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'Can I Use a New Job Offer to Get a Raise at My Current Job?'

Even if you do get more money, this strategy might ultimately not work out in your favor.
November 18, 2020, 12:30pm
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Amateur Hour is an advice column for people who are new to the professional world and are figuring out how work even… works.

I know that under normal circumstances, it's possible and even savvy to use a new job offer to leverage a raise out of a current employer. But is it smart to do that during a pandemic?

I work for a large-ish company that has had layoffs and furloughs due to COVID-19. The CEO has been open about the company's lost revenue for the year, and everyone who has remained at the company has taken a reduced salary through at least the next few months.

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I love my job, though I think I was underpaid even before the salary reductions, and I've received interest for another role at a different company that looks promising. If I interview for and receive a job offer, is it smart of me to try to leverage that offer for a raise right now, when the company is struggling? Would that just hurt my position and relationship with management? With the current state of everything, should I only interview for another job if I have a reasonable intent of taking it? 

Noooo, don’t do it! Even in the best of times, it’s awfully risky to use a job offer from another company to try to get a better offer from your current employer. 

Most obviously, there’s the risk that your current employer will tell you, “It sounds like a great opportunity; congratulations and we’ll miss you”—putting you in a difficult position if you were bluffing about your interest in the other job.

Less obviously, even if your current job does make you a counteroffer in order to keep you, it can set you up for problems down the road. Often if you accept a counteroffer, you’ll find that your relationship with your employer changes as a result; now you’re seen as the person who was actively looking to leave. That shouldn’t matter—these are business relationships, after all—but in practice, it often does change the way you’re viewed. That can mean that if your company needs to make cuts in the future, you might be at the top of the list because they figure you were planning on leaving anyway.

It can also make it harder to get a raise in the future because the next time you ask for one, you’ll be told, “We gave you a big raise a while back when you were thinking of leaving.”

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Even worse, sometimes employers make counteroffers in a moment of panic, not wanting to lose you without any time to prepare… but then push you out later on a timeline more convenient to them because they figure you’re likely to start looking again at some point anyway. That’s obviously operating in terrible faith, but it happens. 

Some recruiters even say that 70-80 percent of people who accept counteroffers leave or are let go within a year. I can’t attest to the accuracy of that stat (sometimes numbers like that get thrown around and no one knows where they came from), but the fact that it’s often repeated tells you how people who hire think about counteroffers.

And of course, if you go all the way through a hiring process, get an offer, and use it to negotiate a better deal from your current employer, that other company is very unlikely to consider you again in the future. That might be fine with you, but if it’s somewhere you might want to work one day, you’ll be closing that door. 

On top of all that, those reasons to be wary about counteroffers are for normal times. We’re not in normal times; we’re in pandemic. Your company has laid people off, furloughed others, and cut the salaries of everyone who stayed. Not only is there a really good chance that they’re not in a position to offer you more money, but they might even be relieved to get another person off their payroll without having to do more layoffs.

All of which is to say, trying to get a counteroffer is risky during normal times, and it’s even riskier right now.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean that accepting a counteroffer never works out. Sometimes it does! There are even some industries where the only way to ever get a raise is to first get a job offer somewhere else, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. For most people, and especially right now, it doesn’t make sense to seriously interview for other jobs unless you’d really be open to moving on.

Get more good advice from Alison Green at Ask a Manager or in her book. Do you have a pressing work-related question of your own? Submit it using this form.