When it comes to using another job offer to get a raise, you could say Phoenix-area software engineer Timothy Sweet is an old pro.
Sure, the 29-year-old’s first attempt to do this—at a run-of-the-mill retail job he took before entering his current profession—failed. But since then, Sweet has managed to gain a raise and promotion twice by leveraging counteroffers, once from a new company and a second time from a separate division of his existing company. Most impressively, a few years ago he walked away with a 33% raise from an existing employer—boosting his annual pay from $62,000 to $81,000—by using this tactic.
“When I told my employer, ‘the [other company] wants to give me an offer that’s substantially more,’ they didn’t match the offer but they did give me more,” says Sweet. “And it was enough to get me to stay.”
But while using another job offer to leverage a raise and negotiate a better career often works, if you’re unprepared, it’s a gamble that could backfire—and there are some career experts who advise against it completely. Here’s how to a) decide if it’s it’s the next best move for you, and b) make it work.
How Another Offer Can Help Your Career
Perhaps you’re working in a position at your current job and can’t seem to advance, so you’ve started looking for another job. Or, perhaps a recruiter noticed your résumé on LinkedIn. However you got to this point, you now have a job offer that promises more money or benefits than you have now.
In such cases, shaking things up by presenting your boss with an offer from another company—in other words, letting your current employer know you have other suitors—may be your best bet for boosting your salary, like Sweet did.
I made my first and only attempt using a counteroffer to get a promotion about 14 years ago, at the beginning of my journalism career. At the time, I was covering a niche wireless technology beat for a business-to-business publication but making pennies (about $30,000 per year plus benefits). When my work caught the attention of a competitor, my supervisor offered me a $5,000 raise, plus more opportunities for travel.
Using the advice of a wise friend, I called a meeting with my supervisor, with whom I had a great relationship, and told her that, while I loved my job, I was eager for more dough and bigger assignments—and that a new employer was offering both. Within an hour she sent me an e-mail letting me know that her higher-ups had approved a $7,000 raise as well as a promotion that would grant me more oversight over editorial decisions and opportunities to attend conferences. Needless to say, I decided to stay for another year, until the company’s overall financial direction (not good) spurred me to change employers.
My experience is no surprise to Victoria Pynchon, co-founder of She Negotiates Consulting and Training, which offers career, promotion, salary and fee-negotiation strategies for women. Often people—and especially women—underestimate their worth, she says, so a counteroffer can be a great way to remind an employer of their value.
“If you’re negotiating a raise with your current employer, with an offer in your back pocket, you are the one who is able to negotiate a great deal,” says Pynchon, who in 2012 helped a female lawyer working in Silicon Valley negotiate a 43% raise at her corporate council job by using a counteroffer.