using a job offer to get a counteroffer from your current company — does COVID change things?

A reader writes:

I’ve been interviewing with a great nonprofit since before Covid started and I expect to receive an offer this week. The company, team, and mission are great, and the offer will likely come with a medium-large pay bump.

I also love my current job and team, but it’s in a field that I feel guilty working in. Without getting into too much detail, sometimes the job requires things in the day to day that are icky.

Here’s the rub. As uncertain as things are right now, I’m as confident as can be that my current job is safe. The same can not be said of this job at the nonprofit. While it must be a good sign that they’re still hiring for the position, a nonprofit is a nonprofit and is dependent on external revenue sources which are likely to dry up soon. I asked some probing questions during the interview process and failed to get a straight answer about the job security of this position. I understand some of that is the nature of at-will employment, but I worry the org’s finances are also playing into the answers I got.

Under normal circumstances, I would absolutely take this new job opportunity and sail into the mission-driven sunset happy as a clam. As things stand, I’m genuinely concerned that taking this new position could mean I won’t have a job in three months.

Because of my track record at my current company, I expect them to make a relatively generous counteroffer. Am I crazy for thinking about taking it because of the added salary and job security it affords? On one hand, this could damage my relationship with my manager and director (though I don’t think it will) and I’d be passing up a great opportunity to do mission-driven work for a great company. On the other hand, I could come out of this with both job security and a higher salary as a sort of consolation prize.

Generally speaking, do you think Covid should factor into decision-making like this or should people proceed as they normally would have pre-Covid?

I would not leave a secure job right now for one you’re not sure will be there by the end of the year.

Many nonprofits are really struggling right now and are likely to struggle for some time. But what worries me more than that is that your interviewers didn’t give you straight answers to your questions about their finances and security. This is an organization that’s asking you to leave a secure job to work for them; they should want to give you all the info you need to make that decision, and if they’re not being straightforward, that’s not a good sign.

If they do make you an offer, I’d insist on getting that info before making a decision — and if you don’t get it, I would not take that job. It’s not worth the risk of being out of work in a terrible job market where you might not get hired again for a long while.

And of course, take whatever info they do provide with a grain of salt. Employers are notorious for saying everything is fine right up until the day they’re laying people off. And make sure to look for specifics, not just general reassurances. “We don’t have any reason to think this position is going anywhere” isn’t especially compelling. “This position is funded by a restricted grant, and we’ve already received the funding for the next two years” is more convincing.

As for the counteroffer … all the usual rules about counteroffers still apply, maybe more so. Even in the best of times, accepting a counteroffer to stay at your current job is a risky move and can get you put at the top of any layoff list because “she was already thinking of leaving anyway.” It can also mean you never get a sizable raise again, “because we just gave you that big raise when you were thinking about leaving” (three years ago).

And especially right now, when chances are higher than ever that any given company might need to lay people off this year, letting them know you were already about to leave makes it easier for your name to end up on that list. It’s not a payback thing (usually); it’s that many people feel less guilty about cutting someone who they think is already ready to leave than someone who will be devastated by it. (Obviously this reasoning is flawed; most people would be unhappy to be cut after they turned down another job to stay. But it gets used as reasoning nonetheless.)

And of course, you should never use an outside offer as a way to negotiate more money from your current job unless you’re 100% prepared to accept the other offer — because they may tell you to go ahead and take it. You might think they value you too much, but if they’re under pressures you don’t know about to reduce their headcount, this could look like a less painful way to do that.

Figure out whether you want the new job, and accept it or don’t accept it. But don’t use it as a negotiating tool with your current company.

using a job offer to get a counteroffer from your current company — does COVID change things? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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