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Negotiating A Smooth Job Exit
Few experiences pack more wallop, add more burden, and unleash more emotion than a job loss. But like other major life events, unemployment or resignation from a job is a powerful teacher and offers valuable lessons for laid-off professionals. Since you can’t eliminate the possibility of a job loss, you should always be prepared to deal with it. With that uncertainty in mind, here are twelve guideposts that will help you negotiate a smooth exit.
- First and foremost, obtain a reference statement from your ex-company. Strive to get an “official agreement” with your ex-company about why you left. Do this as soon as possible. You will also need to know who is going to handle all reference check calls and what is going to be said. You didn't want anyone handling your reference calls that may have residual tension or ill feelings towards you. You want and need a fair, balanced evaluation.
- Keep this thought in mind for leverage. No matter what the circumstances of your departure, your former company would like to see you re-employed quickly so they can minimize any unpleasant reverberations in the company, legally or within the industry. To stay above reproach, never disparage your employer to customers and never solicit other employees to follow you.
- Prior to leaving, concentrate on what you can do to create a smooth transition. There is no legal principle for the two-week notice; however, it has been customary for the last forty years to do so. If the boss says “I thought you were happy here,” simply reply “Yes, I was very happy, but it’s just time to move on and pursue other interests.”
- Your position is strongest when you alone have been singled out for firing. It’s weakest when your entire department has been let go. That is clearly a job elimination, and you then have to appeal to the company’s sense of fairness and decency to pay attention to your special case.
- If you don’t get what you want, go to the person who fired you and tell them what you’re seeking. By then, the guilt has sunk in and your ex-boss wants to get this over with. That is when exceptions are made.
- You have everything to win if you negotiate forcefully but quietly. Don’t make some terrible threat that causes the company to dig in its heels and say “If you want to sue, go ahead.” The truth is, the company has more attorneys and deeper pockets than you do.
- Legal suits are difficult to win. Successful suits are difficult to win even if you’re in a group protected by anti-discrimination law: women, minorities, people with disabilities, and people over forty years of age. Lawsuits are almost impossible to win if you are white, male, and under the age of forty. Even if you prevail, you may seriously hurt your chances of getting a new position. Very few companies want to hire someone who has sued his/her previous employer.
- Have a labor attorney review your severance agreement. The attorney can coach you, let you know what payouts are standard in your field, and help draft or redraft your severance agreement. You need an expert in employment law, not a friendly generalist. You can get listing of specialists from The National Employment Lawyers Association, www.nela.org, or call (415) 227-4655.
- Request four weeks severance pay for each year of service but be happy with three and settle for two. If possible, try to delay the date when your package begins paying off. In other words, negotiate to stay on the payroll so you can receive your regular salary and benefits for as long as possible. You will end up with more money and the company can claim that your package was no more generous than anyone else’s - meaning that no precedents were set.
- Pick the right time to leave. If your company gives a yearly bonus or distributes profit sharing at a certain time of year and that time is near, plan to resign after receiving your payouts.
- Pension bridging is hard to win because federal law says a company can’t change its pension rules just for you. What it can do is keep you on the payroll, sending you a small monthly check for up to five years. That enables you to preserve your full pension even if you are only fifty years old; you will also find that in most pension plans the earliest age that a pension kicks in is usually fifty-five.
- Obtain letters of recommendation. Get a well-worded letter of recommendation, preferably on company letterhead (company policies will vary widely on this). It costs the company nothing and should be easy “give”. Ask to approve the wording of the letter, which should credit your major accomplishments and positively explain why you are leaving.
-Joe Hodowanes, Career Strategy Advisor
J.M. Wanes & Associates
Joe Hodowanes, M.P.A., SPHR, is a nationally recognized career coach, syndicated columnist, and president of Tampa-based J.M. Wanes & Associates, www.jmwanes.com. J.M. Wanes & Associates is a career coaching, outplacement, and executive search firm specializing in executive-level opportunities.