Ask Vault: Is It Ethical to Use a Job Offer as Leverage for Another Offer?

March 10, 2017

From our Linkedin page, Nnenna asks:

If you apply and get offers from more than one company, is it ethical to leverage one offer to get a better deal from another company?


That’s a great question, Nnenna. Job searching can be a brutal process, but it can also be an informative and transformative process. In addition to possibly landing a new job, in the course of interviewing and negotiating, you will learn more about your industry, meet new contacts, sharpen your interviewing skills, and better understand your market value. Most people never really stop job searching in some way; smart employees network within their industry and keep their resumes up to date. While you will not always be on an active job search, you should be open to new opportunities.

Now, if you’re seeking a position surely to use it as leverage against your current employer or another company, I can see why it could feel a bit sketchy. But I don’t think that situation occurs very often. Even if you’re very happy with your current job or think you really want to accept an employment offer, there’s always a chance that another opportunity could be better. So your motivation for applying for a job might not be 100% because you want that job, but it’s not 0% either. So long as there is some chance that you would take the job if offered, there is nothing unethical about pursuing it.

Not only is it not a breach of ethics, but it’s the smart thing to do. Most employment these days is what’s known as “at will”—meaning you can quit whenever you want, but also that you can be let go whenever your company wants. If you don’t have an employment contract, you are always vulnerable to changing financial conditions and even your boss’s whims. So it’s smart to explore your options from time to time to make sure you are still marketable and to see what other jobs are out there, even when you’re happy in your current position. It may also be that an interview you go on today may lead to a job down the road if that position—or another position at the company—opens up later.

And finally, as you allude to, pursuing another offer may put you in a better negotiating position with your current employer or with another employer from whom you have an offer. A company will generally want to pay you the least that they can while still acquiring your services. Knowing your market rate will put you in a better position to argue that you are more valuable. However, you have to be careful not to overplay your hand. If you are not willing to actually take the alternative offer, you should be cautious when using it in your negotiation. If you tell your employer about the other offer and are told to go ahead and take it, you better be willing to do so.

by Ask Vault

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