How to Bail With Your Bonus

December 26, 2013 in

Article by: Tara Weiss with additions by On the Mark Recruiting Specialists, Inc.

With your Holiday Bonus now in hand (or about to be in hand), you might just feel liberated enough to finally say, “I quit!”

With the passing of each holiday season comes a round of January and February resignations. It’s that time of year when fed-up employees are most tempted to take their bonuses and head for the exits. That’s especially true on Wall Street, where Goldman Sachs set an all-time record of $11 billion for bonuses. Obviously not everyone will be able to quit with that much of a cushion, but even a slightly padded paycheck can ease a career transition.

Before you take the money and run, there are a few things to consider during the post-holiday bonus resignation season. Review your employment hiring contract. If you signed a noncompeting clause, check with an attorney to see if there are regulations about how long you have to wait before starting a new job. That might not apply if you’re not going to a direct competitor.

“If you can’t work for a few months, it might not be worth it to stay for the bonus period,” says Jennifer Rubin, a partner in the employment labor and benefits practice of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo. “It’s a good idea to consult a lawyer to pin down the scope of your obligations.”

Some companies have rules about who can receive a bonus. For instance, many have provisions in their bonus plans that say you must be employed on the date the bonus is distributed. Along the same lines, some companies take back an employee’s signing bonus and relocation funds if he or she leaves before a certain period of time.

If you’re considering leaving, start checking your industry’s job boards so you have a sense of what’s out there. Then start to network. “Identify key players in your area of expertise and develop a plan,” says Sandy Gross, a managing partner at Pinetum Partners, an executive search consulting firm that specializes in placing managers at hedge funds, investment banks and other securities companies.

Talk to people you worked with in the past. But be careful. The last thing you want to do is tip off your boss before you resign. If you hire a recruiter or executive search firm to do the hunting for you, make sure it isn’t one that’s retained by your current employer. “You need to know where your résumé is going,” says Gross. That could be an extremely awkward moment. (We never send a resume to an employer until after we have talked to the candidate to gage their interest and qualifications. It is mutual when a resume is sent to an employer – confidentiality is key!) On the Mark Recruiting Specialists, Inc.

It’s not such an unlikely scenario. This is the busiest season of the year for recruiters. Gross says 50% of her business is generated in the first two quarters of the year.

Some companies are trying to combat the post-bonus churn. Brett Good, a district president for Robert Half Finance and Accounting, a financial recruiting firm, says some firms pay a percentage of an employee’s bonus midyear and then give another percentage at the end of the year.

If you’ve received a job offer that’s too good to turn down–and its well before bonus season – consider negotiating with the new employer to see if a signing bonus can be worked into your salary. In industries like accounting, and automotive electronics there is a “war for talent.” You never know what might get thrown into the new compensation package.

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