Ethical to Search Other Jobs for a Competing Offer?

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Handing Person MoneyDear J.T. & Dale: I am a tenured faculty member at a small college. I have very good teaching evaluations and serve on numerous committees. The college’s salaries have fallen substantially behind those of other similar institutions. I requested a raise but was told the college needed a competing offer to entertain a raise. I do not want to move, and I am torn about whether it is ethical to search out other positions for the purpose of obtaining a competing offer. Any suggestions on my next move? — Art

Dale: You easily could rationalize your seeking out competing offers just by looking at college football and basketball coaches, those masters of ratcheting up their salaries by making visits to other campuses. But ethics isn’t the lowest common denominator. Instead, let’s answer two questions: Will getting offers that you know you aren’t going to take require you to manipulate people, using them as a means to your end? Will you need to deceive them? Yes, and yes. Two yeses equal one big NO — you can’t justify it, not in Dale’s Little Book of Honorable Behavior.

J.T.: OK, but…What if, Art, you could see yourself actually taking one of those offers? That changes everything. You have every right to demonstrate your value and let your college compete to keep you. Just make sure you mean it; otherwise, there’s the chance you’ll have your bluff called. If you go to your administration with your higher offer, they could say, “Take it,” and gladly find themselves someone they could pay even less.

Dale: As for a next move, here’s another option: Find out who among the faculty has gotten raises and why. I’m guessing they didn’t all have higher offers. Rather, I’d bet many are getting grant money or corporate donations, or media attention, or something else beyond teaching and committee-ing. Your administrators are forced to spend their day on economic realities like revenues and expenses; if you talk in that language, they’ll be more likely to hear you.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm,, and of the career management blog, Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with

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