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I am currently looking for opportunities outside of my current employer. I think I have reasonable chances to get a job offer if my next interview goes well and it got me wondering. If I quit my current job, I will lose a few thousand dollars worth of benefits (stock options) and I will have to pay back some education that was reimbursed by my employer. This will put me in a tough spot financially and I might not be able to take the new job even though it pays quite a lot more.

I am thinking about asking about a sign-in bonus (welcome package) which I hear is somewhat common in my industry (accounting analyst, financial services). Where I am struggling is whether to admit or not to the potential employer my financial problem. The truth is that I would probably have to decline the job offer if they do not agree to the bonus so it is relevant to mention but I also think it might not put me in such a good light to mention this.

Any thoughts ?

Edit: To be clear: I am from Canada and I do intend to ask for the signing bonus no matter what.

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Hey Alex P, and welcome back to The Workplace. A couple quick questions for clarification. Are you saying that you will definitely ask for the bonus, but are just asking us whether or not you should explain why you are asking for the bonus? And why do you think that explaining your financial situation (that you have financial obligations to your prior employer) would put you in a bad light? If you could integrate the answers in to your post with an edit to make it more clear, it would be helpful. Thanks in advance! –  jmac Jul 22 at 2:10
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There's no way I'd tell a prospective employer that "I took education benefits from my previous employer; and now I'm dumping them on terms that force me to repay those benefits, and I expect you to pay them for me, especially since I can't afford it. (Of course, I won't treat you that way.)" –  user2338816 Jul 22 at 11:07
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@user2338816 How is he treating the old employer bad? He has to repay the education fees. It's not like he took the education and ran. –  Cruncher Jul 22 at 13:44
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@Cruncher Mostly true, but that's not the only viewpoint of the new employer. The question is about how much to admit. Admitting to taking the benefit and leaving while asking new employer to pay for it isn't a great light to shine on self. (And he's not the one doing the repayment.) –  user2338816 Jul 22 at 22:50

6 Answers 6

up vote 51 down vote accepted

I think it depends very much on what you mean by "have to decline". To me that suggests your financial situation is more parlous than you've suggested, meaning you actually can't borrow the money to repay the education expenses. If you can borrow that money from someone else I'd definitely prepare to do that. If you can, it means the "I'd like a signing bonus" negotiation becomes "here's something I'd like" and "as much as I can get" rather than "if you don't give me $X I can't take the job".

If you really can't cover the education repayment, I think you are better off disclosing parts of it, but during the salary negotiations. If you say "I'm leaving behind benefits worth $X much which I've budgeted for, so I'd be relying on you covering that cost in my signing bonus" that casts it in a better light than "I can't manage my finances so please bail me out". Which, realistically, is what "I can't borrow enough to cover what I owe my current employer" is saying.

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+1 as mentioning as a benefit of your current employment that needs to be matched rather than disclosing personal financial issues. –  Ida Jul 22 at 4:29
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I agree with that it is much smarter to simply state the loss of benefits from the former company and that you simply want it to be replaced. However, I reject the notion here, that the OP is financially unstable (by not being able to borrow the money) or the OP should borrow money. I would never do that, simply because I don't want to borrow money. Especially in this case, it would also be financially unwise - What happens if you don't like the job or get fired after two weeks? Then you have a pile of debts for nothing - Only a signing bonus can prevent that. –  dirkk Jul 22 at 9:31
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"I can't manage my finances so please bail me out" -- well, the technical term for someone whose penalty clauses make them financially unable to leave their job before a certain date is an "indentured servant". Whether someone gets into that state by financial mismanagement or by unreasonableness of the employer is another matter, but one would at least hope that in the latter case there would be legal recourse in Canada ;-) –  Steve Jessop Jul 22 at 13:38

Your prospective employer has no business asking, learning, or knowing about your financial situation. I've been on job interviews where not getting the job would mean losing the house, but I kept my desperation to myself. My situation had nothing to do with my ability to do the job, the reason they would be hiring me. Starting off a professional relationship by injecting your personal problems would just not be a good idea.

Many years ago, I left a medium sized company that had just been acquired by IBM. I left behind 5 years worth of IBM options. When I ran the numbers, present value and all that, it was the thing to do. I'd suggest you do the same. When you know the dollar answer, see if it makes you happy or not. That's your decision variable.

Best of luck to you!

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From your description you don't have to change your job. You are only considering such opportunity. There are quite heavy costs of leaving your current company, so honestly, it's obvious they should be exceeded by the benefits from joining the new company.

I think, you should tell them about all the costs that you are to take to change the job, and be honest, you expect that the transition will be nevertheless profitable for you. If they really want to acquire you, they should pay the price, otherwise do what is more profitable for you, which would be staying with your current company.

Job is about money, so it's quite obvious that you'll expect the new salary high enough to cover all penalties and costs you'll have to take. Honestly, nobody will expect you to do otherwise.

In IT industy, for example, it's quite common for acquiring companies to pay all transfer costs, including penalties for transferring to the client company (for people working for outsourcing companies). So your situation is not untypical.

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Careful wording and phrasing is the key for this situation. What you want to do is:

  • Do not disclose this at all - Nobody needs to know your financial situation and additionally it could put you in a disadvantage if you consider that there are probably many people suitable for the same job, but you have special needs. Please don't take it the wrong way as this would be an objective view on these things.
  • Do factor this into your negotiation - It makes reasonable sense to factor this into your negotiation. You don't want to move to a 'lesser' job so to speak. Once you work that out, onwards to the hardest part.
  • Do word your negotiation terms properly - You don't want to sound desperate. "I can't take this because I need xyz". Instead you may want to be comparative, along the lines of "my current employment offers me benefits to the value of $x, it makes sense for me to ask for the equivalent to this because it's something I budget on"
  • Do negotiate such that you seem that you're worth it instead of desperate - To sort of disguise that you're in a bad financial situation, you need to use your existing skills and experience to show that you're worth it. The idea is that you want to show that you're a good potentially employee and worth the money. This is not unethical or immoral because you're promoting yourself truthfully so that you can get a better deal at the end.
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How much money are we talking for the education reimbursement? If its not a lot, and the new employer is really offering a generous salary, why not put it on a credit card and pay it off with your new higher salary? I would not admit to your future employer that you will be in a difficult financial position (I mean, who are they the welfare office?). But if you could frame it as an asset that they would be acquiring by buying your previous education maybe it'll work. Personally I would try and handle it myself and leave the company out of my personal affairs. Or just ask for the welcome package and tell them its because you are worth it.

Also, I would love to know where these welcome packages are offered. I am in the accounting field as well but have not really heard of this.

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It's perfectly reasonable to say what you need in order to move jobs. Whether you reveal exactly why you need it is a tactic, according to whether you think the employer will agree to it otherwise.

One way of looking at this is that explaining why you literally cannot agree to move without the bonus reveals and proves your BATNA, which can be very good for you if your BATNA is bad for your opponent (that is, if they really want you to take the job and you won't take it without the money). Another way of looking at is is that your new employer will look more kindly on "covering your costs of switching jobs" than they will on "handing you cash for nothing".

Also, when you make it clear that the request is a demand, is a tactic. If you do it early then they might pass you up early without even considering you, because they know there are plenty of candidates who won't make that same demand. If you do it late then they're already invested in you and might be more willing to consider it seriously, then again they know you've played them, which is probably fine as long as they don't feel actively defrauded.

If you're correct that signing bonuses are common in your industry then they presumably won't feel defrauded if you spring such a demand on them late in the game. If you're wrong and they're uncommon for your role, they might feel the demand is unreasonable, you should have planned to take a personal loan for the money, and you've been wasting their time. Normally you want to reveal nothing until the salary negotiation at the end of the hiring process, but that changes if there's a risk they'll just reject what you need as ridiculous.

Presumably a signing bonus would in any case be on the same terms as the money you'll need to pay the old employer -- if you leave within X time then you pay it back. So indirectly they're just purchasing your indenture from your previous employer, which is fine if they are (in common with your old employer) comfortable with the indenture.

If signing bonuses and training paybacks are both common in your industry, then you can't be the first ever person in this situation, and there is probably a standard practice if only you can find someone to tell you about it. If so then following the standard will be seen by your new employer as totally professional, whereas not following it will be seen as either sloppy or malicious.

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