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How to Negotiate A Killer Severance Package

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the initial offer is non-negotiable. Fight (nicely) for what you want

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So you’ve been let go. The road ahead is full of possibilities—maybe you’ll start a business, take a trip, finally work on that book you’ve been meaning to write, or feel fresh urgency to find a new career challenge. To make this time of transition easier, you’ll want to negotiate a severance package that gets you set for a bright new future.

Patricia Hunt Sinacole, founder of First Beacon Group and careers columnist for The Boston Globe, says it’s possible if you handle it the right way. “Absolutely, you can negotiate,” she says. “Ask in a gracious way. Don’t demand. And offer to act as a resource for ongoing employees during your transition period. If you make it known that they can come to you with questions, you’re more likely to get what you want out of your employer,” she says. Here’s how to strategize a favorable exit.

Haggle over health insurance. “Often, I hear from people who are surprised about their COBRA plan and how expensive it is. While working, your employer might pay half of health-insurance costs. If you’re let go, you’re responsible for 100 percent,” she warns. Ask your employer to continue with the 50-50 split for a set number of months. 

Request outplacement services. “Inquiring about outplacement services is critical,” Sinacole says. “When you’re let go, you’re possibly stunned and feeling displaced. You might have trouble verbalizing the situation to a potential new employer—and nobody wants to hire someone who’s angry about their former company,” she says. An outplacement counselor will coach you on how to articulate the transition to new employers in a positive way. Outplacement can also help with employee counseling, resume-writing, networking services and more.

Go for the gadgets. “Ask if you can keep your company laptop and mobile phone. This is often forgotten, but employers will frequently say yes,” she says. Replacing either is expensive.

Extend your severance income. Chances are, you won’t be able to increase the base amount of money your employer offers. Still, you can get more if you bargain the right way. Sinacole says an employer is more likely to barter over the length of severance itself, especially for senior employees. “Ask your employer to meet somewhere in the middle. If they offer two weeks and you expected two months, say so,” she advises.

Take a meeting. Most of all, don’t sign a severance package right away, even though you might feel tempted in the heat of the moment. Ask for time to read it carefully, she recommends. Then, request a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor or whoever presented it, and come prepared with a prioritized list of negotiation points.

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