Leaving a job? This is how to negotiate your exit

Your severance package often isn’t the only thing on the table. Be sure to investigate the following.

Leaving a job? This is how to negotiate your exit

Before you leave a job, check your severance and benefits.

You’re familiar with negotiating the details when you’re offered a job, but how about when you lose a job? That’s right: If you get laid off or resign from a job, you shouldn’t sign your exit papers without taking time to carefully investigate what you can negotiate. In fact, you may have more leverage than you think.

Read your employee handbook

You likely received a welcome packet when you were hired, or maybe it came as a digital file in an email from HR. If you’re like most employees, you didn’t pay much attention to it—or even crack it open. Well, now is the time to examine your employee handbook closely, says Rich Diaz, president at Advanced Resources, a staffing and outsourcing solutions provider.

Your handbook will cover pertinent information related to compensation, benefits, rights, rules, and procedures, including the employee exit process. Closely analyzing these terms can help you improve your negotiating position.

Negotiate your severance package

Many employers offer severance pay, although “a lot of them don’t have a policy set in place, so the terms are negotiable,” says career coach Julie Jansen, author of You Want Me to Work With Who?

If your employer doesn’t offer a standard severance package, talk to former co-workers to find out what severance they received, Jansen recommends. (Legally, employers should be consistent in the way they handle severance, Diaz says.)

Also, consider how you’d like to be paid, and whether you’ll be compensated for unused vacation days or paid time off. Would you prefer cash in the form of a lump sum or an extension of your salary? The latter could be a better option if you don’t have your next job lined up yet, says Nancy H. Segal, owner of HR consulting firm Solutions for the Workplace, LLC.

“It’s always easier to find a job when you already have a job,” she explains, “and many companies will say that you’re still actively employed [if you’re still receiving your salary], even if you’re not technically coming to work every day.”

Review your severance agreement carefully—consulting with legal council can help ensure you’re getting a great package.

Ace the exit interview

Many employers conduct formal exit interviews with departing employees. (If yours doesn’t, you can still request one.) This is an opportunity for you to leave with your good reputation intact. To do that, though, you’ll want to keep any of your more-critical opinions to yourself.

“A lot of people make the mistake of talking negatively to their boss when they’re on their way out, but last impressions are crucial,” says Diaz.

Instead, use this time to remind your boss of all of your accomplishments and contributions to the company. By having a positive conversation, you'll be better positioned to ask for a reference, which you should absolutely request. Ideally, you want to get a written letter of recommendation that you can provide to prospective employers in the future.

If you received employee reviews during your tenure, your exit interview is also a good time to ask for hard copies. “This way, you can demonstrate your strong performance to future employers,” Segal says.

Ask for your benefits to be extended

If you’re going to have time in between jobs, you don’t want to have a gap in health insurance. You may be able to retain your benefits for a bit longer if your employer is willing to pay out your severance out over time. But check with your local unemployment office before asking for this option, as it could affect when you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Request a job search allowance

Depending on your company, your position, and how long you’ve been working at the organization, if you get laid off, your employer may be willing to pay or reimburse for some of your job search expenses, says Segal. These might cover costs such as using an outplacement firm or hiring a professional resume writer.

If they’re not willing to do this, don’t despair. Need some professional resume help? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. It’s a quick and easy way Monster can take some of the burden off your shoulders when you’re jumping into a job search.

This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Always seek the advice of an attorney regarding any legal questions you may have.