I know: reading dense contracts full of legalese is no fun. If your employment contract is complex enough, you might want to get an outside lawyer to help you either take a closer look and/or negotiate it for you. (And the key word here is “outside” because if you use your new employer’s lawyer, at the end of the day, they’re looking out for your employer, and not you). They will usually take a hefty fee for doing this or in some cases, like in the entertainment industry, they will take a small percentage of your entire contract or signing bonus. But if you’re working through your contract yourself (and marking it up as you go!) here are the three things you should do to get the most out of your agreement:
- Communicate with your employer (verbally at first) to get a sense of where they are coming from on the issues you identified. Be professional, and listen to their concerns. Then, follow up in writing (email is fine). Otherwise, it’s your word against theirs and the contract process drags on.
- Don’t draw a line in the sand for everything. There might be important deal-breakers for you, but you are more likely to get your way on those if you demonstrate flexibility on most, if not all, things. There is no way an employer will acquiesce on everything, so provide options for a compromise.
- Don’t accept crazy terms. While you won’t get everything you want, don’t feel forced to sign something that’s unacceptable. You can always walk away, which most employers will stop you from doing by throwing you another bone because, don’t forget, they have put a lot of time and energy into trying to hire the best person (you) and it’s not in their best interest to let you walk away at the 11th hour. But, if you make the decision to play that card, make sure you mean it —because sometimes they will call your bluff.
There are loopholes and ways around employment contracts, for sure. Still, they are important for peace of mind and some job security. So while there is no guarantee they’ll protect you from every possible eventuality, if done right, they will help you avoid nasty surprises later.