8 keys to negotiating severance

Sooner, rather than later, might be the time to think about possibly needing to negotiate a severance package, if you don’t have one.

The landscape has changed, so here’s what to have in your back pocket:

1. Think about what you’d need to stay afloat.
If your employer is dumping a big executive salary, there’s some leeway to ease your pain.

2. Step up to the plate.
In 2001, only 5% of professionals negotiated exit packages, says HR consultant Lee Hecht Harrison. That compares with 31% in 2008.

3. Cloak your emotions.
Fear and anger may get you up in the morning, but they won’t help you negotiate. Go home and process the news before saying a word.

4. Take a few days to draw up a list of what you want,
in exchange for what, before signing anything. Ask a few headhunters how long it takes somebody at your level to find a new job, then go for that period in your severance pitch.

5. Remember that it’s just business.
Severance is paid so that you won’t sue or bad-mouth the organization. “It’s not love; it’s not a gift—it’s a business transaction,” notes Alan Sklover, author of Fired, Downsized, or Laid Off.

6. Negotiate perks.
One executive negotiated with HR to extend his health care coverage six months by pointing out that he’d quit a previous job for his current position less than a year before. See whether you can retain your e-mail account, work space and gym access. Ask for a letter of recommendation. Ask to keep your employment status “active” if you want to refinance a mortgage.

7. Suggest that your remaining time on payroll be stretched out at half pay to keep your benefits going.

8. Don’t mention any legal advice you may be receiving,
and keep your smooth, executive demeanor.

— Adapted from “Pumping Up Your Severance Package,” Barbara Kiviat, Time.