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I am a senior in college, looking at getting a job. I have interviewed recently at several places. One of them gave me an offer, with a dollar amount mentioned, and told me that it was confidential. The other company said they are ready to give me an offer, and asked if I had any other offers because they wanted to be competitive with them.

I'm curious whether I should respect the first company's wishes and just tell the second company I have another offer outstanding, or if I am allowed to mention the dollar amount to the second company in hopes of getting a better salary.

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If down voting please state why in the comments. –  Stephen Dec 12 '12 at 1:46
    
Downvoting is anonymous, but if you are going to leave feedback, I encourage positive feedback that helps the asker improve the post. –  jmort253 Dec 12 '12 at 1:53
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I would be vague as possible, I might even, simply give them what I would accept to NOT accept the other offer. The fact I have an offer means I am worth that amount of money plus more to the second company in an ideal world. I also wouldn't tell them who the other offer was with. –  Ramhound Dec 12 '12 at 17:29
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Tell the second company that the first company has told you their offer is confidential. (Unless you've already told them about the offer; then you might not want to reveal that you've broken confidentiality.) –  Keith Thompson Dec 15 '12 at 21:06
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Telling the employer you what you 'need' isn't necessarily telling them what 'the other people offered'. –  DA. Dec 15 '12 at 23:41
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5 Answers

I have to ask why you'd want to share a specific dollar amount from another offer.

Bottom line is that once you've provided a specific amount to a competitor you've given them the advantage in the negotiations. You've tipped your hand and shown them all of your cards and if you gain anything it will be a matching offer or only slightly above the one you already have.

If you've already received an offer from a potential employer you can certainly use that to your advantage in negotiating other offers. But keep specifics to yourself.

I'd approach this with something like:

I feel like this would be a great place to work; but your offer and benefits are below other offers I'm considering.

This lets them know that you're interested and also tells them that someone else places a higher value on your skills and potential than what they are putting on the table.

They may well ask for more information so that they can make a counter offer, but keep it vague or speak in general terms:

My other offers are approximately 25% higher salary with a 15% annual bonus and company paid health insurance.

There is nothing wrong with inflating the numbers a bit. But be realistic, telling them another company has offered 75% higher salary will most likely be laughed at.

Under no circumstances should you provide anything that would identify the company that made the other offer. 1) They asked you to keep it confidential and 2) It's just poor form on your part.

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The other way to do this is when they ask for the value of the other offers say "I would accept an offer from you of such-and-such dollars". You need to have done the comparison of benefits etc. before you say that, because you are pretty much committing yourself. –  DJClayworth Dec 12 '12 at 4:54
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@DJClayworth, good idea. But I'd say "I'd consider..." rather than "accept". Don't commit yourself. –  Stephen Dec 12 '12 at 4:58
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There is nothing wrong with inflating the numbers a bit. <--- what? I would most definitely NOT suggest inflating numbers unless you are comfortable starting your relationship with the new company by not telling them the truth... –  enderland Dec 12 '12 at 15:19
    
@enderland I'm certainly not suggesting you start a relationship with a new company by not telling them the truth. But this the negotiation not the interview. –  Stephen Dec 12 '12 at 15:24
    
@enderland - Easy enough to work around. Give them a number and explain that is the number you are willing to accept. You can give a different number and make them aware its not actually the exact amount you were offered. –  Ramhound Dec 12 '12 at 17:32
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Having been on both sides of the situation, here are a few reasonable options:

  • Tell them what the competing offer is, but nothing about who it's from. If you would prefer to work for the second company, this is a good way to make sure that their offer is "competitive" (i.e., around the same amount). If the second company would've offered you slightly less, this may get you slightly more. On the other hand, if the second company would've offered considerably more, they may scale it back to just a little more. Some people are suggesting "stretching" or "fudging" the number - don't do it. If you want them to leap higher, use one of the other options below.
  • Tell them you're not comfortable discussing other offers, but you are interested in their offer (if that is true). Since this sounds like your first big job hunt, this is a conservative track and puts the second company in a position where they know you have options, so they can't afford to lowball you. Don't worry about this seeming rude; it's a perfectly acceptable response if you're not comfortable wading into the ups and downs of stating specific numbers. Remember, the first company made an offer without knowing the second company's offer.
  • Tell them you won't tell them the other offer, but you will tell them what an offer would have to be for you to consider it. This allows you to honestly give a number higher than the current offer. This is a good option if you prefer the first company if the offers were equal, but a large offer from the second company would change your mind (but see my closing paragraph). If you do this, you want to make sure you don't sound like you're only in it for the money.
  • A way to avoid saying a specific number is to use a salary research site and say, "So-and-so.com says that the salary range for this type of position is $X,000-Y,000, and the other offer came in around the middle" (or high-end, or just "in that range"). This gives them a ballpark idea, but not enough information to just tack on an extra 5% to your current offer. Expect them to immediately take a stab, something like "So around $X,500?" to see if they can get a better idea. If you don't want to get more specific, you can probably say "yeah, more or less" or "somewhere around there" unless they come in pretty low.

No matter what, point out that you'll also be considering benefits package, working environment, type of work you'll be doing. If there are significant things that you like about one company over the other, this is a chance to raise them (e.g., "they're in the city, so I'd be able to use public transportation, but I really liked your work environment"). What you're doing is creating an opportunity for them to address a potential "weakness", so in that example, they'll probably point out a bus route that you didn't know about, or carpooling options, or housing and shopping in walking distance.

And then actually do that once you have the offers (or even before you have an offer): really pay attention to whether you would want to work at one place over the other. Unless you're really hard up for cash, how much you enjoy your job will make a bigger difference than a 5-10% increase in salary. Also, realize that salary negotiations can be misleading. If you negotiate a higher salary than a company would normally offer, they may keep your raises lower than average for a couple years to get you back to what they consider the right salary.

Finally, congratulations. Getting to the point of getting an offer is a lot of work, and can be scary the first time. Having to choose between offers is a good problem to have.

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Assume absolutely nothing until the offer is in writing. If the first company is interested in you enough to quote you a dollar amount, ask them to present their offer in writing so you can consider it. If they agree to your request and you decide to share the information with the second company, only do so verbally. If they ask to see "proof" of the offer, do not show them the letter or identify the company who extended the offer. You don't want to give them the ability to screw you over twice: once, by contacting the company and informing them that you shared the details of their offer, and a second time by demonstrating your challenges with "confidential" information. If they do not take you at your word, then you're better off sticking with the "bird in the hand".

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That's a good point; sharing confidential information tells them that you can't be trusted with confidential information. –  Keith Thompson Dec 12 '12 at 7:44
    
@NeilT. This is great advice. Get the first offer in writting then request time to discuss it with your family. This will give you time to get the second offer on the table, give them a firm deadline, and be firm on what your requirements are. –  Ramhound Dec 12 '12 at 17:34
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If you have a dollar amount you want then tell the company that amount plus some padding, but I don't think you can give a number without also comparing benefits. If you have no idea what you are worth, then simply say you are looking for a competitive offer for the position you are being hired for including benefits. That way, if a company knows they are light on benefits then they very well may offer a higher salary. Don't simply look at the salary, you may be quite surprised at how much your compensation can be dramatically improved by a company with good benefits.

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The first company gave me a full description of benefits, signing bonus, etc. so I kind of know where I stand. I think that's the way I will go about it: tell the second company what kind of offer it would take to drag me away from the first company, without disclosing the offer itself. –  Questions Abound Dec 11 '12 at 23:46
    
@QuestionsAbound: sounds reasonable. Also bear in mind that if were to mention the dollar value but not name the company that made the offer, or identify them in any way, you haven't really disclosed any confidentiality. –  Carson63000 Dec 12 '12 at 0:20
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Two good rules of thumb when negotiating offers with companies:

  1. The answer to "do you have other offers" is always "you should operate under the assumption that there are." This forces companies to offer you what they truly think is competitive, not what they think they can get away with and gives you some insight into how they operate. The company expects you to bring your "A" game to the interview and to work should you end up there. You should expect them to do the same at the offer table.

  2. Never mention a number in another offer until you're down to one you'd accept and one or more others that are equally good on everything but compensation. Reject all but the best one, and if any come back with "what will it take for us to get you here," give them the best offer's number. If they all decline, accept the best offer and enjoy your new job.

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