Oh joy, oh bliss, today an angel from heaven called and sang sweet poetry on your voicemail. That is to say, a headhunter left a message hinting that somebody thinks you are a marvellous person and is willing to pay you more money because of it. But oh, where is that insistent pricking coming from? Good heavens, it's your conscience, reminding you that your employer, who has fed you paycheques for six (week/months/years) cannot afford to have you leave just yet. Mon Dieu, quelle dilemna! Yes, they say, loyalty is dead but this employer is different. Aha, says greed, but this is more money. And there is no better news to bring home to your better half than word of a fatter paycheque. Oh what to do?
Of course, like most big questions regarding your career, context is everything, meaning, there is no simple yes-or-no answer. First of all, to place a pin in your bubble of high self-esteem, nobody thinks you are a marvellous person (except maybe your spouse, your kds, and your dog. Especially your dog, who will love you even if the spouse is upset at you again and your kids are teenagers who think you're sorta strange. If you own a cat, then I'm afraid there are some days when nobody will love you at all. But I digress). The reason why you are being offered a higher paycheque is because the marketplace says so. And the marketplace is very fair, sometimes to the point of brutality. Therefore, there is a reason why more money is on the table. And it's very important to determine the reason in your particular case, because that will determine whether you should stay (or you should go).
Here, in no particular order, are some reasons why a better-paying job is being offered:
1. The new job is toxic: I have a friend who works at a well-known Crown corporation in the province of British Columbia. This corporation has a well-deserved reputation for being a bit dysfunctional (moreso than some other Crown corps. Actually, some Crown corps are quite well-run. But not this one.) There is a management rung in the corporation which is famous for eating up people and spitting them out. The average length of tenure in that rung is about 4 years, which is phenomenal, as that means an average turnover of 25% a year. So how do they get people for that rung? By paying more money, a lot more money than the rung below. And because they pay more money, the positions attract a lot of candidates who are at the end of their careers, and who are looking for not only a salary increase but a "bump" in their pensionable earnings. Conclusion? As you get older in life, the toxicity of a job matters less and less, and money means more. A general rule is if the money offered seems overly generous compared the title of the position, it's a good idea to ask the turnover rate for that position (or work the grapevine if that company's HR pleads ignorance).
2. It's a promotion: With those darn baby-boomers clogging up the senior ranks, it's darn hard to get a promotion nowadays, let me tell you. Congratulations, let me help you pack your personal belongings into the cardboard box. What, you won the lottery and you plan to return the winning ticket because you feel you aren't worthy? Slap! Slap! Come on, snap out of it! Pretty much the only thing you have to worry about is if you are being promoted to a toxic job, in which case, see #1. Always, always ask why the guy you are replacing is leaving. If that guy is being promoted, then woo, woo, don't let the door bang on your butt as you walk out.
3. You are underpaid in your current job: This is a nasty position to be in if you are at a company where a set percentage of money is allocated to the salary budget each year. For example, suppose you are underpaid by 16%, but there was only 4% allocated to the salary budget in the current fiscal year. This means for you to get paid fairly, there are three poor schmucks who will have to get zip. Yes, it's not fair, but given the choice between cheesin' off 3 employees or cheesin' off one (you), the chances are you are going to get stiffed year after year unless you do something dramatic. Like move to a different company. Important note: If you are being underpaid and have a better offer on the table, DON'T use the better offer to wangle something better out of your current employer. That's called blackmail. Even if you succeed, people will remember and file it away. And the other employer will put you on their poopee list. Yes, they do exist. Besides chances are that if your employee is underpaying YOU, there are underpaying other people as well. So most likely, they won't give you a raise because that will upset the salary structure. They will just show you the door.
4. You are underpaid but there are great perks: At Creo, there were two positions that required basically the same level of experience and technical acumen: Subject Matter Expert in the Product Development group and Technical Support Specialist in the sales group. If you were a SME, you could work flex time and hang out with really smart people like developers and cool project managers like me. On the other hand, if you were a TSS, you had to travel a lot, the hours were brutal, and you had to deal with nervous, insecure salesguys. Guess which position paid 50% more?
5. It's a contract position: In the province of British Columbia, there's a crucial difference between a contract and non-contract employee. A contract employee can be fired if his or her boss doesn't like the color of his or her shoes (Or more specifically, the contract won't get renewed). But a non-contract employee only be fired for wearing shoes of the wrong color. Get it? Oh there is one other thing. The non-contract employee is entitled to severance. How much severance? You need to see a lawyer for your particular circumstances, but it's surprising how much sometimes you're entitled to. And remember, you give it all up if you jump to a contract position.
In conclusion, most of the time (but not all), if the money offered is 10% more than what you are making currently, you should go. But before you make the leap, you absolutely should get the employment contract to a (your) lawyer to make sure the termination clauses don't have you taking all the risk. That is to say, if things don't work out, then it's fair for the new employer to let you go. But it's not fair to let you go without compensation.