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What you need to know before you sign

Severance savvy

Industry Standard
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By Lessley Anderson

(IDG) -- Talk severance first: Before accepting a staff job, ask about the company's severance policy. If the firm pays the standard two weeks, or less, it can't hurt to ask for a modest increase.

"It shows thoroughness on your part," says Vito Bialla, a recruiter with San Francisco's Bialla and Associates.

Hire an attorney: As employment contracts grow ever more complicated, containing everything from stock option plans to acquisition and severance agreements, it pays to hire a lawyer for an hour or two to review the paperwork, says marketing consultant Allison Hemming, coordinator of the Pink Slip parties in New York.

"We're seeing people right now saying 'I didn't even know I could include an exit clause,'" says Hemming. "They were just so happy to get a job."

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Do your own research: Chat with others confidentially to see if they received a better severance deal, says Scott Bretschneider, an executive recruiter with San Francisco-based DHR International. If so, you can use the discrepancy as leverage to try to increase your payoff.

"I've seen a lot of people do this," says Bretschneider.

Take your boss on a guilt trip: If you get laid off, go to the executive with whom you have the best relationship and stress the contributions you've made to the organization.

Emphasize how hard it will be to find another job. Talk about why you need the money - your family, your mortgage, your worthless stock options.

"There is no script to inflict guilt," says labor attorney Cliff Palefsky. "But when you have no legal claims to severance, you use guilt."

Avoid idle threats: Since employers are not legally obliged to pay severance, threatening to sue -- particularly if you weren't promised anything -- could backfire.

Bialla says one of his clients who vowed to go to court over a two-week severance offer later regretted the move and even asked her old employer for a reference.

"The guy was laughing," says Bialla. "The person was totally naive and did a dumb thing. You don't need to use threats."

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