A recruiter reaches out to you, or perhaps a friend tells you her company is looking for someone with your skills. You’re not actively job searching, but you’re interested enough to accept the introduction. One conversation leads to another, and before you know it, you’ve got a job offer in hand.
What now? The thing is, you actually like your job, and you aren’t trying to leave. But you are ready to take on more responsibility at work–ideally with a higher title and salary–and this might just be the perfect leverage to ask for it. After all, someone else is bidding for your talent.
Many career coaches are wary about advising people to parlay job offers into raises or promotions: What if your boss reacts negatively? Or just says, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you right now”? For starters, never bluff. You’ve always got to be prepared to actually take the job (Plan B) in case your request for a sweetened deal out of your current organization (Plan A) backfires. But as long as both outcomes would leave you happier than sticking with status quo (Plan C), the rest is sheer strategy.
Here’s what it takes to play your cards right, in this order.
1. Show That You Weren’t On The Prowl
Conveying your loyalty is paramount. No employer wants to advance an employee who’s been out there actively pursuing other opportunities. So begin your pitch by explaining that you’ve had an offer or expression of interest, but that it came more or less out of the blue.
Just paint yourself as a loyal employee who’s seen as an attractive hire by someone else. That means you’ll want to share why the other firm came after you, and what credentials of yours they’re particularly interested in. This can help you start the conversation–and keep it focused the entire time–on the skills and expertise you bring to the table.
2. Build The Case For Your Value
Next, tell your boss flat-out that you aren’t interested in leaving, but the new offer has given you a chance to reflect on your value, and you are wondering if your present employer can match what you’ve been offered or at least provide something comparable.
If you’ve been offered a higher salary, focus on that; if it’s better benefits, emphasize that. Or perhaps you’d trade the offer of a bigger salary for more responsibility in your present firm. Just make sure you pin down the precise nature of your “ask” before heading into this discussion with your boss. The last thing you want to do is say, “I’ve got this offer, now what can you do for me?”
To make your case, remind your boss what you bring: years of experience in the organization, a track record of accomplishment, a commitment to the team. The point is to underscore your contributions and indicate that your present value is right in line with the raise or increased responsibility you’re asking for (indeed, the job offer is proof of your current market rate). If it’s been a long time since your last raise, promotion, or recognition, bring that to the forefront.
3. Keep Your Tone Collaborative
As you make your case, be very careful not to sound demanding or threatening. This is critical, because if you strike an adversarial tone, your boss will probably just congratulate you on the offer and encourage you to take it. No one wants to be boxed into a corner.
So avoid expressions like, “I want you to match,” or any ultimatums like “If I don’t get a raise . . .” or “I’ll have no choice but to consider alternatives unless . . . ” Instead, say, “I’d appreciate it if you would consider increasing my salary,” or “Is there some way the firm might acknowledge my value, in light of this external offer?” These are gentle reminders rather than open threats.
Give your boss time to think this through and seek approvals if necessary. So don’t jab her with, “I have to know pretty soon since the other organization is waiting for an answer. (Let them wait! This is the point when you’ve got the most leverage over the prospective employer.) Say, “I know you’ll want to discuss this with HR, so I’m not looking for an answer today.”
This collaborative approach can diminish the likelihood of a backlash. If you demand a certain salary outright, your boss may decide you aren’t worth trying to keep or will simply conclude you’ve already made up your mind to leave.
4. Reinforce How Happy You Already Are
After making your appeal, get back to the theme of Step 1: loyalty. Reiterate how happy you’ve been–and currently remain–working at your company. Say how you hope you can extend the important work you’re already doing there, how great your team is, and how much you appreciate the mentoring you’ve already received. This is your chance to commend your boss for all he’s done for you. You want your boss to walk away from the discussion feeling better about you than ever, and full of empathy and emotional support.
Follow these four steps and you stand the best chance of leveraging your job offer to your benefit. And if you’re not successful in your pitch, the horizon is still bright: You can either take the other job, or begin searching for your dream job. The conversation with your manager could just be the jolt you need.