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updated: 7/13/2014 6:18 AM

Work Advice: Leaving a job, by decree and by design

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  • Once a company lays you off, you shouldn't keep helping them out. Offer to answer questions for a consultant fee, says workplace expert Karla L. Miller in this week's advice column.

    Once a company lays you off, you shouldn't keep helping them out. Offer to answer questions for a consultant fee, says workplace expert Karla L. Miller in this week's advice column.
    Associated Press file


Q: I was laid off nearly a year ago. When I left, I received quite a few warm messages from my colleagues, but such messages soon ended.

Since then, former colleagues have reached out to me only when they need something: "How did you deal with this issue?" or "Who were your contacts at this federal agency, as I want to pick them up?" Some of the queries are from people with whom I never directly worked; I sense that the supervisor who laid me off is referring them to me.

For those with whom I was not close, I ignore or brush off their inquiries. For those I consider friends, I answer in fairly general terms.

I still harbor some bitterness over my layoff, especially since I am now, at age 61, working two part-time jobs with no benefits. The requests for help rankle me, especially since they are devoid of genuine concern about me as a person. How would you handle this -- and how should I deal with any future queries?

A: Just because your employer decided to stop paying for your expertise doesn't mean you have to start providing it free, or, like Boxer the horse in "Animal Farm," ride meekly off into the sunset on the knacker's wagon.

The proper response to requests from strangers is: "I would be happy to help. My consulting fee is $XX per hour or portion thereof. I can forward you my standard contract for approval."

When closer colleagues whom you would enjoy seeing again approach you, ask them to meet for lunch or coffee. While you're tossing a few general suggestions their way, ask them about job leads or consulting opportunities. That's not giving away your expertise -- it's bartering useful information.

If any contacts prove especially helpful to you, you can start providing more detailed advice to them. That's how strong business relationships -- and sometimes, genuine friendships -- are forged.

Q: It looks like my husband's employer is going to transfer us overseas for a couple of years. It's a long process; once the transfer is confirmed, it will be almost a year before we go. When should I tell my boss? It seems like I should give more than two weeks' notice!

A: Call me a cynic, but I wouldn't bring it up any further in advance than I could afford to go without a paycheck.

Two weeks is common courtesy; any warning beyond that should be based on how much time the company genuinely needs to prepare for your departure -- not how far in advance you know you'll be leaving. Of course, the real challenge is in keeping a major life change like this a secret from co-workers.

But that doesn't mean you can't tidy up the runway in your last year. Document your tasks to make it easier for someone to step into your shoes, and keep an eye out for good candidates to succeed you as the transfer approaches.

• Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.

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