Business Q & A

A conversation with Chris Wallace

Chris Wallace has seen a lot of misery in her career — and has helped turn some of it to smiles.

Wallace is Wichita's doyenne of outplacement — the process of showing layoff victims how to find new jobs. It's part anger-management counseling, part career advising, part teaching and part cheerleading.

She recently was laid off herself when her employer, Right Management, decided to close its local office and handle clients via phone and Internet.

So Wallace, who had sold her outplacement business to Right in 2004, restarted Wallace Associates. She offers outplacement services, as well as executive coaching, life coaching and career testing.

Wallace has two grown children.

What is outplacement?

"When an organization has to downsize or lay off individuals, it will hire an outplacement consultant to help them with their job-search skills. That can be everything from helping them get over the traumatic loss of their job and then help figure out what to do and what it is they want to do with the rest of their lives. And then I assist them with all the necessary skills, marketing themselves, resume development, interviewing, how to find the hidden job market, technology, etc."

How do you counsel them?

"For many people it is the worst thing that has ever happened to them, similar in a way to the death of a loved one or a divorce. You have to go through those stages of anger, denial and sadness and eventually acceptance. Really a lot of what we do and why they hire us is to go through that process and then focus on the future and not the anger toward their former employer or the sadness. People can go into a real depression over it. So it's a lot of counseling and helping them focus on the future and looking at what are their skills, what are their interests, what are their values. 'Where do you envision the rest of your life?' It's amazing how quickly people do adjust, especially in this economy where it's so common."

You said you help them find the hidden job market. What is that?

"The hidden job market is where the majority of jobs are for professionals and those the jobs that are not advertised anywhere.... The key to a successful jobs search is about networking with people"

Why aren't these jobs advertised?

"They may be replacing somebody who doesn't know they are being replaced or it could be they don't want to get bombarded with a million resumes from people who aren't qualified. Or they don't want to pay a fee to a headhunter."

How did feel about your own layoff?

"I looked at it as an opportunity. Typically when it gets to a point when there are multiple layoffs and downsizings, it's not a particularly positive environment."

Was it hard to restart your company?

"I've done this for 20-something years and, I don't want to sound arrogant, but when people think of career management or outplacement, they think of me because I've done it so long and, frankly, there's nobody else in Wichita doing it."

Why is there nobody else?

"There used to be me and Right, and I sold out to Right. It's a real cyclical market; '09 was a real record year with all of the layoffs. It has slowed down in '10, and that's good because we're always on the front end of a recovery: when people stop laying off business slows down."

Why should companies use outplacement? It's just an added expense.

"Those companies that really do care about their employees and do care about their brand going forward use it.... They want to be a good corporate citizens."

Now, you've added executive coaching. What is that?

"Usually it applies to a professional who might need a coach to help them get back on track, or they could potentially be an emerging leader or somebody who the organization believes will be leaders, but needs some specific coaching. Or it could be somebody who is new to their executive role.... We've worked on things like how to communicate with their team or how to hold people accountable.... Everybody has blind spots. Everybody could use a trusted advisor who is totally neutral.

"I'm coaching one right now where he's just too rough around the edges — maybe inappropriate language, cussing, but that is the environment he came from, but in the new environment, it's not good."

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