Dear Matt: I have been let go from my company and as part of my severance package I have been provided with an outplacement service to help with my job and career search. How do I get the most from this service?

Matt: It's not often you will get pre-paid career advice or help from a professional, so this is something I highly recommend you use to your advantage.

Outplacement firms help navigate through the changes and emotions you are going through, provide coaching and career counseling, skill assessments, résumé development, mock interviews, networking tips and job search strategies, among other services.

Trudy Canine, president of Pathfinder, a Minneapolis-based outplacement firm, says one of the biggest misunderstandings those who use an outplacement service have is that they don't have a choice when it comes to the consultant they work with. If you aren't comfortable with the person assigned to you, ask to work with a different person.

Meet with the consultant and have some key questions ready, says Canine. Is this person certified by the International Association of Career Management Professionals? Is he or she a person you feel comfortable with? What is the consultant's background and experience level? What was his or her background prior to assuming this role? What does he or she view as his or her own competitive edge in providing career management and outplacement?

"If you sense it is not a good match, or do not believe you will get what you think would work for you, go back to your company and ask if you can utilize another service that is more suited to you," says Canine.

It's also important to ask about the details of your outplacement package - what is included and how the provider and consultant will go about providing you with those services? Does it include individual and/or group coaching? Is career assessment and testing part of the package? How long is the service available for - and how many hours of individual one-on-one coaching will you actually receive? Ask about what flexibility is possible. Ask about the number of live, in-person coaching hours you will receive and hold them accountable to be sure you receive them.

"The more one-on-one time, the more the outplacement is customized to you," says Canine.

The more you prepare for, the more you can get out of the outplacement service.

Matt Krumrie is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, and has nine years of experience reporting on the employment industry. The first Sunday of each month this column will answer readers' questions. E-mail questions or subject ideas to