Should You Find A New Job In Order To Get A Raise?

Photo: David Brandon Geeting
Millennials are often criticized for being job-hopping dilettantes. "No one has company loyalty these days!" goes the old lament. The thing is, constantly having to train new employees is a time and energy suck, but so does being underpaid long-term.
According to Pew Research Center, people between ages 18 to 35 do not go from job to job at a higher rate than adults in the past did at the same ages. (In fact, Pew's analysis suggests that millennials may actually be sticking around at their jobs longer than people in the previous generation did.) However, the 21% of millennials who did choose to seek greener pastures in 2016 might be on to something, at least when it comes to their paychecks.
Advertisement
By some estimates, staying at the same company for more than two years can result in you earning 50% less — or more — over the course of your lifetime. Most companies will only go so high when it comes to giving out yearly raises — even with a title change — so changing jobs can be a prime way to negotiate more pay, especially for women.
This is also the reason many people are lobbying to make it illegal for potential employers to require that job candidates disclose their current or previous salaries. Since women already earn less than men on average, basing future earnings on a figure that’s already off-balance only leads to a wider gap over time.
But this maneuvering can put people in an awkward position. What if you really love your job, but know you're under-earning? Should you look for a new job and use an offer you get as a bargaining chip to get the raise? Or will that make you look greedy, manipulative, and uninterested in the job you have?
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make your way through the process so that you can earn the paycheck you deserve without ruining relationships along the way.
1 of 7
Yes, work is about work, but it’s also about the relationships that you build over the course of doing that work. So if your boss thinks you’re mostly content, despite a few bumps here and there, and you tell them about an offer you’ve received, they might wonder if you’re committed to the job.

You absolutely shouldn’t feel guilty about looking after your best interests, but you should also be prepared for potential wariness or even blowback.

“At some places, if managers think you are looking elsewhere, they stop trusting you. At other companies, leveraging an external offer is how you get ahead. It’s all contextual and depends on your manager and [work] culture,” says Mark Gasche, a career expert at the financial tech firm SoFi.

Consider how the dynamics would change if you were successful in using an outside offer to get a raise. Be aware that your bosses may grant your wish, but not-so-secretly be wondering when you might do the same thing again, with the fear that you can’t be trusted to stick around for the long term.
Advertisement
2 of 7
Do you want a raise because you feel like it’s just about that time (plus, you really need the cash)? Or maybe because you’ve taken on bigger projects and extra duties, and have knocked them out of the park? What if it’s that you’ve seen other people getting raises and you’re wondering where your money is? Or is it that you increasingly loathe what you do and think money will at least make it worth it?

Money may seem like the solution to all of your career problems — and being less cash-strapped certainly won’t hurt — but if your problem with work runs deeper than how much you’re earning, you might be taking on a risky tactic that doesn’t get at the real issue.

“If you feel compelled to look, your motivation is probably not just about money. It’s about other things,” says Gasche. “I once asked one young woman: ‘If you went back and they gave you $10,000, in three months would you be looking again?’ She said, ‘Probably,’ which means there are other pieces of the equation.”

Lisa Skeete Tatum, the CEO of Landit, agrees. “You want to make sure you understand exactly why it is that you're seeking this other opportunity, because if it's a matter of money, there are more powerful, direct ways to negotiate a salary. If there is something more fundamental going on, it's perfectly acceptable to go out there and to get other offers, but before you come back to talk to someone at your company, you have to understand your own social currency, since there is a cost to casually shopping around.”

By social currency, she means the clout necessary to make a case that your boss should be fighting to keep you. It’s one thing to know that presenting a competing offer will make your boss think hard about what they can do to keep you. It’s a totally different thing to present a competing offer and get a Kanye shrug.

Your standing may be obvious enough that you feel secure about forging ahead. But it's also crucial to do an inventory of your work history, as you might do for any negotiation. You’re looking for all the numbers, anecdotes, recommendations, and paper-trail proof you need to show that you're really good at your job and it would be really, really hard to replace you. You also want to make sure you do the market research that shows how much you should be compensated for that work.

“If you have social currency, that conversation is much easier,” adds Skeete Tatum. “Without it, there is no conversation. It is, ‘Well, good luck.’”
3 of 7
So you’re ready to step right up and name your number? Great. But do you know how much to ask for? You should be honest about what the competition is offering, but know that your company may not want to or be able to match it. To get an idea of how much your current boss might be willing to give you, Gasche advises that you look at how your company handles annual raises.

“Think about what someone’s willing to do for you off of [your] annual review. I haven’t seen many people get more than 10%, because that actually pushes you outside the boundaries of the [pay] grade,” explains Gasche. “If HR pushes you outside of that internal level, then they’ve broken the rules.”

If you’re asking for more than the equivalent of an annual raise, he says, your tactic should change. You’re probably not just looking for a raise — you’re looking for a promotion. The best way to make what the person above you is making is by doing their job; that pay bump often comes with a bump in responsibilities, status, and often title.
4 of 7
No one likes to be ambushed or rushed, especially over important matters. So even if you’re nervous and just want to present your dilemma quickly and get it over with, don’t rush the process.

First, tell the other employer that you need some time to think about it. Then, Gasche recommends approaching your boss at a time when they’re not running ragged and saying something like: “Hey, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future. As you might guess, I am interested in a next step and more responsibility, and I could use your help in thinking through that.”

“Then, that manager thinks, Oh, you want my help, as opposed to rushing quickly to what you want,” he says. “You’ll get there, but it’s a problem-solving exercise and a dialogue. You don’t have to lead with anything that looks like a demand.”
5 of 7
Another reason not to rush the process? You’re more likely to accidentally give an ultimatum.

“If, ultimately, your goal is to stay, you're trying to find an agreement that works for you and that values your worth,” says Skeete Tatum. “You want to signal that you are not afraid to advocate for yourself, but that you can do it in a way that enables you to move forward."

Still, if you make the mistake of going the scorched-earth approach, take a step back and admit your slip-up so that you can get back on the right footing. Again, if you think of this as a process, you won’t necessarily expect it to all happen at once.

“In your next one-on-one, say: ‘I’ve been thinking carefully about how I approached that, and I would like to ask for a second chance at articulating what I meant,’” Gasche says. “Inside of that is really an apology. You’re saying that you think you could have handled that better and differently” — and if your manager appreciates your effort to be more thoughtful, you could get a “We all screw up sometimes,” plus a do-over.
6 of 7
Suppose, in the best of all possible scenarios, you get exactly what you’re looking for, or close enough to it that you’re happy to stay. Congrats! But there’s the pesky matter of that other prospective employer you don’t want to leave hanging. You don’t want to make them feel like you used them — you were genuinely looking at other opportunities — but you do want to be firm about the fact that you’re no longer open to negotiating with them. After all, you already came back to your current boss with the offer, which was accepted. Be honest, but keep it brief.

“You want to be forthright and explain to them why you're not taking the offer,” says Skeete Tatum. “If you say: ‘I’m not taking it because I changed my mind,’ your credibility is gone. If it is: ‘I'm not accepting this offer because my company counter-offered, and now I'm getting a better position,’ that's really hard to dismiss.”
7 of 7
On the other hand, life isn’t full of yeses. If your boss gives an unequivocal answer or seems to want to put things off, offer to come up with a game plan together that can get you both to a place you're satisfied with — or, at least, to an explanation.

“People think it's a one-and-done conversation, and sometimes it's not. Just like you don't always accept the first offer, if you truly want to stay at a company and you're trying to negotiate something, sometimes it can't be resolved in one meeting,” Skeete Tatum says.

“Some companies are limited by time because there are budget seasons, and you have to be aware of that context," she explains.

Keep things moving by creating a plan. The sooner you know where you stand, the sooner you can work out your next steps.
Advertisement