Peter Murphy, a 35-year-old software developer based in St. Paul, Minn., never really thought about leaving the company he’s worked at for nearly a decade. But when a recruiter contacted him on LinkedIn with a higher-paying job at a startup, he was intrigued.
“I figured it wouldn’t hurt to practice interviewing and to see what else is out there,” he says.
After the first round of interviews, it became clear that the new company—which would have doubled Murphy’s commute—wasn’t a great fit. Still, he considered going to the second interview anyway. If he played his cards right, Murphy thought, maybe he could turn the more lucrative offer into a salary bump at his current gig.
In the end, he decided against it. “I could have put my current job in jeopardy if I hadn’t approached it the right way,” he says.
Lots of people have faced this predicament — wondering if trying to leverage a job offer for a higher salary is worth the trouble. Done right, and you could end up with an even better counter-offer. Done wrong, and you could end up without a job.
Here’s how to do it right.
Is it ever OK to pursue a counter-offer?
Short answer: Yes. But you'll need to tread carefully.
While it’s never a bad idea to explore other career options, having outsized expectations about what your current company “owes” you could do real harm, says career consultant Jana Tulloch.
“It can be a very useful piece of leverage if the organization really wants to retain you,” she says. “On the other hand, it can cause a bit of ill-will if it’s perceived as a threat.”
Think through some “what if” scenarios before sitting down with your boss. Like ... what if she asks to see your offer letter? Or actually ENCOURAGES you to take the other job?
“Be prepared for them to call your bluff,” says Milwaukee-based executive leadership coach Paula Rauenbuehler.
How to start the conversation
If your interest in the outside job stems from a desire to make more money, remember that the best way to get a raise is by simply asking for a raise.
Research your market rate on job sites like Payscale, and tell your manager you’ve found similar roles that pay more than you’re making.
“You’ll get a sense fairly quickly about whether or not they are open to negotiation, or if you’re better off taking the other job offer,” Tulloch says.
If you’re already considering an outside offer, be up front about that, advises Justin Terch, a human resources professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
“This is often enough of a hint that money could be something they could offer to keep you,” he says.
Justify your ask
Like other types of salary discussions, you'll want to make sure you’re prepared to provide ample evidence about why you deserve a pay increase. Before you meet with your boss, document your contribution to the organization. How have you gone beyond your job description and proven yourself indispensable? You can even type up a short outline to give to your boss during the conversation.
“You’ll want to support your request for an increase based on the added value you’ve provided the company,” Rauenbuehler says. “Make your case as to why you are worth more today than you were last month.”
Evaluate what you really want
Getting a job offer can be a confidence booster, says Jennifer Brick, a career coach at Capdeca Solutions. But it won’t change your circumstances or address any underlying discontent. If you’re seeking out a new role—or seriously considering an offer that fell in your lap—maybe money isn’t the real issue.
“When people look for a new role, they’ve usually gotten to the point where they’re so unhappy in their current role they need a change,” says JD Miller, Chief Revenue Officer at Motus. “Having an offer in hand … isn’t going to change [their] circumstances.”
Keep in mind that even if your current job DOES match your salary, it may not be enough motivation to keep you around for the long haul. Use your situation as an opportunity to evaluate your long-term career goals—and think hard about what type of work environment will get you there. Maybe it's time for a new challenge ... or even a new career.