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Not only executives but all employees should push to have a contract when they are hired. Photo Eric Audras via Getty Images

Column: Why you should ask for an employment contract

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I’m a C-level executive, a chief information officer. I negotiated a good package for my new job. The company was unexpectedly accommodating. I have a nice bonus plan, profit-sharing and excellent health benefits. But someone recently asked me about my “employment contract.” I don’t have one. I thought only presidents and CEOs were given contracts. The person who brought this up says an employment contract “is the only real security you have.” Is it really necessary to have a contract, or is my written job offer signed by the company sufficient?

Nick Corcodilos: Even some of the most secure C-level executives should wonder just how secure their jobs are. Execs — like all job seekers — focus on the job search and on getting job offers. An entire employment industry stands ready to help them part with their cash in exchange for help — help in the form of job listings, resume writing, honing interviewing skills, tips on negotiating tactics, even sartorial advice.

But when all is said and done, job security is never addressed. It’s buried beneath the challenge of getting those job offers, as if a new job itself is security.

What is job security?

A new job is not security, any more than a new house is insurance against the elements. Insurance and security always take the form of signed contracts. That’s what actually provides security.

I’ve placed a lot of managers, and I like to think I helped them get very good offers to do jobs that would advance their careers. But no headhunter, no career coach, no counselor, no HR manager, and certainly no job board can deliver the security that people are looking for.

You get that only with a contract.

Could a contract tie me down?

Termination is defined in an employment contract – what each party is obligated to do. For the employee, this might include:

  • Amount of notice to be given
  • Possibly helping interview a replacement
  • Non-Compete or Non-Disclosure, which is often tied to a severance deal
  • Reimbursement by employee to the company of certain costs (e.g. relocation), usually pro-rated

The point is to negotiate such terms in advance so both sides are protected. But an employment contract need not unreasonably restrict the employee from quitting. The purpose of a contract is to avoid surprise downsides for everyone involved.

Such contracts are rare for rank and file employees, but some career practitioners believe it’s important to start a dialogue about this and to flesh out the issues. The result could be healthier contracts for all levels of employees.

Ask for an employment contract

So, why is it that managers who deal with multimillion-dollar contracts accept jobs without…a contract? Take a look at your career portfolio. There’s your resume, your benefits package, your retirement and insurance, and maybe a severance package.

But where’s the contract that defines your main source of income and your career, and that details what happens if the employer decides it doesn’t need you in six months or a year?

Surprisingly few execs — including CIOs — have employment contracts, because most employers prefer not to give you such a safety net. Why not? They claim it just isn’t done, unless you’re the president or the CEO or chairman of the board.

I think that’s bunk. Employers prefer to avoid the kind of good, long-term planning that protects their own interests as well as every employee’s. Ask any employer, would it agree to a deal with a customer or a vendor without a contract? Of course not. So why doesn’t it use contracts with the people it hires?

Employment contracts for everyone?

Like any other component of a job offer, an employment contract is something to negotiate. I think it’s a serious mistake not to ask for one.

HR managers act shocked when someone suggests every employee should have an employment contract that defines all terms of employment. I think that’s a naïve and disingenuous reaction — but I won’t get into the reasons here. Attorney Bernie Dietz explains how contracts are good for everyone, and suggests how to convince your next employer to give you one: Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.

To answer the question asked in this column, my advice to the CIO is that, yes, you should ask for and negotiate a contract. It may be uncommon, but it’s still prudent. And the best time to negotiate for a contract is while you’re negotiating every other aspect of your job offer — while the employer is trying to convince you to accept the job.

Dear Readers: Do you have a solid employment contract, or did you sign on to your job with only a job-offer letter? Did you ever ask for a contract, only to be told, “We don’t do contracts at your level?” If you could get a contract, what would you want in it?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2018 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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