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How to Negotiate Your Employment Contract

So you're giving up a fine job where you're comfortably settled, well respected, generously paid, and on a fast track toward bigger and better things. You're seizing an even greater opportunity.

Or maybe you're just winding up an agonizing period of unemployment you feared might never end. You're grasping a lifeline.

Either way, the question now is: What are you going to get?

The single most important...and the easiest...way to win a very good deal from a new employer is to make him or her fully aware of what a good deal you have where you are. Then the initial offer should be something you can graciously accept. Bargaining can be minimized or avoided altogether.

You're right, of course. Most companies don't want to hand you a document marked "Contract." Nevertheless, these days more and more corporations are putting more and more in writing.

And believe it or not, every time you start a new job, you can have an employment contract...even if you don't receive a paper with that title on it. You and I will make sure that your terms-of-employment are solidly nailed down...and as favorable as they can possibly be.

We'll also define the jargon you may be confronted with. And we'll review how you can pleasantly and reasonably speak up for what you want.

Before we talk about anything else, let's pause for a few words about the nature of compensation.

Just a few years ago-it seems only yesterday-we began reading about scores of twenty-somethings getting an idea, writing a business plan, getting "angel" and/or venture funding, working outrageous hours to spark an operation, doing an IPO, and-after a 1-year SEC curb on selling restricted shares and a 6-month lockup imposed by the underwriter-cashing in for millions of dollars.

And weren't we envious!

These kids had-still have-youth, good looks, and boundless energy. Plus, now they also have astonishing wealth. True, they worked unbelievably hard day and night to get it. But for how long? A year, two, maybe three. Max!

I hope you didn't buy expecting I could lead you to a similar result. I can't. For that kind of lightning to strike, you have to be standing in the just the right place at the just the right time with just the right people who are all willing to risk all the traditional wealth and status they have, which- conveniently for a beginner-is almost none.

Prepare a written summary of current compensation. It's as helpful as your resume in orienting recruiters and employers.

Take a look at the financial summary I prepare on the candidates I present. I've laid out the information as if you were preparing the chart for yourself.

Unfortunately, many recruiters don't bother to dig into current compensation. Moreover, you may be on your own, with no recruiter involved. So, unless you work up a financial review, chances are your proper figures won't be registered in the early stages when they'll do you the most good.

Indeed, you've probably got to do some figuring, just to find out for yourself where you stand. Nine out of ten executives I meet don't fully appreciate their current compensation until I prompt them to think about it in detail. In the end, of course, everyone always figures out to-the-penny what she's now making, in order to weigh the financial offer that accompanies an enticing opportunity. But by then it may be far too late to get the employer to think of you in the right price range.

Keep your summary as simple and objective as possible. Only discuss cash. Don't bring up FICA, insurance, medical, and other ordinary employee benefits that are likely to be comparable, wherever you go. That makes you look petty. If you get $328,000 straight salary and nothing else, say so.

But if you've got money coming at you from several directions, point out and add up everything. If you expect a raise or a promotion within the next several months, be sure the recruiter and the employer know what's coming. Your incentive to move must be figured on top of what you'll soon get where you are...not just on top of what you have at this very minute.

Even if you're unemployed, you want your prospective employer to realize what you're accustomed to getting. If she's sensitive and smart, she won't want you to feel that your duress has been taken advantage of. And, since you'll be nervous about asking more than she offers, you'll want to make doubly sure that her initial offer is as high as possible.
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