This article was originally published by Forbes.
While men can have a grand old time leveraging one job offer for another with minimal consequence, women often face negative repercussions for doing the same. Traditional negotiation advice about leveraging one job offer for another has the potential to backfire for women. The good news is that there are tools to avoid these consequences.
A client, “Sarah”, reached out to me because she was actively recruited by a new company for a job that would be a promotion. However, she was happy at her current company, so her ideal situation was to leverage the potential job offer to ensure she could advance where she was.
Sarah was conflicted about how best to approach the situation that was respectful of her current employer as well as the one who was trying to hire her. Here’s what I advised:
1. Celebrate the job offer.
When faced with a big open question – like how to juggle a potential job offer with your current role – it can be difficult to step back and appreciate the opportunity. First, I offered Sarah congratulations on getting recruited and on being happy where she was currently working.
While the recruitment process can open up more questions about next steps, a momentary pause to celebrate can help you stay grounded in the positive.
2. Seek clarity about your priorities and goals for your next role.
Prior to her second job interview, Sarah reflected about her priorities and made an honest evaluation of what it would take for her to leave her current role. She settled on a significant salary increase and a guarantee of a flexible schedule.
From our conversations, she was very content in her current role but was also legitimately curious about the potential of this new role to advance her career.
Because women are expected to be communal and concerned about others’ well-being, it’s possible that women in Sarah’s position would face worse consequences for leading an employer to believe they were ready to make a jump when they weren’t.
Besides, if you were to go through the application process certain that there were no conditions in which you would accept the new role, which could easily be considered disrespectful of your prospective employer’s time and could impact you negatively in the future. Word travels.
3. Be transparent with the prospective employer.
To safeguard against any hurt feelings or resentment if she received a job offer but decided to decline, I advised Sarah to be honest with her prospective employer.
I also encouraged her to demonstrate curiosity and excitement about learning more in the application process. Sarah knew a bit about the new company, but you might have to do some homework.
I suggested the following sample language for her to adapt into her own voice: "While I'm happy with my current role, I'm also excited about [specific things] at this company and would love to explore the possibility of working together. I’m honored that you thought of me and sought me out for this role, as I so admire [other specific things]."
4. Use communal language when talking with your current employer.
The key to avoiding potential negative side effects from self advocacy and using one job against another is to demonstrate warmth (friendliness/likability) and a community mindset, which shows you're concerned about the team/organization.
For her conversations with her current employer, I encouraged Sarah to be intentional about prioritizing her relationship with the company. I suggested she could say something like, "I want to stay here and am committed to the organization [something specific about the current org.] Recently, [other company] came to me with this job offer, and I'm conflicted. I really want to stay here, and I'd like to have a conversation about my opportunities for the promotion we discussed."
Since Sarah’s existing employer had already suggested she’d be up for a promotion within a year, she was able to reference that specifically. Otherwise, she could have asked to discuss “opportunities to advance within the organization.”
5. Know your audience and recognize the potential risks.
Sarah had a close working relationship with her employer. While she thought there was a chance her boss would be unsettled to learn Sarah was fielding outside requests, Sarah thought the conversation would be fruitful and respectful. Rather than using the offer as a tool to manipulate her boss or make veiled threats to leave, Sarah went in with the intention to have an open and honest conversation with someone she respected.
If you have a more volatile supervisor or a less-than-productive relationship, consider the ways the conversation could backfire. If you already have a tense dynamic or know your boss to be impulsive, is there a risk that your employer might say, “Good riddance. Byeeeee”? Would you be ready to leave? And, conversely, how much do you really want to stay?
How might you frame the conversation differently based on what you know about your employer?
Sarah’s situation ultimately surprised us both. Before she heard back from the recruiter or raised the situation with her boss, her current employer offered her a promotion, which she was thrilled to accept. She followed up with the recruiter to politely remove her application from consideration. While she didn’t end up needing to leverage one job for the other, she was glad to have prepared so thoughtfully and to have learned negotiation strategies for the future.
Whatever happens in your situation, consider the risks and potential rewards of leveraging one job offer for the other.