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Rapid-fire Round on Negotiating Your Employment Contracts

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When do you hand over your compensation summary?

Maybe never.

The recruiter or the employer will surely ask, "What's your current compensation?" Answer with an approximate figure justified by your summary. At that point he may say:

"Well, that's in our ballpark. We can certainly come up with an attractive incentive."



If so, don't go further. Keep your summary in your attaché. Obviously you're going to get a tempting offer.

On the other hand, your current compensation may spark a reaction like this:

"Wow! That's certainly more than I would have thought. How do you come up with that number?"

If so, you're prepared to handle compensation in the strongest, yet least disruptive, possible way:

"Well, I did a little figuring before I came over here. I didn't want to waste your time, if what I already have is close to what you'll be offering. When you have a few minutes, you can look this over and see if it's something you can see fit to improve upon."

(Hand over your paper.)

"By the way, are you having any problem with the new emission standards?"

See what your paper does? It lets you register...without being at all boastful, obnoxious, or tedious...all facets of the good deal you already have. And you do so without skipping a beat in the central conversation that is convincing your host that you're the person who best understands his business and can do the most to build it...the person he needs, regardless of cost.

Today executive compensation packages are hardly ever simple and straightforward. They have to be studied to be understood. How anyone will fare in years one, two, three, and beyond in leaving X Company to join Y Corp., which has different programs, requires careful analysis.

Chances are, the person you hand your "summary" to won't even attempt to evaluate it himself. He'll have it looked at by his compensation expert, who can authoritatively analyze what you have, compared to various proposals he might make.

The result will be an offer your prospective employer is comfortably sure will be attractive to you. Moreover, it will probably be accompanied by a visual aid that clearly showed him...and now proves to you...what the advantages of his offer are.

The best way to negotiate is to avoid having to do much negotiating at all. Do your homework right away. And let your would-be employer know as quickly and clearly as possible what you're already getting. He's a lot more likely to make you an offer you can't refuse if he's thoroughly aware of what you can refuse.

Now let's discuss contracts. Can you get one?

Yes!

Play your cards right and you can almost certainly put your new employer under a written obligation. And if you're smart, you'll surely try to do so.

As you may recall from your Business Law course in college, a verbal contract is just as enforceable as a written one. But only if, by its terms, it's to be performed within one year. This, of course, becomes important if you are looking for a firm agreement of employment to last more than a year.

Indeed, if you only have an oral agreement, it had better not promise anything that can't be performed in a year. Otherwise, the whole agreement can't be enforced...even the parts that can be performed within a year.

And of course "time protection" for more than a year is usually the main thing an employee tries to negotiate. When she tells her would-be employer, "I want a contract," she's saying:

"I want to be sure, before I give up the secure job I have, that you can't casually dump me on the street in no time at all, and for no good reason."

And in his traditional reluctance to provide a written "contract," the employer is saying:

"That's exactly what I want to be sure I can do. I can't manage my business unless I'm completely free to pick and change my team at any time and for any reason."

How do these seemingly irreconcilable views get resolved?

By compromise. The executive asks for a four- or five-year "contract," and the employer comes up with two-years, or less. Seldom will a company commit itself for five years to an executive who isn't already on its payroll.

Consider the "Termination Agreement." It's better than an X-year "Contract"...and easier to get.

The employee wants firing to be permissible only for criminal acts...and maybe also insanity, wanton negligence, or gross incompetence. The employer, on the other hand, wants just about any reason to suffice, as long as time parameters are respected. In the end, the employer will usually get plenty of leeway as to cause for firing. The employee will hold out for...and achieve...Howe protection, which is basically all he ever hoped for anyway.

Which brings us to the advantages of a "termination agreement" over a straight X-year "contract." Employers who are unwilling to grant two- and three-year contracts will usually be more amenable to an 18-month...or if you can't do better a 12-month...termination agreement which says, in effect:

"You can fire me at any time for any reason. But you must give me 18- months' notice, or at least keep me on the payroll for 18 months afterward."

This arrangement doesn't tie the employer's hands, and it doesn't box him in for an exceedingly long time. So he's more willing to go along with it.

And for all practical purposes, you receive even better protection than under a two- or three-year "contract." Security under those deals soon elapses to zero. But with an 18-month termination agreement, there's always a year-and-a- half of future paychecks. Even if you become CEO at $1.4 million per year, you can still whip out the termination agreement you got when you joined the company as a zone manager at $ 102,000 ten years earlier. You'll collect $2.1 million during the next 18 months...thanks very much!

There are contracts... and there are C O N T R A C T S! On the one hand, there are handshake agreements, written into an "offer letter." And then there are "employment contracts," hammered out by opposing lawyers. If you can get ideal protection from something simple and friendly, don't hold out for "big deal" paperwork.
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