Received a Counter Offer from an Employer? Think Closely About Whether to Accept

July 11, 2016

There’s a Publisher post that’s been making major waves on LinkedIn recently. Written by tech recruiter Jack Bagshaw, It’s on a topic that we’ve weighed in on before, and it’s highly relevant to any professional considering a career move – in other words, our bread and butter. The topic?

Counter offers, and whether you – as a candidate – should consider accepting or rejecting them when employers offer them.

Here’s the gist: say you’ve been in a role for a while, and identified new opportunities, either with a recruiter or on your own. Say you then apply for these roles, maybe because they have more progressive responsibility, more money, or maybe there are issues with your current job: a lack of progression, or the working style or culture that doesn’t quite fit your needs anymore. Say you land one of those new opportunities and negotiate a salary. Then you go into your current employer’s office and have a chat with your boss where you indicate that you’ll be moving on to a new opportunity. So far, so good. But what do you do when that boss then turns around and gives you a counter-offer – a raise and / or promotion just so that you’ll stay?

A counter offer, also known as a “buyback,” seems innocuous and productive at first, as though you’ve leveraged your increased worth and skills into a raise. But lurking beneath the surface are a host of issues that might present themselves if you decide to accept.

According to Bagshaw’s article, 9 out of 10 people who accept counter offers have left employment within 6 months from accepting the counter offer. He doesn’t provide the source of the statistic, but anecdotally we can say from our own extensive recruitment experience, counter-offers are rarely successful for the candidate.

Why is that the case?

A few reasons: first of all, there’s a high chance that your employer is going to see you as disloyal going forward, despite the fact that they’ve made you a counter offer. Even if you were quite reasonable in wanting to seek other opportunities (and everyone has the right to do so, of course), the employer issuing the counter-offer now knows that you’re actively on the market. And chances are, they’re going to take the steps to find a replacement because they expect that you will leave, somewhere down the line – because you’ve shown that you have one foot out the door already.

At first, your employer might feel proud of the fact that they could upgrade your compensation and retain you. But six months down the line, what happens so often is that a seed of resentment grows. All of a sudden, you have to work to establish your worth all over again as if you were a new hire and not an employee the company has made effort to retain. It’s possible that your employer will feel as if you’ve used a new job offer to leverage or “extort” a raise in salary or responsibility – instead of making a persuasive case to your employer for that kind of advancement in an open and trusting way.

What’s even worse to think about: consider the new company that issued you the new offer. If they find out you’ve been counter-offered and are staying in your current role, chances are that employer will feel like you’ve leveraged the significant amount of resources they’ve invested in hiring you into a raise / promotion at your current job. You risk looking unserious, or worse, deceitful. Even if you actually were serious, and the counter-offer seems just too good to pass up, the optics are just as important as the facts.

One thing to keep in mind: a counter-offer situation is a chance to talk to your employer about what might be less than ideal about your current job. But in our opinion, this kind of conversation is better broached – diplomatically of course – before you dangle a competing offer from a new employer in front of them, and before they feel like they’re put into a difficult situation.

It’s your career, and you’re the boss. If you’re ever in the position of fielding a job offer alongside a counter-offer from a current employer, you’re lucky, and it’s a chance to use your judgment. But here’s our advice: while a bump in salary might seem to make it worth staying, it’s more worth it to think about all the implications of how you’ll be perceived. logo_icon

A big thank you to Argentus Recruiter Adele Casciaro for her contribution on this topic! 

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