Question

Can I use a job offer to get a raise out of my employer? After 22 years of military service, I’ve been working the last 14 months for a company (A) as a government contractor. The pay’s okay. Last month, out of the blue, I received an unofficial job offer from another company (B), to do basically the same work. The job description is similar to what I’m doing now, but the benefits are much better and the pay is about 25% more.

I’m not going to do anything until B actually makes me an offer in writing, but assuming that they do (in the next month), my question is: Should I sit down with my supervisor and tell him I’ve had another offer, and see if he can match the pay that B is offering? If he matched their pay I’d be inclined to stay. But would that sour our relationship (which is pretty good now)?

This is completely foreign to what military supervisors (at all levels) have to deal with.

Nick’s Reply

use a job offer to get a raiseMy compliments for not taking any action until you receive a bona fide, written offer from company B. Don’t risk your current job. And don’t let this blow up in your face!

What’s really motivating you?

You must first decide, Why are you interested in taking this new job? If it’s the money only, that’s fine. But, don’t confuse money with the quality of the job and company. These are two separate issues, and you must do yourself justice on both.

If it’s more money that you want, you should first try to get it from your current employer. Ask your boss for a raise, but don’t hang the new offer in front of his face. Such a threat — and it is a threat, no matter how you couch it — could blow up on you.

What’s in a raise?

Your boss might usher you right out the door, or, if he concedes on the salary, he may view you differently. That salary increase might be paid for out of your next review. That is, you may see less of a raise later. Or, you may be viewed as “less than loyal” and if cuts are made, you may be among the first to be let go. Only you can judge this.

A threat is no reason for your boss to give you a raise. You must earn the raise based on your abilities and on the value you deliver to the company. If your boss won’t give you what you want based on that, then why would you stay for any amount of money? So, make your case and ask for the raise without bringing up the other offer. It’s a great test of your relationship with your current employer.

Don’t use a job offer to get a raise

Now let’s talk about the second issue. If you want to leave because the new job and employer are better, then why would you stay where you are for more money? Just go.

Settle the money question in your mind first. Then decide which is the better workplace. This article will help: Should I stay at my current company?

Your sense is right: Threatening to leave and dangling an offer in front of your boss is not good. As we’ve discussed, it can backfire on you. Decide what you want to do and do it. Either negotiate a new salary based on your value, or leave for a better employer and job. Either way, make sure you are choosing to work with good people who recognize your value.

If and when you decide to move on, please refer to “Resign Yourself to Resigning Right,” in the PDF book Parting Company: How to leave your job.

I wish you the best!

Did you ever use a job offer to get a raise? How did it work out? What’s your take on this method of getting ahead? Have any wisdom or cautions to offer other readers?

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11 Comments
  1. I’ve never used a competitive/superior offer to negotiate a raise. When you or I receive an offer that pays more (unless you are married to the company) it is clearly time to go.

  2. A job offer more or less inadvertently got me a raise. I dangled nothing and threatened nothing.

    Several years ago I was laid off and had been looking for quite a while when I was hired by a major NYC university to do medical software engineering. They rather cynically (so I thought) hired me at a rather substandard salary to do some seriously mission-critical stuff, but I needed the gig: I had a mortgage, I was in the midst of a divorce, and I had my wonderful kid about to start college. But of course I kept looking for something better.

    About a year later, I received a job offer in writing from another local university, after what had been a fun and interesting interview process. The salary was similar (meh), and it would have required moving across town (the commute from my location would have been 1.5 hours each way by MTA), but the job itself seemed to be more interesting, I really liked all the people I met during the interview process, and as a bonus the new place had an excellent graduate music program, to which I had been accepted. (I’m also a musician.)

    So I figured I’d take the more enjoyable job and go back to school on the same campus. I was ready to go, scheduled a meeting with my boss, and let him know I was resigning, with absolutely no ulterior motives. In a day or so I was offered a substantial raise, so substantial that I basically couldn’t say no, faced as I was with upcoming tuition for my son. So I stayed where I was, I saw it as the “responsible” option.

    To their credit, my original employer kept me on with no funny business, I was better able to help my kid graduate college, and things are OK where I (still) work. So in this case it wasn’t really a dreadful mistake to stay. On the other hand, I know that in another reality I went with the other offer, had more fun if not quite as much money, and played a lot more music. I have to admit that I’m still not quite sure whether I made the right decision.

    • @Rick: Thanks for sharing a counter-offer experience that worked out well. I can think of just one such situation, but never say never.

  3. Something else to keep in mind is reputational damage if your current company does not make a counteroffer.

    While not typical, I have known a few people that left a company, discovered the new opportunity was not what they expected, and went back.

    Of course they were only able to do that because they left on excellent terms.

  4. If you tell your boss you have another offer there is a good chance he’ll tell you to go take it.
    When justifying a raise you could possibly say you are underpaid by industry standards, the new offer could be a benchmark in your mind, without mentioning it specifically. And as Nick says, it’s a 2 part question, how much do like where you work, and how important is money overall.

  5. Nick

    I agree with everything except the dangling the new offer could blow up. It could but this is aold wive’s tale created by a recruiter.

    Check with Jeff Skrentny He has the original article, But again I agree with everything else.

    • @Bill: I’ve seen many, many more “blow ups” than not. Don’t know Jeff but if you’d like to post a link I’d love to read it.

  6. If this was a mega corp that I worked & managed it, I wouldn’t fault you for trying to leverage an offer, the conversation would be between you & me.

    Then I offer you my congrats and advise you to take it. Especially considering
    the point about benefits being much better, I couldn’t match it as a direct raise. You’d have to walk pretty high above water for a 25% hit. Nor would it be timely. I’d have to go for an out of policy action and large companies can’t pass gas in a week.

    If you’re that good at what you do, I’d have moved you onward & upward before you got that offer.

    I’m assuming that the offer was for a job in a similar field, but you didn’t mention much excitement about the content. sounding like a lateral with more $. So if it’s all about $ then I wouldn’t be interested in playing the matching offer game.

    What I found curious is, that with 14 months with that employer it would seem you’d know your way round. And be positioned to walk into that boss with something more specific. Like a promo. if we were talking about a way to possibly give you a 25% bump in the big corp world, a feasible route would be via a promotion, with you clueing me on some of your thoughts as to promoted to do what. Independent from & earlier than when you got that surprise offer.

    And you said you were a government contractor. I assume you mean your company farms you out to work on government projects. The gov’mt is the client? In which case I’d answer it differently. a higher salary to you means the govm’t will be billed for it…if your bonafides justify it. It’s all about billable hours in that environment. Also, if you were easily placed on those projects I might be willing to eat some of my billed margins to keep you on. (In this game your company aims to uplift your cost with a healthy margin. They may already have a nice margin to play with…but SOP would be to up the bill rate if they can sell it..hence your bonafides) If they can’t sell a higher rate for your services, or unwilling to eat some of their margin, we’re back to my original answer, wishing you the best on your departure. (if this is the game you’re talking about you need to make your business to know what you’re billing rate is, not just what they pay you.

    • @Don: “If you’re that good at what you do, I’d have moved you onward & upward before you got that offer.”

      And if the employer is that good, it would have moved the employee up before they went on an interview.

  7. Don and others: I have several serious issues with these above approaches.
    1. Someone above said that if you get a raise today you will thereby reduce any later raise by that amount. Where does that come from? A previous raise does not have that effect!. OK, you were hired 11 years ago, got a raise 1 year later, so now, 10 years later you can’t geta raise because you already got one???? Or “we will have to reduce the now raise by the amount of your last raise”??? Weird thinking!!!!
    2. Lets say you are a middling competent IT type. You make $120,000 as of two years ago, pre Covid. The new school offers you an OK raise at 20% making $144,000 per year new offer, new school. Now, compare a possible offer of, for example, the same 20% or $24,000 increase; that is $2,000 per month. Lets also assume you “give that up” so you don’t adversely affect your next raise, in how may months? Lets also assume, six months wait for the convenience of your current employer’s saving money off of your back. You have given away $12,000. And will NEVER EVER GET IT BACK? For what? An assumed and pretended raise sometime later? Really stupid. First, smaller raises are easier to come by. Second, expecting a larger raise sometime later means you have been smoking something you shouldn’t have.
    3. A superior approach is to request a higher salary to change jobs; rehearse your qualifications. At the same time, go to your current boss and ask, What do you feel I am worth in my present job? Financially and with respect to my job content? Also ask how “the company” feels toward me in regard to these to issues. There is no “threat” here to the current employer but lets them know that you are not a financial zombie. [BTW, this “threat” business is noting else but employer brainwashing to make employees think that they cannot request higher salaries, etc.] There will be a follow up interview wanted by the employer “to consider” things. This gives you time to get q higher offer from the new company. Now, you have an even higher reference point from which to discuss your “value to the employer.” You are now at a far higher salary plane than before. It may help most readers to graph out your present income and future income possibilities on graph paper; visualization is a great help.
    4. You have just raised your income by at least 25%.
    5. All the above others’ comments, OK, most of the above comments, reflect just BULL designed to keep the payroll down.
    6. You may now be in the 30% raise category, with either employer. Over the next 6 months, that is, based on the 30% raise on initially $120,000 annually or $156,000, $13,000 a month or $78,000. OR take another’s advice and walk away from any raise “right now” because your future raise, if any, “will be less” !!!!!! NOT SO.
    7. When you have a job offer, if it is solid, maximize the return on your accomplishment. Don’t throw it away. You need to look at the money lost by you refusing a raise “right now!”
    8. As a general fact, jobs last under 4 years, for IT, under 3 years. Therefore, always be looking; plan on job hoping [an employer term meant to disparage an employee from looking out for himself!] ALWAYS push for the biggest raise with current employer while interviewing; use that higher offer to get an even higher salary from the current employer and factor that new raise with prospective employer. You can see the benefit here, especially if you are graphing out your income on graph paper.

    • @Wes: I appreciate your perspective, and perhaps you have been able to parlay a nice new job offer into a raise from your current employer, which you then used to leverage an even higher offer from the new employer. But there’s a lot of “slips” between those steps, and the assumption that everyone is just waiting for you to ask for more so they can give it to you.

      My main point is not so much that taking a counter “comes from some budget somewhere – most likely from any next planned raise you might get,” but that if money is the issue then negotiate with your boss. If it’s other issues, then move on.

      In my experience, an employee that’s given a raise to stay is marked. The bill comes due at some point, most often at normal raise time or when there’s a layoff.

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