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Be cautious of volunteering for severance

DEAR J.T. & DALE: My company went through a massive restructuring bizO-DautenOdonnel_DaleJanine_BizOlast year. They let about 15 percent of the staff go. Everyone was given generous severance packages with six months of pay. I just heard through the rumor mill that there’s going to be another round and I would love to be paid for six months off. I’ve been thinking about leaving this job, anyway. Is there a tactful way to volunteer to be part of the layoff? – Todd

Dale: When a company is paying large numbers of employees to go away, the future of that organization most likely is not rosy. Sure, there are exceptions (such as cyclical industries or a company dumping failing divisions), but the issue is this: Will the restructuring make the company better, or just smaller? Management inevitably says it’s the former, when it’s usually the latter. That’s why, when a company offers buyouts, the typical advice is to “take the money and run.” My advice is to run and then take the money. Run out now and work on your networking. Get a better job, one with a growing company, and then grab the severance package as soon as it’s offered. Don’t just get out; get on. Get on with your career by finding a company that can offer bonuses and promotions instead of severance.

J.T.: Agreed. But if you can’t make that work, you should know that the second round of severance packages is not always the same as the first round.

Dale: The second round happens because the first round failed, so the company has diminishing resources, including less concern and guilt about those being let go.

J.T.: So, until you’re sure what is being offered, I wouldn’t volunteer. It’s better to wait and see the offer. One final note: I wouldn’t assume that you can take six months off and find a new job after that. It can take several months to find a job and it will be harder to land one when you’re unemployed. So, ideally, you’d take Dale’s advice and start the process right away. Then, once you find something, negotiate time off before starting.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I have an interview coming up for a position that I really want. I am absolutely petrified! The last time I went on an interview, I completely bombed. I sweated and stumbled through the entire thing. What can I do this time? – Katie

Dale: We get this question a lot and I’ve been trying to put our inevitable answer into a new context. Here goes: Say you were told that, in a few weeks, you would be called onto a basketball court to shoot a free throw and, if you made it, you’d win $100,000. What would you do? Well, you’d practice free throws – of course! And if you were wise, you’d work to simulate the conditions you’d face – the same kind of facility, the tension and so on. And yet, as obvious as that answer is, most people never figure out that they need to practice job interviewing.

J.T.: Although, unlike shooting a free throw, most people go into a job interview not sure what to expect. That’s the source of most of the nervousness. This can be rectified with serious preparation. The more you know about how interviews work and what employers are looking for in the interview, the more prepared and confident you can be. And because this is such a common fear, I designed a course for called “Job Seeker’s Guide To Nailing Every Interview.” Having worked with a lot of nervous job-seekers, I knew they need a way to feel more in control and I wanted them to have an inside track on what to expect and how to best prepare for anything that can be thrown at them.

Dale: Part of the skill of acing job interviews is being able to anticipate most questions, but it’s also to go in having practiced handling offbeat questions, including ones you’re not sure how to answer.

J.T.: Yes, the secret is to over-prepare; it’s the antidote to nervousness.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.