Is your spouse insisting on an employability expert interview for YOU for your divorce? It may not be as bad as you think. T.H. shares her experience having to use one in her divorce, and Rona Wexler tells us what to expect and how to take the learnings to help yourself.
- “No matter what comes up, you don’t have to go back to work”
- Employability experts do not provide employment – just guidance of possible employment
- The choices you make could affect your lifestyle
OUR GUEST – RONA WEXLER, THE EMPLOYABILITY EXPERT
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS Divorce, etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re Jessica and T.H.
TH: Welcome Rona Wexler to our podcast today. Rona is an employability expert referred to me from another one of our awesome exEXPERTs. Welcome to our podcast.
Rona: Thank you. Thanks for having me and thanks for having me talk to your audience.
Jessica: Thank for being here.
Jessica: Thanks for being here because I think that so many people don’t know what this is. We’re really excited to be able to talk about it.
TH: I was probably two years into my divorce and then an employability expert crossed my path. I was like, what is that? Who is that? I had a career. I’m only unemployed a year, and I’ve got a job that I started in my home. Who is this and why do I need her or him as part of my divorce? That’s why we wanted to have you on the podcast today, so you can answer those kinds of questions for other people.
Rona: Terrific. Glad to.
Jessica: I was going to say where does it even start with people? I mean, are you brought in through someone’s lawyers? Are the people calling you directly initially? Give us part of the process of having your involvement.
Rona: Most of the time the lawyer calls me directly. Most of the time, particularly in the New England, New York, and New Jersey area, the lawyers know me, or know of me, and they know the work I’ve done. They could have been on the other side of the case and know the work I’ve done. I’ve gotten many calls about that. Occasionally, I do get calls directly from the person who is inquiring about the services, either because they believe that their spouse is underemployed, suddenly underemployed which arouses a lot of suspicion, we call that Sudden Income Deficit Syndrome, SIDS, or someone has been out of the workforce for a while and there really is concern about that person needs to go back to work, and how are they going to do it. And what does it mean? And how much are they going to earn? And how long is it going to take? What about the economy? And what effect does that have? And then sometimes, oftentimes, I get from the clients themselves, in particular, why do I even need this in the first place? I used to get that from lawyers a long time ago, but much less as the years went by. During divorce, the question comes down, as it always does after custody and some other property is settled, it’s all about the money. There is concern about the person who is being evaluated as to what are they going to tell me I’m supposed to earn, how is that going to affect any kind of maintenance or what they call rehabilitative maintenance, getting you back on your feet kind of maintenance, or I’m so old, even at the age of 46, that I can’t possibly get a job, and all kinds of things. Sometimes there are medical issues involved, including psychological, which can really impact somebody. At that time, they call me to see well, what is the story? What can you see? What research do you need? And that’s when I come into play. My job is to understand what that person’s employability is now, what it would be if they had some time to get more training, to get a refresher, to migrate into something else, such as opening their own business, which is something I don’t evaluate that much, because, again, it’s all about what’s the money coming in. And what balance do they need to do and when can they start? How long is it going to take to get rehired, if that’s the case? Sometimes it seems so obvious that somebody says, “Why can’t I go into the Bureau of Labor Statistics or just go online and get the pay scale and just find out what the money is?” and “This is what I think it should be.” The problem is none of those pay scale sources and things like Glassdoor online, they’re not valid. They’re not validated. And so it’s all self reporting, which means that it can be questionable as a reliable source in a case. Frequently, the people who are doing it or looking at it don’t know what they’re looking at and what it really means, and how you really measure it. And for that, you need an expert.
Jessica: Can I just stop for a second, because I feel like–I did not have an employability expert involved in my situation, but I feel like–I remember when TH was having one in hers, and she has her business degree, she has her MBA, a corporate career, and then stopped and then she was raising the kids and was out of work for a while. I remember thinking to myself, when I found out that that her ex was bringing in an employability expert like what if the employability expert says she should be making $100,000 a year?
The employability expert isn’t a headhunter. I think that there are probably a lot of people who are listening being like, yeah, that’s great, have someone come in and tell me if I should be worth all of this money in a career. Where am I getting that job? Where is the guarantee? How am I now going to be on the hook in my divorce agreement for X amount of money based on a job that I don’t even have?
Rona: Good point–
TH: Hang on, let me just share my story,
because it might resonate, and then you can do the explaining, because, first of all, I was insulted that I needed an employability expert. I lost my job, because the huge company was shut down because of a tax crime, which is justified, but we all lost our jobs. It wasn’t like I chose to leave my job. I chose to work with three kids under the age of eight, so I had no problem working. I had my education so that I could work and continue to grow my career. So then I go and I meet this person, and I felt like I was in school again, being tested with forms and stuff. It was a very humbling experience, and I felt like she is really going to write a report about my ability to be successful in my career based on these bubbles that I filled out? I want to do a good job because I’m smart, but maybe I don’t care if I don’t do a good job, because then I’ll make less money, right? But just what Jessica’s saying, I was told that I should be able to make $90,000. I’m like great, where’s the job? Where is it? That’s great in theory.
Rona: Let me break that down piece by piece.
TH: Please do.
Rona: Alright, first of all, we do a labor market survey. We understand, we also calculate–let me back up for a moment. Very often, when your husband was requesting this through his attorney, he probably in my mind, and from my experience, I’ve been doing this for 20 years easily, he probably had an idea that you can hop right back into your job, and not necessarily consider the timeout that had taken place, what you’d been doing in the meantime, whether those jobs were truly available right now in the current market, how they might have changed, etc. I cannot tell you how many times I hear from both parties, “You have no idea how smart she is. She has this great degree, she has a Master’s, she’s definitely capable, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be earning.” I’m very clear when I talk to the other party, that may or may not be the case, and it’s up to me to investigate that. However, it doesn’t mean I can provide a job. But what it does mean is whenever anybody is out of work for any significant period of time, meaning any more than let’s say you tried looking for a job, and after 12 months, you still hadn’t gotten one, or you’ve been out of work for some time, because you were raising kids, you were taking care of a family member, all kinds of different reasons. I will always recommend that that person engage the services of a career job search coach and have the time to do it. The resources are for the parties to discuss, but at least I put it out there. You cannot expect this person to achieve this without some support and current knowledge about what it takes to get work today. [Absolutely] The other thing I tell both, no matter who it is, is I am under an ethical and legal obligation to be objective in my work, which means that just because someone retained me, doesn’t mean I may come up with the opinion that they thought that I should. I make sure that any party I interview understands that. Secondly, if a number comes up within a certain span of time, it’s given to the lawyers and the parties to negotiate. If in fact it goes to a judge, I have no control about how much weight that judge or arbitrator will give it. They may give it a lot of weight, and I’ve seen my opinion mentioned in court cases. They also may not. But one of the things that an employability expert’s work does is to begin to break the ice jam about “I know you can go back to work and earn this much money,” versus “No I can’t” and “Why are you making me do this?” because we are looking to insert a reality check into this, what is real. It is not uncommon for me to speak to a person asking for that evaluation for their spouse, for me to say, “This is not realistic. I think we need to talk for a moment about what your expectations are. Okay?” Now, sometimes your expectations are more wishes, and then they’re actually more realistic. These are things that I have to explain to them as we go down the pipe. So part of what I’m doing is kind of managing that piece of the divorce a little bit in terms of, “Here’s the reality. Now it’s up to you two and your attorneys to find some common ground.”
Jessica: Can I ask what percentage would you say of your work, with regards to divorce, is based around a parent or spouse that has not worked, either ever, or since they’ve had kids? Right, so let’s use a stay at home mom, for example.
Rona: Yep, or dad.
Jessica: Or dad, exactly. Versus a spouse coming in and saying they used to make a million dollars as a banker. Now all of a sudden, he’s a teacher in an impoverished neighborhood, and he’s making $20,000 a year. I’m curious to know, like the workload, what percentage is based off of people going back to work and getting back into the workforce versus people with the sudden income deficit problem?
Rona: It’s hard to break it down by percentages. I will say that most of the people, a very good percentage, probably at least 35% of the people have been out of work taking care of family. Or maybe there are some medical issues as well, and that creates a whole other thing that I have to investigate too. And if somebody is claiming that there were medical issues about this, they need to be able and willing to supply medical records and statements from a physician, otherwise it’s really very subjective, right? As far as the Sudden Income Deficit Syndrome, or people who decide to change careers, I frequently hear from people that he’s doing this on purpose, and sometimes it really isn’t. I do a lot of work with people from Wall Street and there are a lot of things that have changed a great deal from then, and certainly after the Great Recession, but even now, like someone who trades as a trader in certain types of products, that job is changing dramatically. Those people are not really going to be able to earn that same kind of money. That’s a very difficult pill for the spouse to swallow. I just met with someone yesterday, who assumed because the husband is making a very good living as a high power professional, and I was going through something with her, I said, “Well, let’s say on a very conservative side, given the new rules, the new guidelines, that you’ll get five, maybe seven years. I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know, and it’s all very speculative, but what I’m seeing is this.” And she paused, and I went, “Were you expecting something different?” and she goes, “I was thinking about 11 or 12.” And I said, “Well, I’m sorry, I just don’t think that’s going to happen, and you should be prepared for the other.” The other thing I do tell people though, because I get folks in who really don’t want to go back to work, particularly a stay at home parent. They really want to ride it out, really be there for their kids, and it’s been their life for a very significant period of time. It’s been their identity. It’s hard to switch gears. So the one thing I do tell them is, no matter what the opinion is, no matter what number comes up, or how much time you’re going to think about for you to get back on your feet, nobody is telling you, you have to go back to work.
Jessica: Well, that’s not true though, because your circumstances may be 100% telling you that you have to go back to work if you’re–
Rona: Ah ha, but you can make choices. Now, sometimes the choices are very difficult. How can I possibly have my children be supported in the way I want? How are we going to stay in the same home? How are we going to do this? If I don’t go back to work and start earning something, or the money is going to run out at a certain point of time when the child support is done.
Jessica: You’re saying change your lifestyle?
Rona: Yes, that’s right. You have to make choices about your lifestyle. I have many clients, or people I evaluate on the other side as well, who tell me a whole lot of stuff I really don’t need to know, but they need to be listened to. One of the things they’ll talk about is how important this house is. This 4500 square foot house, where the kids are going to be out in another three or four years, and it means everything. And that’s when I sometimes say maybe they need a divorce coach to put their mindset back into–I’ve become very much a believer in good divorce coaching, because it is situational, it’s not necessarily therapy, it gives you tools and knowledge and confidence to do what you need to do. I think it’s become more and more important. People get really stuck. My role is to help people get unstuck about this. I will refer them to career advisors that I know, career coaches that I have personally vetted and know whether we’re getting good feedback on them. Sometimes I used to give them a choice of two to three at least, and sometimes I just give them one because I know that is the right person for them. Actually, someone just chose someone, and I’m like good. I’m glad they chose that person, because that’s what they really needed. So that’s part of what I do. Now, the other last thing I wanted to point out is, while all of this sounds very–a lot of times–let’s say it’s a teacher, and somebody’s saying, “Well, first of all, teaching jobs are going to become much more prevalent now because COVID has really pushed a lot of teachers to retire.” However, let’s say something relatively straightforward. I know where my resources are, it’s not super complicated. The person who’s paying for the evaluation will say, “What do we really need this for? I mean, really, any dummy could really figure this out and the judge should be able to understand.” Here’s the problem. The judge has to base a decision on facts, on factual evidence, and that is reliable. And why is it reliable? Because it’s been presented by an expert who knows the ins and outs of it because the other attorney is going to challenge it anyhow. One of the reasons they often do appoint me as a neutral or get this going is because they don’t want it to get appealed. This could easily be appealed if they can’t–I did bring in an expert and this is what this person said. So that’s another reason why they do it. They want to make sure that whatever evidence they’re using is validated and reliable by someone who knows the difference.
TH: Let me ask you just quickly to take us through a general how the process would go? Like, okay, I have an appointment with you today. What happens to me?
Jessica: Yeah, that’s great.
TH: What do you do to me from your process so that people listening know what to generally expect?
Rona: Of course. So first of all, and the first thing I’m going to do once the retainer is signed, and I get my payment, is we make sure that we make a request for the interview. Sometimes it’s very willingly accepted. Of course, if it’s the person that I’m evaluating who’s paying me, that’s easy. On the other side, there could be many issues. Occasionally, an attorney will sit in as an observer only, no questions. It’s not a deposition. I try to keep it fairly relaxed and friendly.
Jessica: Their attorney or the other person’s attorney?
TH: Well, that won’t be relaxed with an attorney.
Rona: The evaluated party’s attorney will there.
TH: Oh, okay. So you’ve got a friend.
Jessica: So if your own attorney. Okay, got it.
Rona: However, sometimes because of that, the other attorney will send in an associate or be there as well. My rule is this is not a deposition, it is my interview. It is very different than the deposition. There are no objections. We’re having a conversation. That’s it.
Jessica: But you have to let in the other side’s lawyer if they want to sit in?
Rona: If they really insist. Yes. But when it’s in person, I make them sit behind the person.
Jessica: Right, sure. So they can’t see them.
Rona: I mean, this is my interview, and I’m very clear about that. Most of the attorneys are pretty cool about it. A lot of them have worked with me on both sides, so they know what the process is. Sometimes it’s the individual who’s nervous, or who says they’re nervous. A lot of times, I think it’s the attorney who just wants to be there and says that the person is nervous. I can’t tell you any one person who hasn’t left my interview who had said, “You know, this really was different than I expected. It was actually kind of helpful.”
Jessica: What’s involved in that interview process?
TH: Right, because I did a lot of testing.
Rona: Okay. I’m sorry to cut you off. So vocational evaluators, I was smiling when you said that, is we come from a testing modality. That’s what people expect. They think the courts want that. Don’t forget, they’re also testing people who are in rehabilitation, like injuries and things of that nature, so they have to do that stuff. Almost all of the people, I would say 80% of the people that I interview, have some form of good education, a college degree, advanced degrees. I’m not going to give you those kinds of tests. I’m not going to give you an intelligence test. I’m not going to give you all that stuff. One of the things they do for people who, because this is not unusual in terms of “Well, I used to do that as a career. I never get back in and I’m not interested in doing it now. ” Then they give you the bubble stuff to see what your interests are. I’m not going to disparage them, because people use them. A lot of my fellow experts use them. I do not find them particularly helpful, and I don’t find them that helpful for the kind of report that I have to provide. When I interview somebody, I go through a resume if they have it, old and current. If they don’t have that, they just write down their work history. If they have a LinkedIn profile, we’ll use that as a basis. A lot of times it’ll give me a summary. I ask how much they made. I ask to see their Social Security earnings statement, not their tax return, just the Social Security earnings statement, so I get a history. You’d be surprised at the blips and the waves that occur.
TH: So it’s hard for them to lie?
Rona: Yeah. Well, yeah. And by the way, even the most computer-less literate person can figure out how to get that earning statement. It amazes me how they can that, and they do so willingly. Actually, they have nothing to hide. They’re usually right on top of it. Then I will go through their work history to understand, as though I were interviewing them for a job. What did you do? How did you get the offer? How did you find the job? Tell me what other sources that you used to introduce you. What did you learn? What was your biggest takeaway? How did that build your knowledge base? Then we’d go on to the next job. Very simple stuff, kind of like what I did when I was a recruiter. Okay, that’s how I do it, because that’s going to give me a sense of your strengths and weaknesses, because they’re going to ask about both. What did you do well? What were your performance evaluations? Half of them can’t remember, especially if they’ve been out of a workforce, but it’s amazing how much they can. And then I’ll use that to build my record of skills and abilities and how I will consider them to be transferred to the similar role or new roles that they hadn’t thought of. That’s called the transferable skills analysis. That’s a fundamental piece of that, and then we will use that to look at jobs that would use those skills and abilities. Then I look at the labor market and try to do a reality check about how realistic is that? Are there jobs out there for that? If someone is being advised that they could go into a whole different career that is very difficult to enter, like finance for example, I’m going to discount that because I don’t think it makes much sense. But what else can they do? Also, if they’ve been out of it for a while, what do they need to do to refresh their skills? So it could be if you’re in marketing, it might be getting some intensives in social media and understanding more about digital communication. If it’s a lawyer, there are refresher courses you can do for that and other kinds of professions. If they’ve lost their professional license, or usually it’s in a band, it’s in retirement status, what is it going to take to get it back? And then we look at the marketplace and see what jobs matched and what the strength is. I also look at the liabilities, what are the concerns, things like health to a certain degree, especially if there’s a child with special needs. If there’s a lot of disagreement about the special needs between the two parents, especially during divorce, then I try to just indicate that that’s there. That’s for the lawyers to work out. I don’t negotiate.
TH: That’s a hard thing. I would imagine age would play a role also, right?
Rona: Age plays a role, gender for sure. It’s gotten better, no question, but age is a definite piece, and in certain industries it’s a big piece, because if you’re in Wall Street, by the time you’re in your mid 50s, you’re going to be done. You’ve made your money, please go. We’ve got young hotshots who want to get promoted. And also, some of what you were doing may not be quite what the new thing is that’s taking place right now. I don’t counsel during these sessions, these interviews, they’re only usually one. Mine are longer than some. They’re about two hours, because I really want to get some depth. Part of it is letting them know that even though I’m not coaching or counseling, I may make suggestions about something else. A lot of people who come really do want to get back to work, as opposed to those that really don’t. On one case I can remember very clearly, and also there are a lot of issues about the divorce that come into the employment piece that has nothing to do with the employment. I remember a lawyer who could not recall her first job out of law school, could not recall. Now that is someone who has been deliberately vague. Who doesn’t remember your first job?
Jessica: Of course, of course.
Rona: Who doesn’t remember your first professional job? The others may fade away, but you do remember that. I often get discussions with spouses about the other spouse being a bit, you know, he’s going to lie, you know, she’s going to just minimize what she can do. And some do that, and I’ve had cases like that. It’s more fun when they’ve done that in the areas that I placed people in.
Jessica: That would be really funny.
Rona: Like, I used to place a lot of marketing people, and in one of my cases someone was saying, “I wasn’t anything more than a coordinator.” Well, then, for some reason, without my asking, they got her performance appraisals from this big company. She’d only been out about seven or eight years, and she was significantly more than a coordinator. And I understood exactly what she was doing. And so that’s basically it.
Jessica: So I feel like there’s so much more to talk about, because this process goes on and on, but we’ve got to wrap it up for now. But we definitely want to have you back to talk about furthering into that process and what questions people have for you as an employability expert, things that they might need to know coming into it. So for people who want to reach out to you directly, what are the best ways for them to find you?
Rona: Well, there’s always my website, I think you have my information about my phone number, as well as my email address. I welcome those calls. I also recommend that they have their lawyer contact me. I mean, I’ll have an initial call with them, but oftentimes, they don’t always give me or understand what are the other aspects of this that I need to be aware of in order to take on the case. I’m always retained by the attorney, by the way, in order to protect privilege as much as possible. But the client, the attorney’s client will pay either the firm to pay me or pay me directly.
Jessica: Well, that’s also a good tidbit of information for people to know. So thank you so much for your time. It’s really interesting and such an important topic for people to know, so really appreciate it.
Rona: That’s a pleasure. Thank you.
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