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No. 6 – My pay rise was denied. Should I use another job offer as leverage?

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24 March 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, dealing with a promotion rejection, prioritising career goals in your 20s, and negotiation skills are all on deck.

I enjoy my job but feel I deserve a promotion. I recently told my boss I did not believe I was being recognised for the hard work I do, but my request for recognition and a pay rise was denied. Should I look for another job, so I can use a new job offer as leverage?

I have never known things to end well when someone tries to leverage another job offer with their current boss. It is something you should only ever do if you are truly prepared to walk away and take the other role.

Before you head down that path, there are a couple of things you can consider. Assuming you are keen to remain with the company, go back to your boss and respectfully ask them for feedback on what they need to see from you in order to be considered for a promotion or a pay rise in the future. Let your boss know you are keen to stay with the company but want to progress, and therefore require some feedback.

Depending on how that discussion goes or even if you are thinking of changing roles, you can look around for another job – but if you are offered one, you should only tell your current boss when you have made the decision to take it. Don’t use the new job offer as a threat, rather deliver the decision you have made and move on.

You may find your current boss does try to entice you to stay, and you can then make a decision based on what is best for you. This scenario is quite different from the one described earlier, where threats about leaving (which you are not willing to follow through with) are carelessly made.

I’m currently in my 20s and need some advice on the career goals I should be prioritising at this stage in my life. Specifically, what steps should I take to ensure I don’t fall behind or stay stagnant in my current role for too long?

I only had two employers in my 20s but multiple roles within each. I spent these early years of my career saying yes to as many opportunities that were offered to me.

For example, say yes to any additional training or new experiences on offer. Say yes to extra responsibilities, and any promotions that come your way. Your 20s are an excellent time to learn, make mistakes and then learn from them. Being willing to learn will encourage people to give you more development opportunities. And remember, saying yes is as much a state of mind as a practical outcome and will be something you can benefit from throughout your career.

In a recent seminar on negotiation strategies for women, the advice given included ‘be relentlessly pleasant’, ‘be likeable’ and ‘don’t forget to smile’. Given we’re in 2021 and not 1951, what advice would you give to young women in any situation requiring negotiation?

I am sure being pleasant and likeable while smiling is useful advice (for men and women) in a range of circumstances, but it is definitely not the be all and end all of negotiating.

Negotiations generally always involve people and relationships, so being emotionally intelligent is essential but that is not the same as being pleasant. Emotionally intelligent negotiators have self-awareness of what is going on for them as well the person they are
negotiating with. They are able to build rapport easily in order to reach an outcome that works for everyone. Emotionally intelligent negotiators listen actively and ask open questions that are well-timed and deliver helpful answers.

Send your curly questions about work, career, leadership and anything in between to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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Every Wednesday since 2021, Kirstin has written a hugely popular column in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age answering curly questions from readers on work, leadership and careers. 

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