Half of employers are planning layoffs—here's how to negotiate your exit if it happens to you

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While layoffs were near record lows in July, according to the Labor Department, headline-making cuts at some of the biggest companies — like Apple, Best Buy, Ford and Walmart in the last few weeks — might make you question the stability of your own job. Half of employers say they already have reduced overall headcount or have a plan in place to do so, according to PwC's latest pulse survey of 722 U.S. executives in August.

There's not a ton you can do to keep your job from being eliminated, but there are a few ways to make the transition a little better, says Andres Lares, managing partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute.

A lot of people don't know severance packages and terms of a layoff are negotiable, Lares tells CNBC Make It. And if they do, they may avoid doing it simply because negotiating feels uncomfortable.

To this, Lares stresses: Though a layoff feels personal to you, to the company it's a matter of business.

"Step one: have a positive mindset," Lares says. "Then, prepare."

Here's what you can negotiate if you're laid off, and how to do it.

Negotiate the details of your severance package

If you begin to hear rumblings that your company is downsizing, it doesn't hurt to start thinking about what you'll want or need from them on your way out.

Different parts of your severance package may be negotiable. You may be able to negotiate more pay if you're a high performer or in a senior position, or if you were expecting a bonus in the near future. Severance is paid either as a lump sum or in installments, and you could negotiate for one method over another.

You could also ask about extended health insurance coverage, access to other employee benefits or that your PTO bank be paid out. Check company review sites like Glassdoor to see if former employees have discussed what happened to them during a layoff, and what they requested or were offered.

The key is to prioritize what's most important to you that your company can offer, Lares says. If these items aren't addressed during your severance conversation, be specific and concise in your ask to HR. "Make it easy for them to say yes," Lares says.

And remember: It's harder to negotiate as more time passes, so try to bring up your requests during a first conversation with HR, or within the day or two after.

Ask for an extended exit or a consulting gig

Maybe you were sprinting toward the finish of a project at work, but your termination is effective before the delivery date. If you're in good standing (and you're being let go for reasons unrelated to your performance), see if the company will keep you on until you've met your deadline.

Frame it this way, Lares suggests: "I'm 75% done with project X, and I understand how important it is to the company. Would you be open to me staying on until it's finished?"

If you can't stay on as a full-time, salaried employee, maybe they could use your help as a freelancer, contractor or consultant, Lares says.

If you don't have anything ongoing with the company, consider coming back in a few weeks or months (after the layoff disruption has died down) to see if they'll hire you on as a consultant. This can be a win-win: Contractors cost your company less than salaried employees, and you'll have some money coming in until you're ready for your next move.

On that note, do some research to set your new rate. Generally, your hourly rate as a contractor should be higher than what it was as an employee, Lares says, because you'll be on the hook to cover things like health insurance coverage.

Keep in touch

Be strategic about how you ask for a reference. There's no perfect script or rule of thumb to make the request, Lares says, other than to be empathetic. Yes, your ex-boss or ex-coworker still has their job while you don't, but those jobs probably also just got harder with fewer staff and more complicated business demands, Lares says.

Don't be afraid to reach back out a few weeks later after the dust has settled. And again, be specific on how they can help you, whether that's connecting you with a former colleague at another company, or serving as a professional reference for a specific role.

You can also ask old coworkers to write a recommendation for you on your LinkedIn page, and offer to do the same in return, recruiting pro Bethalyn Staples recently told CNBC Make It. Having these on your profile can help you stand out to recruiters.

"It's going to be a rough ride for the rest of the year, and we'll need to rely on each other to succeed," Staples says.

Check out:

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After Colorado enacted a salary transparency law, job listings dropped—but employment went up

Mass layoffs and hiring freezes: Tech workers report huge drops in confidence in job security

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