in the publishing industry, what I would ideally like to do was to take advantage of the natural break in my career and try at least to see if there was something else I could do. I mention my fascination with the airlines. I wouldn’t be opposed to exploring either advertising or even the entertainment industry.

During and after the interview, Bob and Herb, excited, tell me that with my international experience, the language skills and the cross-cultural background, they could do wonders for me. Bob drops a few names of the chairmen and CEOs of the companies with whom he could set up appointments. They could send out 500 mailings! 500? But what do I know about how outplacement works?

And so it begins. They want me to come back for another two hour meeting so that we can go over CAPS (career and personal summary). CAPS contained what they called “materials”, an extensive questionnaire which establishes your existence as a total person.

‘Is this something you can mail to me?’  I ask. I sense an astonishing reluctance on the other end of the line.

‘I guess we can do that’ comes the lukewarm answer.

The next morning, FedEx delivers a bulky envelope containing fifty pages of questionnaire and almost as many pages of explanations/instructions detailing the procedures. Half of the questionnaire concerns itself with the work history and other work related issues. The rest asks you about the most intimate details about yourself, and each one of your family members, your relationship with them, what would you change in the way you grew up if you had to do it all over again, whether or not you had a good relationship with your spouse, what caused the divorce and why. The questionnaire stops short of asking  about your sexual preferences.

They contain psychological tests divided into several segments such as personal motivation and satisfaction, building blocks for the future, whether you were a leader or a follower, aggressive or passive, were an early bird or a night owl. Who was the best manager you worked for and the worst? Why? It is filled to the brim with buzz words of business school, good sounding but as useless as discarded banana skins. It takes me major part of three weeks, several hours every day, to answer those damn questions. By the time I am done, they had more information on me than would the CIA on President Clinton and his flings.

The outplacement agencies, like  funeral parlors, must  justify  their existence. This they seem to be doing well by playing on your vulnerability when you are at your lowest ebb.  Most of the discarded executives are absolutely devastated and destroyed when they are pushed out of their jobs on account of the revolving door management monopoly game called “reorganization”. The companies fish out big bucks to give you outplacement as a part of their severance package, mainly to absolve themselves of the guilt they would otherwise feel at having pushed you out after years of what may have  been loyal and productive service. One of my editor friends calls it “calling the priest”. They must take comfort in the knowledge that come Monday morning, you wouldn’t be completely lost, you will have a place to go to and people to talk to. There would be a phone and a make believe office and the secretarial pool, and even a pseudo-boss. Sort of sending you on to a halfway house, instead of discarding you cold turkey and leaving you out in the open all by yourself.

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