The career pre-nup.What would you include?

I read about Nicole Kidman’s pre-nuptial agreement (“Nicole Kindman in Love, Not Stupid”…love the headline!). Let me preface this little blog post so as not to tick off anyone, married or not, with or without pre-nuptial agreements. I don’t know jack about marriage. Never been married; though I can’t help but quiz my married friends about theirs (this past weekend poor Nancy was questioned on the dynamics of clothes shopping for a husband that does not care about fashion). Personal relationships are interesting, especially the ones one enters by choice.

Which makes me wonder about career pre-nups. Hey, it could happen. The way I see it, pre-nups are about protecting something (assets) and also about the balance of power, which may or may not be related to the assets but could also have something to do with looove. You enter an employment relationship much like you enter a marriage (or other committed relationship). There’s the courtship…unfortunately, someone’s got to woo someone else, poor wooer. An offer is made, some negotiation may take place. Families are consulted. There’s a ceremonial signing of a piece of paper (though the pen with the feather is totally not necessary for the offer letter…it is a nice touch if you can swing it). Someone moves in and there’s a honeymoon period. After that, there’s definitely a settling in and assignment of roles. Some may even ask themselves “what have I gotten myself into?”.

Aside from the standard non-disclosure (“don’t talk about our relationship with your friends”) and non-compete (“if we get divorced, I get the kids”), I wonder what other aspects of the employment marriage we would put on paper if we could. And I wonder how the concept of “balance of power” would impact that.

I read recently about someone who wouldn’t work for a company if they asked him to put together a resume (say what?). That’s clearly someone who feels that the balance of power in the employment relationship is in his favor. Of course, that is assuming that companies will always want him more than he wants them and I think that’s a tad short-sighted (and, well let’s say not super gracious). You never know when you will fall in love with another company, one that will require you follow some rules of courtship. “I’m not looking right now, thanks” is one thing, “I’ll never work for a company that asks me to write a resume” is another. Professional courtesy and humility are qualities companies should be looking for in any new hire. Anyway, I digress.

The balance of power can tilt either way, and obviously, as an employee, rewards follow performance. So let’s not make this about a cash compensation schedule. But let’s say that, hypothetically, of course, you were in a position to craft a pre-nup for an employment relationship. What are the things that you would ask for as part of the working relationship?

Early in my career, I may have said training (because I needed it!). But now, at this stage in my career, I can’t think of anything that impacts the way I feel about work more than the quality of the people I work with. So in my scenario, I’d look for the opportunity to build or select a team. I can kid about who had the balance of power when I joined Microsoft (though I did get to pick between two teams, which was nice). But this is an imaginary scenario. What are you looking for? A window office? A manager that runs interference on your behalf when things get tough? The option to telecommute? Outside of the offer package, what would you include in an employment pre-nuptial?

(I’m sure our legal department would want me to make very clear that this is an imaginary exercise). 

Comments (16)

  1. I have to admit I don’t really understand the whole resume thing once you have experience. Maybe out of college it helps but the more experience I gain the less I care about my resume and the less relevant it feels. When I interviewed at MS, I don’t remember the recruiter asking for my resume or any of the interviewers asking me about it either. I don’t recall them asking if I went to college.

    I see so many resumes come across my desk (I can’t imagine how recruiters handle them all) they all start to look the same. I took a potential employee to lunch and just let him talk. I already know he has the skills for the job but I want to see if he’d be a good fit with my current group. A resume won’t help in that instance.

  2. Andrei Ignat says:

    I am looking for a company with plans for the future . A company that have standards of apreciating people. A company where you fill part of an orchestra – and not on a boat.

  3. Christien says:

    This is a great take.  

    Dear Heather:

    I was recently wooed by a nice company.  It was petite, financially healthy and fun.  The courting period was exciting…long talks, big smiles and birght visions galore.  However, when it came time to the offer, I was turned off.  I think we could work well together, but the timing is not right.


    Ansy in Atlanta


  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Brett-interesting. The problem is that we can’t just hire people we already know. Think about the number of applicants we get and then taking each to lunch and letting them talk.

    Even with people that we do know, we often don’t know everything about their work history, eduction, etc. So the resume helps focus the conversation.

    Also, legally, companies are required to track the people that apply and having the resumes in a database is how they do this. Also, the resume is searchable and helps the recruiter match the person to the role.

    I think not having a resume in the preliminary conversation is fine, especially if the person has a specialized skill set that we are actively trying to recruit (versus them applying). If the person wants us to fly them out for interviews (or invest in a day of interview time), and they won’t put together a resume of some sort, that would show me that they aren’t really serious about the opportunity. Also, if they refuse to put together a resume, I start to think about potential difficulty managing the person (what else won’t they do) and how the heck we would get through offer negotiations.

    The concept that someone’s web presence is a substitute for a resume, to me, doesn’t make sense. First, I think of all the other "Heather Hamiltons" out there that aren’t me. Plus, I don’t have control over what people say about me, where I do have control over what I put on my resume. To me, this practice of refusing to write a resume says "I think I am too important to take the time to put together a resume so I expect you to invest YOUR time in researching me". Hello….red flag! Ego alert!

    Seriously, I understand that if you have an existing relationship with the (entire) hiring team, a resume may not be that important, but that’s not how most people get their jobs. But at some point where ones dream company comes calling (or even one that has a better opportunity than what the person currently has), it’s time to dust off the resume.

    Having said all that, I can tell you that I have a resume right now. Not looking for a job. But I use it when I am asked to speak or join an organization and I update it occassionally when my job changes.

    Andrei- OK. I don’t think we have any orchestra or boat related positions ; )

    Christien- being wooed is nice when you are the wooee, isn’t it?

  5. Wine-Oh says:

    I think this is an interesting concept. I would see it being implemented at a startup company versus a existing company that is more set in their ways and have established benchmarks and expectations. Part of the evaluation process come review time at most companies involves some sort of goal setting and benchmarks that are set by both managers and employers.

    Personally I would love the opportunity to polish up or learn new skills. Having a company provide that opportunity says they have a vested interest in your sucess.  Establishing these types of benchmarks and ideas up front in the negotiating and courtship phase, would take some of the angst out of the entire process.

  6. Paul says:

    Having had an employment contract, I don’t see an employment pre-nup as a flight of whimsy, but something that would be a great idea for everyone.  When you have such a document, it spells out lots of things including terms of employment, performance goals, compensation and terms of separation — and it is amazing how having those things down on paper in a legally binding agreement changes the working relationship and balance of power if you want to call it that.

    For me, the most important thing was how much confidence it gives to do things for the right reason, because you know exactly what you’re entitled to if you have to agree to disagree, and knowing that at any time you could shake hands and call it quits and still be friends.  It isn’t whether or not you exercise the option, but just having it makes all the difference.

    My extra issues would all be about quality of life and honest communications (hopefully with intelligent people, but unless you are the boss, that’s hard to control).

  7. Lauren Smith says:

    I like the analogy.  Actually, just recently I got an offer from MSKK out here and had to turn you guys down.  The phone call after that was quite a bit like that last phone call you have when you’re calling it quits.  

    "Is there anything we could have done different?"

    No, it’s not you, it’s me.

    "Was it the offered salary?  We can change."

    It’s not you, it’s me.  I’m sorry.

    "Can we still be friends?"

    Yes, you know I still love you, but I just don’t think it will work out if we were together.

    (Quiet sobbing on the other end of the line.)

    Your post put a finger on the analogy I was looking for at the time.

  8. Wine-Oh says:


    Interesting. I wish I could say that I had that experience. I recently turned down a positon that wasnt the right fit. What affirmed it for me was the fact that when I called them to say no thank you, they did not say " could we do anything different, offer you more money, etc." They just said ok thank you and good luck. It was a clean breakup, and I have no regrets.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Paul-the extra issues are kind of where I was going with the prenup idea. The stuff that doesn’t go into an employment contract or would be desired at companies that don’t use contracts.

    Lauren-that is funny. I hope there wasn’t really quiet sobbing ; ) Good for the recruiter for having that conversation with you. We need otgather feedback when people decline, even when it’s just about personal preference.

    Wine-Oh, my bet would be that they had a back-up candidate. Or a very junior recruiter.

  10. Wine-Oh says:

    Your very intuitive Heather. She was relatively new to the recruiting world. Having started as the dept coordinator and they kept giving her more responsibility as the company grew. Again another red flag.

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, that is a red flag. Big. Makes you wonder about their philosophy on investing in talent, doesn’t it?

  12. Wine-Oh says:

    I wonder big time. I think I got caught up in the moment and excitement of being wanted by a team. Yet the positions been open since March. (red flag #2). I intereviewed for it back then and was told it wasnt the right fit. 3 months later they called and said things changed and they were interested in bringing me on. (red flag #3).

    It wasnt until I talked with friends and blogged about it did I realize that this wasnt the right opportunity. I left it at that with them and that I was flattered that they wanted me on their team.

    I think when a company hires people due to new business and growth, sometimes things that they have in place fall by the wayside. This company doesnt even have a formal on-boarding process.

    The right job is out there for everyone. Just gotta look hard and really do your research. Its ok to turn something down. (Hope Joe is still reading this)

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    Wine-Oh, you are really going to feel good about this decision once you land in the right place.

  14. Lauren Smith says:

    It really was a great experience interviewing at MSKK.  Everyone was very professional and knew exactly what was going on at every stage of the process, so they were never caught offguard and were always able to help me through the process.  I have nothing but kudos for the MSKK HR team (and their English speaking ability is top-notch).

    The team I was to join seemed like a perfect fit.  I’d be working on technology that I’ve spent the last 8 years working with.  The offerred compensation package was very nice.  The people I’d be working with were all very cool and I think I’d enjoy working as a team with them.  I think that the team will do some great things here in Japan where there’s a lot of room for that sort of business to grow.

    But in the end I turned it down to go with the flashy, high-heeled, mini-skirted, blonde bombshell startup.  Maybe my mid-life crisis is hitting a little early?

  15. Paul says:

    I know you were talking about the extras, but my point was that everyone should work under contract.  It is very liberating.  It’s the same reason that pre-nups shouldn’t be allowed in marriage – they’re very liberating.