It looks like Conan O'Brien may have reached a settlement with NBC and his last night as host of The Tonight Show will be on January 22. It's a shame when you realize that perhaps the whole fiasco could have been avoided if Conan had negotiated a more precise contract.
When Conan signed his contract, he never imagined that NBC would consider changing the time slot of a show that has been synonymous with the 11:35 slot for close to 60 years. But when it comes to contracts, no one should ever assume anything.
While you probably don't have the army of agents and lawyers that Conan might have at your disposal, you can certainly do some due diligence to ensure that the next time you negotiate an employment offer, you walk away with a package that protects you and guarantees everything you negotiated for during the interview process. Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Get everything you negotiate for in writing. Any item that you negotiate for should be documented in writing. Standard employment agreements generally won't include everything you may have negotiated for and if you agree on something based on a handshake, you may have a hard time collecting on the goods later on, especially if the person who you originally negotiated with is no longer in the picture. If you get any push back after requesting that the terms of your employment be spelled out in writing, let the hiring manager know that you think it would be best for all involved if they were. If the company does not routinely use offer letters or employment contracts, document everything you have negotiated for in a letter to the hiring manager and ask him to sign it and keep it in your employment file.
2. Review non-compete clauses carefully. A non-compete clause is a contractual agreement where employees promise not to share trade secrets or work for direct competitors for a certain period of time. The problem with some non-competes is that they are so broad that they can make it extremely difficult to find employment in the same industry or geography within a reasonable period of time. Review your non-compete clause carefully if you have one and negotiate for something more narrow in terms of the employer's definition of direct competitors, location, or time frames to make sure you are not severely limiting your future opportunities should your employment be terminated.
3. Make sure the obvious is obvious. If you negotiated for specific work hours, additional vacation time, an earlier salary review, etc. make sure all the numbers, times, and dates are formalized. I wonder how much grief it would have saved Conan O'Brien if his lawyers had only done that!
Of course it's not all bad for Conan. He stands to make $30M in severance by walking away from The Tonight Show...not bad for a job he held for less than eight months!