Employment Writing in Group Outplacement Training Programs

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This dissertation provides an empirical account of rhetorical and writing practices in outplacement, which comprises a collection of for-profit and governmental organizations that offer consulting and counseling services to aid displaced professional workers—who are usually highly experienced in their fields—in finding new employment. Outplacement organizations offer training and support in job application letter, résumé, and networking script writing; capabilities assessment; job-finding strategies; networking and interview preparation; and ongoing opportunities for out-of-work people to provide each other with mutual support. Neither job-placement agencies nor recruiters, outplacement training programs are sites of teaching and learning that prepare experienced professionals to find new employment independently. In outplacement, out-of-work people learn to apply their professional capabilities to the task of finding new employment. Through participant observation in group outplacement training programs, interviews with outplacement practitioners and participants, and analyses of published outplacement training manuals and other textual artifacts produced by outplacement organizations, I discern three distinct ways in which outplacement consultants, the providers of the service, help outplacement candidates, the service’s recipients, to engage in rhetorical and writing-based job-finding practices. First, as they compose in practical job-finding genres by writing résumés, job application letters, and networking scripts, outplacement candidates learn to both identify their professional capabilities and connect them to new workplace opportunities. Second, as they compose in reflective genres, including those of life writing, outplacement candidates learn to negotiate tensions between their personal goals and the contemporary realities of professional employment. Third, as they learn job-search strategies that include tasks such as composing audio-visual job-finding texts and participating in both traditional and distance-mediated, multimodal employment interviews, outplacement candidates become familiar with technological innovations in personnel recruitment and learn how to adapt, throughout their careers, to the continually changing contexts of professional hiring practices. My dissertation makes a unique contribution to rhetoric and writing studies by focusing on the rhetorical and writing work that out-of-work people do at key moments of transition in their professional lives as they move from workforce displacement, through unemployment and outplacement, and toward reemployment.