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I have a very unique role in an area that is a super-premium skill area. A competitor has come along and offered a compelling role, and offered a decent package with outstanding signing bonus to attract me.

I have a lot of experience with my current firm, the opportunity to build interesting things, but also a fair degree of frustration.

Should I let my employer know about the offer and a chance to beat the signing bonus? It seems like it'd be a tricky conversation. How would you approach it?

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    That is a tricky one. As the employer I would ask myself how long until he asks to have the next signing bonus matched. – paparazzo Apr 11 '16 at 19:10
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    seems like one of those things that is reasonable to get from any employer but the current one.. – user7230 Apr 11 '16 at 19:20
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    To put it another way, if someone gave you the bonus amount on the condition that you never expressed any further frustration with your current job, would you? – coblr Apr 11 '16 at 21:02
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    Run while you still can? I'd say any time you can say any degree of frustration you probably shouldn't be there. – Wayne Werner Apr 11 '16 at 21:05
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    @WayneWerner I want to know where you work that has absolutely zero frustrations. I've never heard of such a place. – mikeazo Apr 11 '16 at 22:44
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Should I let my employer know about the offer and a chance to beat the signing bonus?

That depends on your goals here.

If your current employer matched the offer you got, would you stay despite your "fair degree of frustration"? If so, then go ahead and ask if they will match it. And if they do, find a way to get past your frustration, and stick around for a while.

If you wouldn't stay, then perhaps you are just trying to up the ante for the new company that gave you the offer? In that case, you need to tread carefully. There is a possibility that you could end up with the offer being cancelled, and your current company saying goodbye.

Seems like a tricky conversation, how do you approach it?

It is a tricky conversation - on both sides.

As a hiring manager, I never attempt to match an offer that an employee got. As others have stated, money is very seldom the only factor in why someone wants to leave - often it isn't the biggest factor. And offering more money won't change those other factors.

In my personal experience, people who threaten to leave and are convinced to stay end up leaving very soon anyway. If they are any good, there will always be offers elsewhere for more money. So if someone is actually very money-motivated, they won't stick anywhere for long. While 18 months may seem long for an employee, for an employer of medium-to-higher level professionals, that is a very short duration. I would never hire someone if I thought they would be gone in under 2 years. Instead, I'd bring in a temp.

If you choose to have this conversation, be prepared to talk about why you want more money now, and why getting this money will keep you around for the long haul.

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    Joe, would knowing that I have been with the current employer for more than 10 years change any of this input? – ThatGuy Apr 12 '16 at 15:25
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    I would never hire someone if I thought they would be gone in under 2 years - well, you better never try hiring programmers... – Davor Apr 12 '16 at 17:23
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    @ThatGuy: Knowing you've been there for 10 years, imho, makes the situation worse. I think you'd be far better off just asking your employer for a regular bonus or raise and seeing what comes of it without bringing up the fact you've interviewed elsewhere and received an offer. – NotMe Apr 12 '16 at 18:15
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    "I never attempt to match an offer that an employee got" - that does rather depend on whether the employee went looking for a new post (in which case, they have already left in their head), or was head-hunted (in which case they could argue that they have just found they are rather undervalued in their current position). – Martin Bonner Apr 13 '16 at 9:27
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    @JoeStrazzere - so how do you reconcile the fact that 2 years is an eternity in a programming career with this requirement of yours that you wouldn't hire someone who isn't going to stay under 2 years? – Davor Apr 13 '16 at 14:14
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Should I let my employer know about the offer and a chance to beat the signing bonus?

No, according to stats 90% of counter offers leave (or are fired/let go) within 6 to 9 months (see link), it's harder to leave a second time if you accepted a counter offer to stay.

You are unlikely to be leaving purely down to money, so making money the reason to stay is a bad move.

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    Also, you are forever labeled as disloyal and untrustworthy. – Retired Codger Apr 11 '16 at 21:05
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Apr 13 '16 at 2:46
  • Seems like the consensus on the moved comments are that the recruiter's blog is the only source of this statistic, even though it cites Martin Varnier Research (what is that?) and the Wall Street Journal, it provides no more precise information with which to determine the veracity of the figure. – Aaron Hall Apr 13 '16 at 12:54
  • @RichardU Haha, disloyal and untrustworthy in the same way that employers are disloyal and untrustworthy any time they terminate an employee? This is standard business practice and how the job market operates; employees are not samurai pledging allegiance to a feudal lord. – user17041 Apr 14 '16 at 7:00
  • @SpaghettiCat I am well aware of the fact that we are not in medieval Japan. I am also aware of how management thinks. If you wish to be brave enough to ignore the advice given, so be it. The fact remains that asking for a counter offer has alerted management that you will likely not be there for long. If you accept it you're foolish because management will be looking for your replacement the moment you ask. As soon as they find it, you're gone. You are not a special snowflake and you can be replaced – Retired Codger Apr 14 '16 at 12:25
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What you need to ask for is a 'Retention Bonus' in leu of leaving and taking the new job. As noted, you need to be prepared to be walked out the door, but usually a discussion won't go that far that quickly.

A retention bonus is basically a bonus with strings attached that you will stay a period of time. This may be a year or could be as long as 3 depending on how much bonus you are asking for and how long you are expected to stay. If you ended up taking another offer you would have to repay the retention bonus, that the leverage the company has in this.

Another option that may or may not be available to your manager is a stock or vested bonus of some sort. This would be something that say you get 1/3 now, and then 1/3 each of the next 2 years. This would be desirable over say a cash bonus that you might have to pay back if they get tired of you in year 2 1/2 and fire or let you go triggering the repayment plan. Make sure the retention bonus is only triggered to be repaid if you initiate the leave.

I should note that I have NEVER seen anyone get one of these with the exception of very upper management during a merger or bankruptcy.

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First thing - if you don't have a written offer letter, don't play this game at all. An offer letter is leverage. You might go to your current employer and get booted just for insinuating that you want to wrestle some more dollars out. You'll certainly learn how you are valued!!! But you need a Plan B.

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    Just as you need to be prepared to make an offer, they'll be prepared to call your bluff. They might just say, "See you later." And if you don't have a offer, you'll be in a really bad position. – Dan Apr 11 '16 at 19:18
  • not in such a bad position if the skills the OP have are indeed demanded. – njzk2 Apr 12 '16 at 1:55
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    Dan a good point. Doesnt apply in my case, as I do have an offer, but others will definitely benefit as they find this conversation later. Ive been the hiring manager / career manager in a situation where someone tried to do that to me. I didnt get anything approved and they didnt leave. It was a big red flag to the business about that person for a period of time. They ultimately did leave a few months later. – ThatGuy Apr 12 '16 at 15:41
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    @BryanH Calling asking for a raise "blackmail" seems rather ridiculous to me. If you were threatening to release information that your employer was doing something illegal or threatening to leak secrets or something long those lines, that would be blackmail. Asking for a raise is legitimate negotiation. Whether it's advisable or not in a given situation is another matter, though. – reirab Apr 12 '16 at 16:14
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    @BryanH Sorry, but I still find that description absurd. You basically just described the principle of scarcity, upon which all markets function. If you have a limited quantity of something, you generally want to trade it for the best deal. Describing that as blackmail is kind of ridiculous. – reirab Apr 12 '16 at 16:31
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Once you actually have the offer and are prepared to take it, only then do you talk to your boss. This has been noted above.

But I do think you should talk to your boss but not for the purpose of getting more money out of him but to give him a chance to keep you by matching the offer.

So that begs the question. If your boss came up with a matching offer, would you still want to stay? Or to put it another way, once you have the offer in-hand, what would it take for you to happily stay at your current position? That is what you need to decide.

Don't let the allure of new money blind you to what you actually want. Before you can even decide whether to approach your boss about a matching offer, ask yourself if you would be happier if he could match it or would you be relieved if he couldn't?

In other words, don't even think about asking for a counter-offer unless you're certain that you would be happy if that offer was made. It may just be time to leave regardless. That's ok too.

  • It's a fair point. There is a lot to like here and with a lot of time getting to know the people and building a personal brand, I think I could see another year or two, but its a lot harder to think about something like 5-10 years. I think the 1-2 years wouldn't necessarily be "happily" but I wouldn't be a distracting presence either. Plenty of experience with how ugly that gets, and I wouldn't be that guy. If I play: I play to win. – ThatGuy Apr 11 '16 at 22:07
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First make your mind up, if you don't get what you want would you still join the new firm ?

if so, get offer from new one, and call manager for a exit meeting and there you can discuss your exit or retention terms.

That's how it would be, if you are able to negotiate that time great else put your papers down and move on!

join back current firm again after 2 years ;)

  • Exit interviews have no benefit for the employee, and should be avoided at all costs. – BryanH Apr 12 '16 at 16:12
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    @BryanH, that seems a little strong. Exit interviews are typically harmless for the employee, even if they don't have benefit. But it is clearly the wrong place to discuss retention. – user45590 Apr 13 '16 at 9:33
  • @dan1111 If the employee is wrongfully terminated, or there is some other issue with their separation (last paycheck, vacation, whatever), then everything they wrote or said in the interview will be used against them. That is hardly harmless. – BryanH Apr 14 '16 at 20:57
2

The way I would approach this is to take the offer from the competitor.

Assuming it is, as you said, a compelling role with a comparable benefits package, then accepting the large signing bonus is a win-win for you. It's important that in your career, you focus on yourself and your needs first. While money is not always the most important factor, you've clearly communicated that it's not the only factor in your decision. If it's the only differentiating factor, however, why not reward the company who showed initiative while benefiting yourself?

However, I'll argue there are more benefits to taking it. By working for another employer, you will vary your experience, making you more valuable. You'll get the opportunity to learn different skills, and communicate and operate within a company that will -- at least in some ways -- be different from the one you currently work for. You'll get to see how a different culture thinks and approaches problems. You will also get to be the outsider with a fresh perspective, which can help your new employer and boost your reputation.

You probably don't stand to lose much, either. Only self-destructive companies hold grudges because someone took a role elsewhere. If you decide to return later, or the company begins a project you're eager to work on, you can most likely return. On top of that, you're a specialist in an under-served area, so they'll probably still need you just as much. Plus, you'll have spent time improving your skills somewhere else, which didn't cost them a dime! Unless you are on a pension plan you'll lose (rare these days), your benefits probably won't suffer from changing companies for a while.

As someone who has taken a counter-offer to stay, I can tell you there is very little benefit from that choice, even if there are few (or no) downsides. But there are generally downsides, maybe even some you can't predict. You'll also always kind of wish you had checked out the other company from the inside. Even if I had returned a year later, I would have benefited much more from taking the new, exciting role, and having more negotiating power on my return (maybe even receiving a signing bonus).

One last thing to remember is that we're generally scared of "the unknown" or change, but we're also bad at estimating risk. In this case, accepting the offer is low risk, but comes with a good chance of reward. I'd argue that seeking a counter-offer from your current employer is actually higher risk than taking the one on the table. What if you're seen as disloyal and money-seeking by your current employer? What if you also end up losing the new offer by waiting too long, or because it gets back to someone who takes offense that you're using it as leverage? Granted, those are small risks, too, but probably more likely than accepting a lucrative, exciting offer will damage your career in some way.

  • Agreed - no job is forever, and the only way to get ahead is to move. Current employees are worth less than new employees, so if you're not moving jobs every 5-8 years you're not being paid enough. – Criggie Aug 10 '16 at 2:11
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I don't feel too cozy with the notion of "putting my present employer in a 'bidding war' with a competitor for the privilege of 'keeping me.'"   If I was on the other end of that exchange, I would feel that you were a greedy and unprofessional expletive-deleted very ill-used.

I think that you would "poison the well" irretrievably with such a move.

If you've got a written offer in-hand and you want to choose to take it, then that's your privilege:   take it. If they ask you how much you've been offered, I would decline to tell them. This is a business decision on your part that you are entitled to make. To "play both ends against the middle" (which is how I would interpret your gambit) is IMHO not the right thing to do here.

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Uh, what? You are planning to try to shake down your employer for a bonus that has nothing to do with your work performance? Not a good idea.

Sometimes an employer will re-negotiate a salary, especially if you were hired provisionally at a lower salary and you have subsequently proved your worth.

If you are looking for a better position (which it sounds like you are), just go to the better job. Trying to extort your current employer or making threats like, pay more or I leave, will not accomplish anything positive.

  • but CEOs do this all the time..... – gbjbaanb Apr 13 '16 at 12:28
  • You're not a CEO, and I daresay you have no idea what they actually do or don't do. Socrates used harsh phrases here: "shake down," "threats," "extort." But, I agree with the use of those harsh phrases because, if you waltzed into my office saying this sort of thing, those are exactly the words that would come to my mind, too. I'd calmly hand you a fire extinguisher and suggest that you hurry up and put the bridge out. – Mike Robinson Aug 10 '16 at 1:03

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