Many IT professionals who have been laid off in the past few years have logically questioned the legitimacy, legality, and fairness of “at-will” employment, which allows companies to terminate employees without any specific reason. As a recent TechRepublic article explained, ”at will” is the traditional employment approach used by most companies today.

One way to avoid at will employment is via an employment contract—not a very easy option given today’s job market. But it’s not totally out of the question either, and it’s a worthwhile pursuit if you offer an employer remarkable skills or management credentials.

“If the person is applying for a key position and has an excellent track record of getting things done, then trying to strike a deal for an employment agreement is probably worthwhile and may be achievable to attain,” said Mike Sisco, CEO of MDE Enterprises. “Key management positions with proven track records of making a tangible difference can get a contract like this in any business climate, but they may not get it every time. The point is that excellent managers are always in high demand.”

The first step in using an employment contract to replace an at will contract is determining how much bargaining power you have with a prospective employer, according to Julien Carter, associate VP of the human resources department of the University of Louisville in Louisville, KY.

“Generally, an employer would be hesitant to enter into such an agreement if there were ample candidates in the field who could do the work and would not ask for a contract,” Carter said. “But, in some instances, when the skill set is so specialized and of value to the employer, then sufficient bargaining power might be present to result in such a contract.”

A template and checklist to use
The second step is mapping out the contract itself. To help job seekers, I’ve created a contract template to use as a starting point, as well as a comprehensive list of contract issues you should review in drafting the contract. You can download both tools here.

In drawing up a formal employment contract, you’ll need to specify a wide range of points: proposed length of the employment relationship, benefits, salary, and the reasons for which either party can end the relationship.

Keep in mind that this sample employment contract is a starting point, not a finished product. You need to make sure that the agreement reflects the relationship between your prospective company and you. You should consult the laws of your state regarding requirements affecting employment agreements.

Here are some additional tips in creating an employment contract that works to your best interests:

  • Many employment contracts often tend to work in the employer’s best interest. Candidates need to thoroughly read the entire contract and ask questions on any points they’re not clear about.
  • Don’t settle for a basic simple employment contract if you know you have leverage and some negotiating power.
  • Don’t leave anything in verbal terms. Make sure that every employment aspect and issue is included—from bonuses and travel expenses to salary adjustments.
  • Make sure the employer knows this is the only contract you’re willing to sign. Often, companies will present a new contract, citing corporate changes, after you’ve started working—in a traditional bait-and-switch routine.
  • Don’t sign until your own attorney has blessed the agreement.

A contract that will work to your advantage
There was a time in IT when employers rewarded employees’ loyalty to the company with job security and stable wages. As that’s no longer the environment, an employment contract can be a valuable tool to assist you in the longer-term employment.

By using the contract template and reviewing the contract checklist, IT managers on the job hunt can easily create a draft contract to have in hand when the topic presents itself in future employment interviews. Having the draft at the ready will make it clear to the employer that you’re serious about having a contract and will also help ensure that the employment contract will work to your advantage.