Career Advice Tuesday – “Surprise Bonus”

December 20, 2011

Dear Infosecleaders:

Last week I was pleasantly surprised when my employer presented me with a year end bonus of $10,000, which is more than 15% of my current salary.  I know that this should be a reason to smile, but let me tell you about my predicament..

I am currently toward the end of an interview process with another company, for a position that mirrors my current one.  I will say that the main reason that I was looking was that I felt that I was underpaid in my current role, and in my exploration of the market, I found my assumptions to be correct.   However, if it was not for the money, I would stay at my current employer – they treat me well, I have flexibility, and I am able to pursue some of my interests in information security research.

In addition to the bonus, the President of the company called me into his office, and told me that they are in the process of reviewing their compensation programs, and that he hoped that I would view the “Surprise Bonus” as a demonstration that they were taking a proactive approach to compensation of their key employees. 

My question to you, is how should I handle my current interview process?  Should I let my employer know that I was looking?   Do you think it is possible to maximize my employer’s current generosity to get additional compensation benefits? 

Look forward to hearing back from you,


Jack Pot


Dear Jack –

First of all, congratulations!  No matter what the reason, it is always good to receive money that you were not expecting based upon recognition of your performance and your contributions.

To address your questions, in order:

Question 1)   I think at this point it is wise for you to continue on in your interview process, for the simple reason that you have already invested your time, and you have the right to attempt to reach a conclusion and truly understand your external market value.  That being said, if you are offered a position, I believe that I would think long and hard about accepting it, based upon your employers recent actions.

The simple reason for this, is that I really do not think that it is a great career move to move jobs just for the simple reason of money – unless you are being taken advantage of, or your life situation dictates the immediate need (like having a child or financial obligations).   The way that you described your job search, it appears that your move would be lateral in nature – and your job responsibilities would not change much at your new employer.

Questions 2&3 : I do think that you should utilize this situation to your best advantage, and by that I mean that you should take this as the opportunity to open up the lines of communication with your employer.  Their actions have demonstrated that your contributions are valued, so that should translate as they care about your opinions.

I would tell your employer that the compensation situation was a great source of concern to you, and their gesture could not have come at a better time.   You can let them know that you are regularly contacted by recruitment firms and members of your professional community about other job opportunities., and that recently you have been giving them more consideration.

You can even let them know that at the time you received the “surprise bonus”, you were in the process of interviewing for another position, purely based on finances.   You can even let them know that the other employer was offering to pay you an additional (X%) salary..   At the same time, you should be clear to your employer how much you enjoy working there – due to the nature of the work, how you are treated, and your ability to explore your independent research and participate in the information security community.

Having this conversation will serve two purposes.  First, it will demonstrate your loyalty.  I know that this sounds strange, but by letting your employer know that you were looking based solely on compensation – you will provide them with validation that they made a wise business decision (by proactively giving you the surprise bonus) and will show them that you will be honest with them and that they can trust you.

Revealing to your employer that you have been looking can be risky, but under these conditions, it may be a risk that can be worth taking.  Considering that they by giving you this money that they have shown that they want to retain your services, your risk of being fired is almost zero – ( in the worst scenario – your ongoing interview process is your contingency plan, and your $10,000 can serve as a short term severance) .   The additional upside to sharing this with your employer, is that it should enable you to get other “requests” on the table beyond compensaiton – maybe for additional training, professional development, or the pursuit of your career goals.

I would tell you that you are in a good position and you have all of your bases covered – both internally and externally.  I would tell you that outside of unique circumstances, I would give your current employer the benefit of the doubt and remain with your current firm.

It appears that you have a bright future, and they recognize it!

Hope this helps,

Lee Kushner

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Behavior, Career Advice Tuesday, Compensation, Interviewing, Position Selection, Security Industry 


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