Minda Harts wanted to stay at her job. She was comfortable in her role as a fund-raising consultant for universities and colleges in Los Angeles and treasured the relationships she built with her co-workers and clients. She had never planned on leaving.
But when a head hunter contacted her with an attractive job offer at an elite company, she knew she had to entertain the idea. The new job would require relocation across the country, but there would be a title change and the compensation was triple her current salary. She took it to her manager.
“I said that I’ve been presented with an offer at another company, but I really loved the work that I do here,” Ms. Harts said. “I love working with my colleagues, but this is something that would position me much closer to my long-term career goals.”
She ended up taking the outside offer, but because she approached her job negotiations with integrity, her former employer rehired her the next year when they were able to provide her with a more competitive package. She later went on to found The Memo LLC, a career development company for women of colour, and write the book “The Memo: What Women of Colour Need to Know To Secure a Seat At The Table.”
Knowing when and how to leverage an outside job offer for advancement at your current job is a delicate task. Miscalculating your situation or approaching the negotiation with a demanding attitude can leave everyone involved bitter and resentful — and you without a job at all. But when addressed with candor and tact, there are times when this strategy can be a powerful negotiating move that can boost your career.
“Having an outside offer is one of the greatest points of leverage that you can use in any type of negotiation to get a better outcome,” said Adam Galinsky, chair of the management division at Columbia Business School. “When you have a very attractive, high-status place come after you, that’s really meaningful.” Not only do outside offers make you more aware of what your skills can fetch in the marketplace, but you also learn how your organisation values you.
Research has shown that negotiation should always be approached with caution, as it can damage relationships and can negatively affect your job performance. But risky as it may be, there are still compelling reasons to leverage an attractive outside offer. And as long as you engage in smart negotiation strategies and keep your employer’s perspective in mind, you might emerge from the conversation in a stronger position than you even thought possible.
Gather intel about both the market value of your position and your current employer’s norms around negotiation. The more you know about what’s expected — if your company has entertained outside offers before, who you’ll be negotiating with, how they’re likely to respond — the more secure you’ll feel going into the negotiation. Dr. Galinksy also encourages people to learn the best outcome anyone has ever received in your position. Say, if a superstar in your field was able to leverage a stellar outside offer, be clear in what ways your achievements are similar or dissimilar.
“That’s why information is so valuable is you get to know what’s possible, what’s fair, but also how you need to frame something,” he said.
The first thing Ms. Harts did when she was contacted by a headhunter about a fantastic job opportunity was ask her mentors for advice. In order to prepare her for a conversation with her boss, her advisers engaged in role-playing exercises and developed mini-scripts for her. They not only pushed her to be clear about her long term career goals, but they also were able to advocate for her to her superiors, which helped her negotiation process immensely.
This might be the scariest step, but it’s almost the most crucial: Share the outside offer with your boss. Dr. Galinsky makes it a point to let his superiors know the exact offers he receives. This approach is smart for several reasons: If it’s a high-status organisation offering him a job, it’ll let his employer know that they will need to come up with a significant counteroffer. He’s also showing his employers that he’s not hiding anything.
Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who studies negotiation, agrees bringing on your boss as a partner is the way to go. “Tip off your boss and say, ‘I just want you to know that this company is interested in me and talking about getting me an offer. And I promise I will keep you up-to-date on this,’” she said. You can even ask your boss for advice about handling the outside offer, as if it’s a problem you’re both solving together.
Make your case
When Ms. Harts approached her manager about her outside offer, she was prepared with years of statistics and reports about how she affected the bottom line. She was clear on how her work translated into direct results for the organisation, which strengthened her position during negotiations. Once you establish your worth as a productive employee, frame every ask you have around how it’s going to benefit the company.
Research has shown that if you express that you care about organisational relationships, you’ll be perceived as a more cooperative employee. This is especially important for women, who are often penalised for negotiating. Explaining why you’re engaging in the negotiation can lead to a more positive result. “You want to signal this is a really legitimate discussion but you know you want to do it in a collaborative way,” Ms. Riley Bowles said.
Nazli Bhatia, a senior research fellow in the Psychology Department at the University of Pennsylvania and a lecturer at the Wharton School who studies negotiation, suggests positioning personal needs — say, working remotely or relocating — as a benefit to the company. Don’t frame a telecommuting request around, “Oh, it’ll be great to sidestep traffic.” But instead frame the ask as commuting less will make you a better employee for them.
Last, be positive! Share what you love about working in your organisation and outline what’s appealing about this other position. Ask what kinds of prospects you have in your current position and see if your boss can help you get there.
One of the best ways to demonstrate that you’re willing to have a negotiation in good faith is to use ranges when talking about salary. Dr. Bhatia suggests people make the low end of the range closer to your target. For instance, if your target salary is R100,000, instead of giving a range of R90,000 to R110,000, she suggests offering a range of R100,000 to R120,000. This moves you closer to your goal, but still signals flexibility.
Don’t burn bridges
When Ms. Harts took the outside job offer, she didn’t vacate her role right away; she gave a month’s notice in order to create a transition plan for the person who took over her role. By caring about the bottom line of the company she was leaving, she proved to her former employer that she was an employee worthy of their trust.
“From start to finish in the whole negotiation, I made sure that my integrity was at the forefront of each decision going forward,” she said. While in her new position, she also maintained relationships with her former colleagues as best as she could by keeping in touch and catching up over coffee whenever possible.
When her former employer was able to offer her a more attractive deal a year later, Ms. Harts was open to returning to the office. “Because I didn’t burn those bridges, they came back to me and gave me everything I wanted and then some,” she said.
“You can have all the right words to say, but do you have people who are supporting you and invested in your success? That’s really key in any counter offer.”
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