should I use a job offer to get a raise at my current job?

A reader writes:

I’ve worked in development at a significant cultural institution for over a decade. I’m frequently told I’m an essential member of the team and that things would fall apart without me. Two years in a row now I’ve been told to expect a promotion, and then asked to wait until the following year for both a promotion and a raise. This past fiscal year, I was told to pass on the promotion for budgeting reasons; they said I should push it off a year in order to get a raise commensurate with what I deserve. Recently, I was told the same thing is true for this coming fiscal year– that I should wait until next year for my promotion and raise.

I assist in creating our budget, and I know that we’re having a rough couple of years and significant difficulties trying to hit the goals given to us. We’ll likely come in under our goals by about 10% this year, and everyone has had to tighten up our spending across the board. They’re even talking about not giving raises this year.

But I feel like I’m being taken advantage of right now, that they think that because I’ve been in the department longer than almost anyone else, that they can count on me to continue working here indefinitely.

I believe that if I had a job offer somewhere else, they’d find the money to keep me in our multimillion dollar budget. I feel like the fact that I haven’t gone out and found another job offer is allowing them to take advantage of me.

A job just opened up across town in a significant cultural institution whose mission I agree with, within walking distance of my house, but also at an organization I know can be more dysfunctional than the organization I work for. I think I could get that job, but what I really want is for my interest in that job to give my current organization the incentive to fight for me and not take advantage of me anymore. I don’t know if this is even a valid hope.

Don’t do it.

It might work in the short-term, but it’s unlikely to keep you happy in the long-term.

There are so many reasons to not use an outside job offer to pressure your employer into giving you more money or a promotion.

First and foremost, it’s a problem that this is what it would take to get your employer to pay you what you’re worth and appropriately recognize your contributions and value. I hear you, that the organization is in tighter financial straits right now, but if you believe they’d find the money to keep you if you were about to leave, they should want to try to retain you before it gets to that point.

To be clear, if this were just about one financially precarious year, I’d give them a pass on that. But you’ve been told to turn down a promotion two years in a row now because they “can’t pay you what you deserve”? I’m not buying it. There are all kinds of creative ways to reward people even when money is tight — extra vacation days, anyone? — and your company isn’t even trying. They’re just leaving you where you are, two years after telling you that you deserved a promotion, and expecting you to be okay with that.

It’s not a good sign if the only way to get paid what you’re worth is to threaten to leave.

Moreover, lots of people who accept counteroffers find that their relationship with their employer changes afterward. You’re now the person who was actively looking to leave. While that shouldn’t matter, it often does change the way you’re viewed — and if, for example, your employer needs to do layoffs at some point in the future, it might be a lot easier for them to put you on that list.

It can also affect how they see your future compensation. If it takes a counteroffer to get a raise now, what’s going to happen later on when you want a raise again? It’s not unlikely that you’ll be told, “We just gave you that big raise a couple of years ago when you were thinking about leaving.”

An organization that makes you threaten them before they’ll pay you what you deserve isn’t likely to make it any easier the next time.

That’s not to say that accepting a counteroffer is a disaster 100 percent of the time. There are people who have accepted counteroffers and are happy in those jobs years later, and there are some fields where counteroffers are the only real way to get a raise. But they’re the exception, rather than the rule. And yes, it’s possible that you could be one of those exceptions. But if you look at this logically and think about what your employer is telling you with their actions, none of it is good.

But this doesn’t mean that your only options are this job or the dysfunctional one across town. You can do a broader job search and see what else is out there. And really, having been with your current organization for a decade, it’s not a bad idea to be looking around and seeing what other options are open to you anyway. Spending a decade in one place can create an enormous amount of inertia around leaving, but if you push past that, you might end up finding something that’s a far better match for you, even if your current employer did give you the raise.

An important caveat to all of the above: I’m assuming that you’ve tried asking for a raise. If you haven’t, everything above is premature. If you haven’t attempted that because you worry it would seem tone-deaf in light of the broader financial situation, you should ask. It does make sense to be sensitive to your organization’s financial realities — but it also makes sense for them to be sensitive to yours. People work for money, and if you’re underpaid — particularly when you’re being told you’re essential and things would fall apart without you — it’s a reasonable conversation to have. You can frame it as, “I know the budget is tight, but I also want to make sure that my compensation reflects the level of my contributions here. I haven’t had a raise in X years, and I’d like to revisit my salary in light of the work I’ve been doing in that time.”

Even if the answer is no, there’s value in opening up a conversation about what is and isn’t realistic to expect and on what timeline, so that you can make better decisions for yourself and make them with more confidence. And truly, a decent employer would want to know you’re unhappy with the current state of affairs so they have a chance to try to address it before you’re out there interviewing.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 128 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    My thinking on counteroffers has changed over the years, but in a way that’s fairly specific to my niche of advertising. I used to think you should never, ever take one for the reasons Alison states.

    However, in advertising the average job tenure is pretty short, and there’s an industry-wide unwillingness to give people market raises. So nowadays I might advise someone to take a counter if they like where they’re working and the money is really the only reason to quit, *knowing* that you have bought yourself probably 18 months to two years more at that agency. The next time you want a raise after that, you’re going to have to quit and go elsewhere for real.

    This might be fine for people in the salary-building stages of their career. I would not do it at my current, later stage, where it’s harder to move around and therefore I want to pick an agency I think I’ll be happy at for some time, even if that means leaving some money on the table.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Also, part of the reason my thinking has changed is that the labor market, especially for copywriters who are good at the specific niche I work in, is so tight that companies can’t afford to hold grudges. I used to think that if you got as far as the offer stage, only to use that offer as leverage against your current company to get a raise and turn down the offer, you were burning a bridge. But I have actually gone as far as rescinding an acceptance (not because I was offered more money at the job I was at at the time, but because I learned things about the hiring company after I accepted the offer that were so alarming that I felt it was worth burning a bridge), and it turned out the bridge was not burned, at least not entirely! I thought no one involved in that hiring decision would ever want to deal with me again, but later I got courted by the same recruiter when she had moved onto another agency. Apparently the issues I had heard about were real, such that she didn’t blame me for rescinding.

      1. Rebecca*

        Agreed, as a fellow ad agency person – I once got an over 50% raise this way! Because job hopping so common, it’s definitely less frowned upon than it might be in other industries.

      2. GovtConsulant*

        Co-signing, govt consulting is one of those exceptions in which getting an offer was the expected (and actively coached by managers) way to get a raise. There were rules about what % raise one could receive, with the only loophole of matching an offer. I had 2 offers matched over a decade, and an unexpected 20% bump when someone told my manager I was looking.

        I still ended up underpaid compared to my peers who job hopped to a better salary.

        1. [insert witty username here]*

          Yup. Same industry and I just did this about 6 months ago and got a $15K raise. I know that’s how my company operates and while it IS frustrating (and I have some other frustrations in this position too), they also let me work from home a lot, which is another big deal to me (in fact, I met them about $2.5K under the other offer specifically because of the working from home). So you really have to know your company. While it’s a crappy situation, sometimes you have to do it if you know that’s what it will take. But you also have to be prepared to leave!

      3. LuckySophia*

        Another “niche” copywriter weighing in here! Totally agree that this issue is very dependent on knowing your local labor market. In many midsize markets, there are a few larger agencies known for high turnover, so their former employees become the principals (and staff) of newer/smaller agencies in the same area. At the larger “revolving door” agencies, counteroffers were Just.Not.Done. Among the principals of the smaller agencies, it could be very personality-specific. “Oh, you’re going to work for Sansa? We will miss you, but her little agency does good work and it sounds like a great opportunity for you. Goodbye and good luck.” (nope, no counter-offer.) But in other cases…”Fergus is trying to poach you? He’s been trying to undermine my company ever since I fired his lazy ass. Well, we’ll see about THAT!” (after which, a Counteroffer You Cannot Refuse would be put on the table.) But yeah, in a year or two, the employee would usually move on anyway.

    2. sheep of wall street*

      Similar set-up to the finance industry. There’s very little movement in the top roles because you are expected to inform your company if you are leaving (have an offer elsewhere, unless you are going to the buyside) and even if you are decently good, it will be matched or exceeded so they can keep talent in-house. Of course this makes it harder for people to break in but its nice for those already in.

  2. Amber T*

    I would do basically the opposite. “I’m not happy, I’m being taken advantage of, I want a raise or I’m leaving for a different job.” Obviously don’t use that language – there’s plenty of advice on this site on how to ask for a raise (I got a raise utilizing Alison’s advice! It works!)

    Also – you might be burning bridges by turning down a job offer in order to stay at your current place. Sure, people turn down job offers all the time… the salary offer or benefits weren’t good enough, negotiations didn’t work out, etc. But there’s something less good about turning around and saying “my company made me a counteroffer I couldn’t refuse.” You’re basically wasting other companies’ time if you know you’re not going to accept their offers, and that’s not cool.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      But do remember that the OP doesn’t have a job offer yet. My impression is that she hasn’t even applied yet. So thus far, no bridges are burned.

    2. KHB*

      I’ve often wondered if there’s an effective, not-too-confrontational way to say something like “I like working here and hope to stay, but without Specific Change X, you’re in danger of losing me.”

      My department once went through a period of being treated very badly by high-level management. My direct boss made it clear that he disagreed with what they were doing, but he didn’t seem too interested in pushing back or fighting for us with any sense of urgency. I thought about going to him to say look, I have a finite amount of patience here. I can deal with this situation if it’s temporary, but the longer it drags on, the more tempting it’s going to be for me to move on. (Fortunately, before I could say anything, upper management changed, and the situation resolved itself.)

      1. Milo*

        I think it only works if you already know the person you’re talking with about it is an advocate for you.

        I have done this once, where I casually brought up with my supervisor that I’d taken a job interview (“casually” worked out for me, because it was for a very cool company and I could talk about it as “I got to see behind the scenes at this place we both love!”) and a few months later a higher level position was created for me. This only worked because both my boss and I knew I was the best performer on the team, she needed me to stay, AND she actually had the sway to make the argument “look either we create a new position with pay % higher than the entry level, or I’m going to need two new entry level employees to make up what I’m losing.”

        Prior to this my supervisor and I had both been very frank with each other about how this job was obviously not where I would be forever, that I had the skills to move upward, plus she was always advocating for me to get education and classes — really more of a mentor relationship.

        Basically, I don’t think saying “I need [a raise/a promotion/a window office] or I’m going to start looking” will change anybody’s mind if they don’t already agree that you deserve that thing, but it COULD light a fire under a supervisor who agrees with you (and by that I mean, you’ve already had a conversation about how you deserve [thing]!) but just hasn’t gotten around to putting in the work to make it happen.

      2. EAS*

        I had that conversation with one supervisor who I was really close to. We would frequently walk together for coffee and on the walk one day, I said that I was considering looking around at other roles, and she said that she was working on it and to give her a few more months, and I said ok, and a few months later I got a promotion and a raise. I think it worked because we worked very closely together, I was a top performer, and it just added some extra motivation to something that was already in progress. I also knew she was a “let’s get you a better job here or if you can’t grow, somewhere else” based on her interactions with previous staff, so it wasn’t risky in terms of her holding it against me.

    3. Hey Nonnie*

      I am honestly really confused by OP’s language that she’s been exhorted to “turn down” a promotion two years in a row…

      Is her boss literally saying to her “We’re offering you a promotion and raise! (But please turn it down.)”

      If that’s the case, that kind of game-playing is total BS. And next time they offer-not-offer a promotion, I would just accept it and then immediately start negotiating the raise/compensation, since they’re explicitly saying it’s “not what she’s worth.” So they can have an open discussion about how to make it what she’s worth, even if that means more vacation instead of a bigger raise, like Alison said. (Or a 7-hour work day, or a 4-day work week, or whatever makes sense.)

      But seriously. “Here’s a promotion, but you’re supposed to turn it down WinkWinkNudgeNudge”? Just NO. They can’t play that game without OP’s consent. So stop consenting.

      1. Star Nursery*

        I wondered about that too. I was wondering if the OP meant that they had a job offer that works have been a promotion to another company and that the current employer asked them to stay on and turn down what would have been a promotion. Not real sure but I do think it’s good to consider looking for a job that pays what you are worth. You don’t know what you’ll find unless you look.

        1. selena81*

          My guess would be ‘we totally agree that you are overdue for promotion, we would love to give you your proper place, but can you please be so kind as to wait a bit longer until we have our finances in order’

          It kinda sounds like they think they can just drag her along forever. Like Allison says: even is money genuinely is tight there are ways to make an employee feel valued. To make OP feel that her employer does not see her as ‘that sucker’

  3. Bend & Snap*

    My friend did this and her boss told her to take the new job. She essentially got herself fired and ended up in a crappy job with a slightly better salary.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Yup — I would never hold an offer in front of my boss *assuming* that it would result in a counteroffer, much less a counteroffer of the amount I’m hoping for.

    2. Seriously?*

      That’s why bluffing is bad. If the OP is really fed up and willing to take the other job if her current employer doesn’t make a counter than she should go for it. But it is always a very real possibility that the employer will tell you to take the other offer.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, don’t bluff.

        I knew someone who accepted a good counter offer, and it worked out, after the company had gone through a period of financial instability and layoffs. New owners, deep pockets, he was extremely valued and they would want to keep him. Bluntly, he was willing to be kept for a substantial increase in salary–some things, money is compensation for. Whereas staying for a return to his old salary with less uncertainty about whether there was funding next week wasn’t that appealing. He was simultaneously talking to someone about a possible new direction, and part of his final decision to stay came from learning more downsides of that position that hadn’t been apparent when it was in “wouldn’t it be cool someday…” territory. So he was happy, and about five years later it was clearly the right decision.

    3. The Original K.*

      My former coworker did this except she didn’t have a job lined up. She laid out a list of demands and her boss was like “We’re not going to do any of that. I’ll understand if you want to leave.” But she had nowhere to go, so she’s still there and more miserable because she overplayed her hand and everyone knows it, AND she knows that her boss doesn’t care if she stays. It was a huge swing and miss on her part.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Was it really though? If she was miserable anyway, at least now she knows exactly where things stand and can hopefully move on

    4. mario*

      My friend did this and her boss her gave a pat on the back, a blank check and the keys to the CFO’s office. She essentially became part owner and ended up living happily ever after.

    5. you don't know me*

      Yes. If you plan to do this, be prepared for your current job to tell you to leave and take the offer.

    6. Jen S. 2.0*

      This is the real danger to me. Don’t go out and get a competing offer and try to leverage it unless A) money is your ONLY issue with your current job, and B) you are 100% willing to take the competing offer. You run the risk of your current job telling you to go take the new job, and of them knowing your threats are empty if you don’t. You also then know you are currently in a job that will only give you a raise on your way out the door. Ugh.

    7. Wendy Darling*

      Yeah, one of my favorite work comeuppance events was when a relatively recent hire underestimated how much we actually needed him vs how much of a pain he was (we’d already been trying to decide how to demote him) and marched into his manager’s office and told her he was quitting unless she gave him a substantial raise. She cheerily accepted his resignation. My only regret is that he was permitted to work out his notice period instead of her just sending him home with pay, because it turned out having a big sulky baby working for two weeks was pretty lousy.

      1. LPUK*

        This happened to me with a distinctly average employee who had already caused problems in the office ( quite apart from telling me he had a big crush on me and couldn’t think straight while I was around – awkward as I was his direct manager). He gave in his notice saying he was moving away, to which I inwardly cheered, we had the leaving discussion where I asked him if there was anything else to cover and he said ‘well you could ask me to stay, to which my response was ‘ why would I? You’ve told me your moving across the country to take a job with your wife’s family?’; I immediately gave his job to a great temp as a permanent role and the the guy stated working out his notice. 2 weeks later he asked for his job back! I had a moment of panic where I raced down to check with HR whether we had to take him back, and then was able to tell him that his job position was already filled and there was no vacancy. Bullet dodged.

    8. selena81*

      I am kinda in OP’s position right now: thinking my salary is unfair and considering looking around.

      I keep reminding myself that it should be about ‘wanting the new job’ and not about fantasizing that ‘the old job will beg you to stay’.

      I did consider for a moment that i should issue empty threats of ‘pay me more or i will leave’, but i am way to scared of my manager saying ‘fine, you can leave’. So instead i choose to see my situation as ‘if you are unhappy enough to consider making such threats it is time to move on’ (but preferably with as few burned bridges as possible)

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Agreed, go after that job, or some other job!

      Once you are fed up at a place, it’s hard to become un-fed up. Even if the OP got her money at the current place, I predict the two years without raises and promotions will leave scars. It’s kind of like the terrible boyfriend that says he loves you, but his actions say something else. You can’t ignore the actions.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This letter reminded me of a Dan Savage letter in which immediately after being dumped by his girlfriend, LW abruptly realized the answers to all the identity problems he had wrestled with over their 3 years together. So now that that was totally fixed, how could he convince his girlfriend to come back?

      2. selena81*

        At some point it stopped being about ‘the thing’ and started being about ‘you did not care that i wanted the thing’. At long last getting ‘the thing’ may initially feel like a victory, but it just means you are locked in a senseless fight with someone you love-hate.

  4. anon24*

    Be very wary if you do this.

    A former co-worker of my husband did this. Got a job offer from someone she had a great network connection with and used it to leverage a raise at her current position. A few months later she was fired for made up reasons (according to my husband it was legitimately made up), asked her connection to hire her, and found out she had burned that bridge. My husband also left that job and when he put in his two weeks he was given a counter offer. He turned it down and was immediately escorted off the premises and told that if he didn’t come back the next day for his personal property they were throwing it all out.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I agree that taking the counter is a bad idea, but I wonder why the relationship with the outside offering company is ruined. People don’t take jobs for lots of reasons, not just getting a counter offer. Recent examples from a couple of our candidates – wife didn’t want to move in one case, and in another the guy thought he was going to get stuck on an international assignment at his current company and really wanted a different job with us, so when he didn’t have to go overseas and didn’t get the bigger job, he stayed. Are people telling the other companies they took counters, rather than making up another reason?

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        I think it depends in large part on whether the person had actually ACCEPTED an offer and then rescinded it, or just declined the offer.

        If you accept the offer, you have set certain processes in motion, and closed down others. HR begins to prepare benefits, a desk for the new employee, and other logistical stuff. The hiring manager and/or recruiter stop scheduling interviews and send out firm rejections to runner-up candidates. If you rescind the acceptance, you then force the company to stop and reverse any logistical processes of bringing you in, and restart the hiring process. Their second-choice candidate may have already accepted another job; at the very least, if the recruiter calls to say “still interested?” they know they’re not the top pick.

        So I get it, for sure, that rescinding an acceptance would constitute a burned bridge.

        Simply declining an offer, though, is a little different. If I declined an offer because I received a counteroffer and wanted to take it, I probably wouldn’t give that exact reason to the recruiter, because a recruiter might not be able to tell the difference between a candidate who never intended to take the new job (and was thus deliberately wasting everyone’s time) and a candidate who has given serious thought to the new offer but was ultimately given a counteroffer too good to resist. If the recruiter thinks the former was the case, that’s probably a burned bridge also.

        1. anon24*

          I wasn’t clear in that. I believe this person had accepted the offer and had a start date set. The new company had no idea that they weren’t sincere. I think the connection had gone out of their way to get this person the position as well.

          1. not really a lurker anymore*

            My husband had a start date for a new job. Went into old job and had meeting with owner and VP that lasted 2 hours. Afterwards, he called to me say “I’m staying” He got a new title, a start of a pathway for more interesting tasks, a $25K retaining bonus and a $15K year raise. It’s been a year now.

            After calling me, he called the new company to rescind and apologize profusely. They said flat out they couldn’t compete with that and basically wished him well. We assume that bridge is burnt.

        2. Hey Nonnie*

          Yes, consider that counter-offers are very often not in play until the employee notifies their current boss of their resignation. Given there is at least a little risk involved in resigning without having accepted on offer, a lot of people probably do accept, then resign from their current position, then are wooed back by the counter-offer.

      2. Antilles*

        From a purely logical perspective, taking a counter offer from your current company *should* be no different than a candidate choosing another offer over yours – my company’s offer was good, but Teapots Inc was better; whether or not you currently work at Teapots Inc isn’t really relevant.
        But from the emotional/gut level, it doesn’t *feel* the same. Taking a counter offer from your current company seems like you were negotiating in bad faith from the start – you never intended to work here, you just needed someone anyone to serve as a patsy to show interest.

      3. Amber T*

        The thing with not accepting a job because of a counter offer… they just seem shady. I’m sure there are legitimate times where an employee fully plans on leaving Company A to work for Company B, then Company A makes them such a great offer that they don’t want to refuse, but I don’t know, most of the time it just seems that the employee is using Company B without intending to work there, which doesn’t seem fair. It’s one thing if circumstances change (though I’d be side eyeing the spouse not wanting to move excuse… that’s some major miscommunication there and time wasted caused for you), or good faith negotiations/deals can’t be reached.

        1. Nita*

          I had that one happen to me once. I verbally accepted the offer, and then had to decline and take a counter-offer. It was partly to do with the money, but mostly to do with something else. My husband and I had of course weighed the pros and cons before I took the offer, but at the eleventh hour he made a casual remark about how this would affect our life choices. Well, the thing he was so casual about was a huge deal to me, I had not realized he thought the way he did, and after that, I think I would have declined whether or not a counter-offer was involved. There was also the fact that I was getting pressured for a shorter notice period than I needed to ensure a smooth transition out of my old job.

          For what it’s worth, none of those decisions were made lightly, I apologized to the hiring manager, and I’ve had it with the job search process and am not going anywhere near a resume anytime soon, if I can help it.

      4. Artemesia*

        Putting people, especially a ‘connection’ through all the work of getting you an offer only to use it to get a counter offer feels to lots of people like they have been yanked around. So they are not particularly interested in round two. A person who turns down offer A to take offer B has generally not burned a bridge; a person who uses offer A to force their own firm to give them a raise will often have done so.

    2. Hey Nonnie*

      Ha… this reminds me of a place I worked where our 3-person department knew the team lead was job hunting, by virtue of the gradually disappearing toys and figurines from around his cubicle. It took several weeks and there were even a few left by the time I left, but the attrition was fairly obvious if you bothered to notice.

  5. Lemon Bars*

    No counter offers, if you were valued you would have been compensated and promoted for it no excuses. You were looking for another job for a reason don’t discount that, take the new job.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      That. They know it’s always a possibility that you could leave and if they cared, they would make it worth your time to stay. Go ahead and go. Actions speak louder than words.

    2. ChaoticGood*

      “If you were valued you would have been compensated” – Exactly! What are you going to do, demand back pay for all that time when you *had* been worth that new salary and they hadn’t paid it to you?

  6. Antilles*

    This past fiscal year, I was told to pass on the promotion for budgeting reasons; they said I should push it off a year in order to get a raise commensurate with what I deserve. Recently, I was told the same thing is true for this coming fiscal year– that I should wait until next year for my promotion and raise.
    This jumped off the page at me. Not only did they ask you to “pass on a promotion for budget reasons” (pretty weird in and of itself!), they then have basically reverted from that and said they need you to wait yet again? No, no, no. Once is an event, twice is a trend. I’d lay money that if OP’s still around next July, she’ll hear yet another reason in 2019 why there’s no money available.

    1. Opting for the Sidelines*

      Good point. They can at least offer you the title even if they cannot afford the raise to go with it. (However, this assumes it is title-only with no huge increase in responsibilities or hours, etc. ) A better title may also allow you to leverage for a better salary at New Place if you do decide to move on.

    2. karou*

      I was confused about being told to pass on the promotion — did they offer OP a promotion but also tell them to turn it down or delay it? Why are they putting the decision on OP’s shoulders? I wonder if they’ll turn it around on OP and blame the lack of promotion/raise on them turning it down before.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah. I don’t know how this industry works, but it sounds like someone was saying “Look we have to offer OP a raise and promotion” to a messenger who turned it around as”Ooooooh OP, I’m relaying this, but if you did accept it would be awful! You should turn it down. Because, umm, then (thing happens) and so it would ultimately be a lot more money for you so long as you’re patient now. So I’m offering the promotion, but you should say ‘gosh no’ so later a lot of money, somehow.”

      2. Frank Doyle*

        Agreed. Also, how does it make sense to not take a promotion because the raise isn’t big enough? Can’t you give me what you can this year, and then the rest next year? At least I’ll have gotten SOME raise for a year.

        1. Antilles*

          And quite honestly, even if they had no raise whatsoever available, it’d probably still be in your benefit to take it. Because then during next year’s raise cycle, you’ve got a much stronger case for an overly large raise since you’ve been doing the duties of X, Y, Z and rocking them, but no raise from your promotion…and then if they still push back with “nope, sorry, no money”, you’ve received an explicitly clear message that you can never expect a raise again, so you better look elsewhere with the shiny new title heading up the resume.

  7. irene adler*

    This is often the fastest way to learn that you really aren’t that indispensable to the organization.

    My take: management often feeds heavy complements in the hopes you’ll be fine with the status quo.

    Shop around.

    1. MiffedAdmin*

      This!! I recently moved into a new role because of how management refused to acknowledge my hard work. Always putting candies in my mouth saying how I’m valuable yet no promotion or reclassification! So I said adios and found a new job!

  8. Celeste*

    Somebody asked to use me as a reference once. When I called to say that the company had called me and expressed congratulations that it seemed to be going forward, she said, oh I only went on the interview to see if I could get an offer to use for a raise. Had I known that, I would not have been so willing to help out. I didn’t like feeling part of something I thought was unfair to the people trying to hire.

  9. mario*

    It is your duty to work loyally and without question. Don’t be greedy and just be thankful for what you have. Reject any future raises that come your way. Do it for the good of the company.

    1. Tangerina*

      No, value yourself. You are selling a service the company is buying. Don’t sell yourself short.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        Well, I was certainly hoping really hard that that’s what it was! But Mario said it with such a straight face. :-)

      2. Tangerina*

        Sadly, I do know some people that actually hold this attitude, which is why I was fooled.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          I still can’t get over that the OP’s reaction to “Hey, here’s a promotion but really turn it down” was “oh, okay.” Nuts to that. If it’s a promotion you want, the proper response to “here’s a promotion but turn it down” is “I accept!”

  10. Cat Herder*

    Academia — that’s one of the places where it can be the only way to get a raise.

    1. Drago Cucina*

      Sometimes in public library world as well. It was how I got the board to move and give a promotion and raise to a deserving person we really didn’t want to lose.

    2. JS#2*

      My university has been a-buzz recently because a faculty member made up a fake job offer to get a raise and then got caught! I believe they were talking about pressing felony charges because it was considered an attempt to “influence a public official”. (!!!)

      1. Lillie Lane*

        Yes, I read about that today. His apology letter and the situation was interesting.

        I was on a hiring panel at a university once and the guy we picked used the job offer to get a counteroffer from the university he was at….then we had to start the process all over again. Ugh.

        1. JS#2*

          That’s a nightmare situation–finding out your applicant took a counteroffer. I can’t imagine the pain. If I were on a hiring committee, I would burn it all down at that point. Sooo many hours of wasted effort.

          1. Lillie Lane*

            Exactly, especially because the application and interviewing process in academia is ridiculous to begin with. So much waste for everyone…staff, hiring committee, other candidates’ time for travel/seminar preparation, reference letter writers, plus all the money for travel for all the candidates. Too bad there isn’t a better system for raises in academia.

            1. Jessica*

              Yeah, it is awful. And it rewards the person who’s willing to spend their time wasting the time and resources of other schools, over the person who’s spending their time and energy doing their actual job at the school they’re at.

            2. selena81*

              so fraud-guy was just being considerate?

              it really sounds like a terrible system: forcing people to choose between being taken advantage of or being the douche that wastes everyone’s time.

      2. loslothluin*

        From what I read, the letter was from 2015, so I’d assume there’s a statute of limitations in play on this.

    3. Reliquary*

      I came here to say exactly that. In order to get a raise in academia, you may well have to apply for AND get an offer for a job you might not necessarily really want.

      I went on the market once because I was feeling undervalued (and underpaid), and while I was open to entertaining counteroffers from my university, the counteroffer I received was unacceptable. Thankfully, the new job offer was great, and I took it. No regrets at all!

      But bluffing is an awful idea, and in my opinion, the professor who was recently all over the news for getting caught in such a bluff made some truly terrible choices. I don’t even feel bad for him.

      1. Lia*

        That guy made up the counteroffer out of whole cloth, though, didn’t he?

        I am in higher ed administration and we do NOT ever match counteroffers. We lost two great people who were the backbone of their unit due to not matching the very modest increases they received from offers outside their area, and the unit they were in never recovered and ultimately was folded into another since it took so long to find suitable candidates to replace them.

        1. Reliquary*

          Oh, yes, my reference to “bluffing” was an understatement. In his case, it was an outright lie. There was no outside offer.

    4. LDN Layabout*

      Not just raises, but jobs for other people as well, which as someone looking in and not in academia, seems ridiculous.

      (My family member is finally leaving academia but I’m pretty sure over the years he’s leveraged other institution interest in him into at least permanent 5-10 jobs for his PhDs/Post Docs.)

  11. BeenThere*

    I have a question about Alison’s advice to ask for a raise. In this case, getting a raise seems iffy. So what does one do when the request for a raise is denied? The employer now knows that the employee is not happy with the compensation. Wouldn’t that change the way the employee is viewed, too?

    1. selena81*

      i’d say that falls under ‘if they are offended you work there for *money* then it is reeaaally time to move on’

      i can only imagine it being a problem with a sane employer if you ask for a delusionally large raise

  12. BananaRama*

    My manager acknowledged that using a counter-offer was the way they did business. I agree with Alison about all the reasons she lays out why it’s a bad idea to stay. I don’t intend to follow the company culture on this one. Money is not the only reason people start looking for a job – it’s one of the reasons yes – but often times it’s workplace culture, politics, toxic management, job boredom, etc. The reasons you started looking don’t change because the employer suddenly decided to save you from leaving with more money. If you were worth that kind of raise the whole time, it should not have been apparent to them when you were ready to walk out the door.

  13. AgentSero*

    My wife started her current job on a temporary contract. About eight months before it expired, she started looking at other jobs since there was no talk about bringing her on permanently. She loved the job, but needed the security. She got an offer at a different place and when she came back to the contract job, she told them that she’d gotten the offer and asked if there was anything they could do to keep her. They quickly moved to make her a permanent employee. She’s been there for three years since. Was she wrong to stay? On one hand, they didn’t make a move to make her permanent until she was ready to leave, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to leave in the first place.

    1. sheep of wall street*

      agree with:

      “On one hand, they didn’t make a move to make her permanent until she was ready to leave…”

      its on you to take the initiative

    2. Former call centre worker*

      How long before the end of contract did she get the offer? In my experience if temporary contracts are extended it’s usually very last minute, as in, like, a week or two. Her getting another offer probably gave her manager a bit of leverage with HR to get funding for a permanent post earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

    3. Ali G*

      At 8 months out they probably weren’t thinking at all about the end of the contract (unlike you two who were probably thinking about it a lot!). So no I don’t think she was wrong. They may have always planned to extend the contract or hire her full time, but just on a different timeline. It’s cheaper for them to keep on contract, but when the risk of losing her before her work was completed came up, they decided to go ahead with something they may have been planning anyway, just at a different time.

    4. Amber T*

      I think that’s a different scenario. It’s silly, but sometimes someone’s work status (temp/contract/full time) gets overlooked, and it’s up to the individual (the one who’s actually paying attention) to raise it. If she had brought it up and they were non-committal, then only sprung once she had another job lined up, maybe. But even then I still think it’s a different situation. If she’s happy otherwise with the way she’s being treated, her work, and her pay, I think she’s good.

    5. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

      I agree with the other commenters about your wife’s situation and I’d also add that in your wife’s case, an end was in sight and something on the table. While there’s always a chance for renewal or status changes with a temporary job, it’s not the same as LW being strung along, possibly (and likely) being underpaid indefinitely. A temp job lays out explicitly that even if the employee does amazing work, there’s still a high probability of them needing to job hunt. So I think it would less of an offensive move in your wife’s case.

      In the end, as Alison said, there’s definitely cases of it going over well but it’s really a last resort kind of thing and something that for many people won’t get them the results they want (long term respect and compensation).

      1. selena81*

        Yeah, with a temporary job it is _expected_ that you keep low-level job-hunting throughout. And with there still being 8 months on the clock i’d assume they hadn’t even had their ‘how do we see the future of mrs Sero?’ discussion yet.

        So if she played it as ‘i got this offer, which would be an improvement that i feel i should take, but i would rather stay with you’ (downplaying her own job-hunting activities) then i can see it working out alright.

  14. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    I agree with Alison that you need to shop around for a better job with a company that will pay you with a salary commensurate with your skills.

    Don’t use another job offer to get a raise unless you are truly prepared to take the job.

    First step might be to discuss the issue as Alison suggested. And at least get the title bump! That will help in the job search, a fact not lost on your current employer. They’ve been shining you about the promotion for, lo, these many years!

  15. Tiny Orchid*

    At my first professional job, my boss accepted the counteroffer. One month later they asked her to leave. They did let her stay on until she had found a new job, but really? Then, for the next month or so she basically job searched full-time instead of doing the work we needed to do. It was miserable all around.

  16. CatCat*

    Agreeing that it’s a bad idea. Doesn’t mean you have to take a job with the other company, but why not apply? What if they pay a lot more? Sometimes getting a higher paycheck makes it easier to deal with the things that are dysfunctional. Why not apply other places as well?

    Ex-job was one of those jobs that pretty much the only way to get a significant raise was to get an offer and then seek a counteroffer. I was encouraged to do this. I thought it was really stupid. I ended up landing a great opportunity with a huge raise that ex-job wouldn’t even be able to get close to (government, locked pay range). Wasn’t worth sticking around after that! I was really irritated at the time by the whole thing, but it was a blessing in disguise and I’m way ahead where I would have been if I hadn’t looked for new opportunities.

  17. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    I’m not sure if it’s the inverse, reverse or converse, but be aware that if you do accept a new position, your current company may make a counter offer on their own. Do. Not. Take. It. Even though it was their idea, all the negative feelings of being manipulated and pushed to the wall will be blamed on you.
    Take the new job (if you are really excited about it). If you leave your current place on good terms, you can come back in a couple of years. This happens to a lot of people at my >1,400 people company. The company goes looking for them when there’s an opening.

  18. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

    The OP might find out that his/her current employer won’t counter. Not every employer will, and an employer that is already struggling to meet their financial goals I suspect is less likely.

    Promised promotions that never occur is a good enough reason to leave. Some places won’t change until they lose enough people, and even then it’s not enough.

  19. Kyrielle*

    What I would do instead is ask for a raise. And if they can’t give you the raise but it’d be good for your career, I might also ask for the promotion *at your current salary*, “with the expectation of reviewing that next year”.

    Not because you actually hope for a raise next year so much as having that promotion on your resume as you look around.

  20. MK*

    As someone who worked in development it can be tough, but maybe instead of using a job offer to get a raise you should use your skills to get your current organization more funding and finding different streams. Then you would be showing them how vital you are while doing your job and helping your organization.

  21. Bea*

    Absolutely only do this if you’d be happy at the other job. If you’re consistently below goals and shrinking budget, they’ll probably hate doing it but will let you walk. I’ve been in companies without money, we’re truly out and nobody is getting a raise, end of story. They don’t have a secret bank account they’ll suddenly find to pay you out of.

    1. AMPG*

      I’m on the other side of this – I’m at a nonprofit that posted a loss last year, but I still got a raise and a promotion. This year we have a break-even budget, but I’m still expecting a small raise. Honestly, I generally expect a yearly COL adjustment as the minimum price of keeping me. An employer who can’t even keep up with inflation isn’t on solid enough financial footing for me to stay with.

  22. seethingsdifferently*

    i got an offer, turned it down, and then told my boss. I made it clear that I wasn’t telling him this to negotiate for a better offer for myself, but that I felt he needed to know that our general pay structure was not competitive. I also knew that my colleagues were also interviewing elsewhere or the same reason. In my instance, I knew the boss would take my info in the spirit it was intended. and he did. He is working with HR to upgrade our departmental pay and looks like it is going to work.

  23. Lisa*

    I feel like not everyone understands the way that significant cultural institutions work, especially with regards to budgeting. Often these places work by receiving government grants, which are of a known dollar value. This known amount is then split across the organizations needs. OP is being *asked* to pass on budgeting in her promotion and raise.
    OP, I would not let them ‘convince’ you into doing this. Unless, of course, you are part of the reason you are 10% under reaching the goal. Otherwise I would suggest that the department which failed bite the bullet for this one. Put it in the budget. Tell them the pass already happened last year.

    1. Bea*

      This absolutely changes my POV. I assumed they were broke ass and losing/bleeding funding. Instead they’re not properly allocating it.

    2. AMPG*

      I agree with this 100%. If it’s genuinely your fault the goals weren’t met, figure out what went wrong and how you can help fix it. Otherwise, you did your part and should be compensated accordingly. My nonprofit posted a loss last year but it had nothing to do with me, and in fact I helped mitigate the damage by bringing in additional funding, so you’d better believe I expected (and got) a raise.

  24. Cordoba*

    Playing a counter offer against your current employer for a raise is Olympic-level professional swashbuckling; it can be done successfully by those who are very skillful or very in-demand but even then it’s risky.

    I’ve done it with a good result, but is absolutely not something I’d recommend that just anybody try.

    In general, if you have to ask whether you should do it or how to pull it off you’re probably not in a good spot to try.

    I do recommend that the LW no longer allow themselves to be convinced to turn down raises and promotions. Take what you earned, and the budget people can either find the money or take it out of somebody else’s pay.

  25. OldJules*

    It really depends on the culture and your relationship with your boss. Based on their fishing technique, pull the line taut so that the fish doesn’t get away, but don’t reel them in too quickly. It might actually work. Personally, if I’ve been promised a promotion twice and pulled a ‘j/k, maybe next year’ I wouldn’t stay. As a wise man once said, ‘Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, you’ll never fool me again…’

  26. Technical_Kitty*

    Honestly, if they’ve pulled this “promotion raise, but wait until next year” crap 2 years running, you should be looking for another job. If they don’t have the money? Fine, look somewhere else. If they see you as important but someone else is more important therefor they get the money? Fine, look for another job.

    Basically it comes down to, look or another job, the one you have either doesn’t appreciate you or can’t afford you.

  27. Artemesia*

    I am deeply cynical about all this as I have watched very competent women be told year after year that ‘they are just great but it just isn’t in the very tight budget to give them a raise, but they are just so valued’ only to have some guy with half their experience and often half their competence brought in at a higher salary because ‘it was the only way we could be competitive.’ If they want you they pay for you.

    There are businesses where counteroffering is the norm. Tenured professors in private institutions often don’t get much in the way of a raise except on a counter offer and that is fine — but they have tenure. In the private sector it often marks one out and reduces future raises and promotions. They have you marked as someone looking to leave and so start figuring out how to cope without you.

    This organization doesn’t want to recognize the OP for their work and thinks they can abuse her good will. She needs to find a good job that pays more that she would actually want to take and go get it and not look back.

    1. Lucille2*

      In many large corporations, the raise budget can be very limited and tied to overall company performance, not department performance. So for a high performing department caught in a bad fiscal year for the company, this can be very frustrating for managers when the time comes to divvy out raises/promotions. As a hiring manager, I learned that hiring someone externally offered much more budget in salary negotiations than promoting or offering raises to internal employees. This is especially true in cities where cost of living is on the rise year over year (many West Coast cities). So, if you are an underpaid employee who was hired several years ago when cost of living was significantly lower than it is now, you will continue to be underpaid regardless of yearly raises. I’ve seen managers work the system to try to get someone valuable the raise they deserve, but this is often at the cost of other employees’ raises. Once when I was hiring for a position, and found the best candidate to be an external hire, the salary range for that position for my local market was not much less than I was making as the hiring manager. Realizing my actual worth in the market, it was not long after that I took another job with another company.

  28. stitchinthyme*

    I would say that if the LW is genuinely interested in the other job, they should interview for it, consider it fairly, and leave their current job if the other job seems better. Interviewing for a job you have no intention of taking is kind of a crappy thing to do.

    I say that as one of the minority who DID accept a counteroffer and had no repercussions from it. But it was kind of a different situation from the typical: my husband told me about a job posting at his company that looked like it was tailor-made for me, so I said, “What the heck?” and gave him my resume. I interviewed and got an offer, even though I wasn’t really looking to leave my current company. The offer turned out to be $20K more than my current salary, and I didn’t feel like I could just turn that down out of hand. After agonizing over it for several days, I finally went to my boss and laid it all out for him: how I hadn’t been looking but this opportunity had just fallen into my lap, I’d been planning to turn it down, but I didn’t feel like I could given the difference in salary, and now I didn’t know what to do. My boss told me he’d talk to the company president and get back to me; the next day he told me they’d match the offer, so I turned it down and stayed. That was 3 years ago; there’s been no awkwardness, and I’ve still gotten regular annual raises since.

    But again, I wasn’t actively looking, and I stressed to my boss that I wasn’t looking to play games or angle for a counteroffer. Not that I was unhappy that I actually got one, but I didn’t go into the whole thing with that intent.

    1. stitchinthyme*

      To be clear, I didn’t do the interview with the intention of turning down an offer, although I wasn’t really eager to leave my current company. It was more of a “Well, I don’t really want to leave, but the job sounds interesting and I’m open to new opportunities.” But I hated their open-office setup when I saw it — especially since I’d be going to that from having my own office. That was probably the #1 factor that kept me from just accepting rather than talking to my boss…my work environment is REALLY important to me, and as an introvert I hate open offices more than anything.

      1. selena81*

        really? i love open offices: i can listen in on people, which saves me from having to actually talk to them to get information

  29. Snack Management*

    I’ve been at my current employer for about the same length of time as you, OP, and over the years I have needed to advocate for my own salary and career advancement (pretty much every time for promotions). I work in a financially strapped industry so finances as an excuse is pretty common. I was overlooked and underpaid with managers who would not have made changes if I hadn’t spoken up. I got a raise and title change when I did a market analysis and reviewed my own job description to my current duties to show what had changed to warrant the promotion. Another time I went above my boss (not something I’d recommend in all circumstances – I had brought up the raise in a prior and it had been ignored by that boss) and took my case to the next level (grand boss who I had a good relationship with) and laid out why I deserved a title and salary increase (similarly quoting market rates specific to our industry and making the case of my value for a specific long term business line they were launching). If you haven’t pushed back and advocated for yourself a little stronger, I’d suggest you do that. I didn’t job search or threaten to in my negotiations; I was in a strong position with my skills, knowledge and tenure (which you probably have as well, OP) so I made it clear that I was not job searching and wanted to stay committed to my employer but would have to consider what it meant if they couldn’t meet my need to further my career. I was ready to job search if I needed going into these conversations and I knew the culture and people well enough to know what to expect. None of this may be of help to you but if you haven’t sat down and told them you’re unhappy with these promotion delays, it may be worth it.

  30. Beatrice*

    I was in this situation a while back. The reasons for delaying had nothing to do with budget and everything to do with our project cycle, but otherwise, same thing. I found another job (I wasn’t actually looking, an opportunity fell in my lap with all the advancement opportunity I wanted). I was very clear and honest on my reason for leaving when I gave notice – I loved my job and would not have considered leaving if they’d promoted me sooner, or if there was any credible plan to promote me in the near future, but I was doing myself a disservice by staying. Two months after I gave notice, my team was restructured, to include two new management positions that were filled by promoting people who had been my similarly-situated peers. I have no way of knowing whether that was already in the works when I left or whether my departure precipitated it or accelerated it, but I’m still glad I left!

  31. Bluebell*

    OP- do you know that the average development tenure is now eighteen months? It might be hard, but unless you love this org, it’s really time for you to start looking. Ten years without significant promotions is way too much. Do you have a network beyond your organization? Belong to any professional associations? There are probably lots of great organizations that would appreciate your talents! (I say this as a development professional that has been at one org for 7 years, another for 6, and I felt guilty when I was recruited away from one place after 3 years. Good luck!

    1. Rhymetime*

      As another long-time development professional at a cultural institution, I concur. I’ll also add that I did in fact successfully leverage a job offer for a substantial raise and a promotion. But I didn’t go into the process that way. A recruiter reached out to me, and I only responded because I was genuinely interested. I think it’s disingenuous to enter a job search if your only intention is to leverage a raise. That’s not fair to the other organization.

      In my case, I went through the job search because not only did the new position offer a raise, but it was with an organization I admired. When I finally got down to the job offer stage, I had learned enough about the new position that I realized I would have preferred to stay where I was. But if they couldn’t match it, I was ready to take the new job.

      Happily for me, the raise and a promotion came through within hours of when I asked, thanks to a manager who went to bat for me all the way up to senior leadership. I felt really valued and ended up staying there two more years, and only left when a recruiter reached out to me again for a much higher paying position. (We fundraisers are lucky to be in such high demand compared to other positions in the nonprofit sector.)

      1. PolarBearGirl*

        Another development professional coming here to say the exact same thing. If you are bringing 10 years of experience at a high-profile institution to any new role, you’ll more than likely find improved compensation. Even if the team or culture isn’t what you have now, there are always development jobs open, so if you feel after another 3 years that you want to move on again, there are usually good options that open up.

        If you’ve worked that long at your current organization and they are telling you, essentially, that you are worth a raise but they won’t give you one, take your expertise and walk.

  32. Tones*

    I’m in this position right now. I like my job, love my co-workers but it’s hard to work above my job description with no compensation. My boss is trying to get me moved to a higher track but there has been a lot of general dragging of the feet and I am losing patience. I have applied for jobs and have almost gotten jobs that are similar in scope for what I do, with the minimum pay being 9-11k more than I make. I feel extremely appreciated from my peers but that doesn’t pay the bills.

  33. GM*

    Excellent, highly relevant topic of discussion today! I would appreciate some advice on my situation which is slightly different. I’m perfectly happy with my pay but not my designation. To cut a long story short, I joined this firm though I was perfectly happy in my previous one albeit grossly underpaid. Taking this job brought me well up to par. However I did not negotiate on the designation while joining, and ended up coming in at 1 level slightly junior than I could have been. It’s been 18 months and I have got top performer status, my boss has nothing but nice things to say about me and I believe he does support my promotion but says there are other constraints for it. At the same time however I see peers in other projects in the same department (though not in his area) being promoted. How do I politely say without burning bridges – I love working here but if the promotion doesn’t happen soon I’ll be quite demotivated?

  34. Drama Llama*

    A lot of savvy managers don’t do counter offers. If an employee is unhappy enough to decide to leave, a counter offer doesn’t address any problems they have about their boss, stressful hours, workload, etc. Any pay increase is going to be just going to be a short term solution before they leave eventually.

    Alison made an excellent point about this potentially affecting your relationship with your boss. Your boss might be reluctant to invest in your further training or give you important projects, because they’re thinking you might resign anyway.

    By the way, have you actually asked for a pay raise? Because while I’ve seen several people make empty threats to quit as an attempt to obtain a pay increase, very few people actually try to negotiate their pay professionally in ways that Alison has suggested.

    It’s also shitty and inconsiderate to apply for roles you have no intention of accepting, just to use their offer as a leverage for a pay increase. The other employer would have spent considerable time and resources putting you through the recruitment process, and decline other potentially worthy candidates to offer you a role. It’s the workplace equivalent of dating someone you don’t like just to make your ex jealous. Don’t be that person.

    1. AMPG*

      If you reread the letter, the OP makes it clear that they’ve had multiple discussions about raises and promotions.

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